Trauma In Young People



Now you have read the information about ‘what is trauma’ and the ‘differing types of trauma’, this page is for you as young people to understand your individual responses to the trauma you have experienced. Trauma can impact in many differing ways, it is normal to feel frightened, to have difficulty sleeping, having bad dreams, experiencing flashbacks to the event or that you feel anxious and jumpy a lot of the time. This page will outline how you ‘may’ respond to trauma, and how differing strategies and techniques may help you. This is not a list that fits all, please use this page to determine what your responses are, and what strategies or techniques you find helpful.


Let us first look at what can trigger you to consciously or unconsciously to be reminded of your trauma:

Our five senses are a significant trigger to you re-experiencing signs of your trauma which in turn may cause physical, emotional, and behavioural responses.


 SeeYou may see a person who resembles a person from your past   HearA song may remind you of the past, or a noise inside or outside of the home such as a car horn, a siren, a trigger could also be a T.V. programme or social media clip   SmellA smell associated with the past will create a reminder, such as the smell of smoke, or a deodorant spray   TasteA drink may remind you of the past   TouchThe feel of a texture could be a reminder, clothes, sand, or if petting your dog

The way you feel after the event will be different for each person, there is not right or wrong way. The feelings and thoughts you may have could be confusing and upsetting which is normal.

Many young people report remembering the incident even when they try not to. This can feel very real as if you are watching a film.

This can happen during the daytime, something that reminds you of the incident will trigger the memory to replay. This can also happen during the night in bad dreams.


Feeling scared; you may feel that the incident may happen again, can become hyper-vigilant.

This can leave you feeling anxious and fearful. You may feel safer when you are close to people, you may feel fearful of being on your own at night-time and even need the light left on and the door open.


Avoiding anything that reminds you of the incident becomes your new normal.

You may take a different way to school or college, not want to travel on a bus or even stay away from people who remind you of the incident.


Your feelings and behaviours change.

Some young people report feeling angry and sometimes have not control over these feelings which can lead to fights and arguments. Others report feeling anxious and jumpy, sleepy, and not able to concentrate. It is common for a young person’s health to be affected, having headaches, feeling sick and experiencing stomach problems.


Many young people speak of a deep sense of sadness and feelings of helplessness.

Most common feelings are:


1GUILT: Thinking that you are responsible for the incident or the consequences, such as families being split apart 2BLAME:That it is your fault, if you had done something different it would never have happened 3SHAME:Worried what other people would think of them, or that people would think bad of them


This all impacts on young people which can sometimes stop you talking about the trauma which disables you from working towards putting your trauma in the past and to be able to live your life trauma free







Your Teenage Brain

Your teenage brain is still growing and developing. During this process, myelin forms as a coating on the neural highways which enables nerve cells to transmit information faster and enhances more complex brain processes.

To allow for this, levels of the calming chemical serotonin reduce.

Young people will experience fluctuating mood’s, and this can sometimes feel overwhelming. The teenage brain will also experience an increase level of the good feel chemical dopamine which can increase risk taking, and sometimes not making good decisions.

What about sleep; it is not a fallacy that young people need more sleep.

Watch this video to see why and to understand all about your teenage brain:

What happens to the teenage brain when it experiences Trauma?

When a young person experiences trauma, their brain will adapt to survive.

The pre-frontal cortex is undergoing a huge period of growth and development which is in charge of decision-making, organisation as well as initiating behaviour. The emotional part of the brain the amygdala has more control during this time, emotions are more influential than the thinking and rationale brain.

The thinking brain and the emotional brain are in conflict when a young person has experienced trauma. This results in flashbacks and other trauma responses which we have described, resulting in neural pathways being hard-wired into responding in a survival response which if observed might be seen as the young person as acting out. An example might be, hearing people argue, this might result in a young person moving into a stress response and finding somewhere safe to hide and maybe use a distraction technique they have found helpful in the past such as putting on headphones and listening to music.


Flashbacks and Bad Dreams

Flashbacks are common when people have experienced a trauma. These are like mini video clips of the trauma you experienced and be so vivid, it may feel like it is happening right now. Nightmares are common after a trauma; some can be so intense that you wake up and can cause extreme distress.

Flashbacks and bad dreams are the bodies way of making sense of the trauma and trying to process it.

Watch this video to help you understand what flashbacks and bad dreams are and how to deal with them:

We have described later on in this page, emotional regulation techniques which can help you ground yourself and bring yourself back to the here and now.


Sleep music for Teenagers:

Bedtime Yoga:




Fight, Flight, Freeze

The fight-or-flight response (also called hyperarousal or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

Walter Bradford Cannon (1932)


Watch this video to help you understand our survival response:

The Fight Flight Freeze Response (Video by

When we encounter a trigger from our past and the trauma we experienced, it can activate our survival response. It is important for you to be able to notice your stress responses, the potential triggers and what happens to you physically and emotionally. These will be your first steps during your path to recovery. Your challenge will be to learn to regulate yourself and remain in the best emotional place whereby you feel safe, happy, and calm. Dr. Dan Siegel describes a zone from which we can fluctuate dependent on our levels of stress. He describes this as the window of tolerance which identifies the zones in which we are able to function and deal with day-to-day stress or how the impact of severe anxiety or trauma can fluctuate between the differing zones.




Hyperarousal – fight, flight response


This means you will experience excess energy; anxiety levels will escalate, and you have heightened senses. You may feel




Hypoarousal – freeze response


This is when you experience a sense of lethargy and is a result of a freeze response.



Pay Attention to Your Responses

Identify the Responses You Experience

Identify the Cause

  Learn Techniques to Re-ground Yourself


We will  look at how your trauma may affect you, for you to understand that your feelings, thoughts, and your behaviours are normal for someone who has experienced a trauma.

Emotional Regulation and Re-grounding Techniques

Recognising your triggers and responses such as physical and emotional dysregulation will promote your ability to regulate emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Here are a few self-regulating techniques which you can try:


Drinking from a sports bottle, this soothes the brain and will calm you down  Star jumps count as you jump. Counting uses the cognitive brain, this pulls you from the survival response  Any form of exercise, use counting with exercise as this willre-boot the cognitive brain  Anything sensory will enable you to re-regulate, the movement the sensory material between your hands, regulates the brain. Warm water or soap  If angry, use your pillow as a punch bag, this is a safe way of punching out your anger  Using colours to describe feelings with a parent/carer  Colouring, choosing colours and the task of drawing requires the cognitive brain  Tumble dry sheets/wet wipes, the smell is sensory and will remind you of nurture  Foam soap, this again is sensory. Use the sink or a large bowl, let them squeeze the foam soap and mould it in their hands  Emotion cards, they can point to how you feel if you are unable to find the words  Relaxation and yoga on YouTube  Puzzles, such as dot to dot or mazes. These use the cognitive brain so puts the brain back online and pulling you from the stress response  Games, play any game with your family, your closeness to others who signify trust and safety will re-regulate  Soothing, cuddle into a blanket which helps you to feel warm and safe  A safe place, agreeing with a parent/carer that you have a safe place that you will use when you feel things are tough  Breathing, which will reduce the effects of a stress response. This also helps when experiencing a panic attack. Deep breathe in, hold, and count for 3, release blowing out for a count of 10, keep repeating until you can feel your head feeling fuzzy. Counting requires the cognitive brain (cortex) so you are putting your brain back online.  Mindfulness  Meditation  Building your awareness to your environment, where are you? What can you see? What can you hear?  Warm shower or bath  Write down what is happening and explore why  Use your imagination with construction bricks such as Lego






Breathing Techniques



Deep breathing is a relaxation technique which helps us by relieving feelings of stress and anxiety. Being in a stress response or experiencing an anxiety attack, our heart rates increases as described in the fight/flight response. Breathing slows down the heart and we move from a stress position to a place of relaxation.


Try and find a comfortable place to sit, if you can, close your eyes. Place your hand on your heart so that you can feel your breathing:


1. Breathe in through your nose and count 1,2,3,4

2. Hold your breath and count 1,2,3,4

3. Breath out through your mouth, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 continue for as long as you can

4. Repeat until you can feel your body relaxing, some people report that their head becomes fuzzy and light


This technique helps by combating the bodies stressful response in two ways. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain which promotes calmness. By counting, you are using your pre-frontal cortex – your thinking brain. This pulls you out of the limbic brain where you were in a stress response and unable to make rational decisions to the cortex whereby you are able to rationalise what has just happened and to then use your learnt regulation techniques.


Here are links to other breathing techniques – use what you find is most helpful to you.


Relieve Stress and Anxiety with Simple Breathing Techniques - Dr Jo


Box Breathing Technique - simple strategy to calm anxiety - Pooky Knightsmith









What is mindfulness?


Being caught in your difficult thoughts and feelings of the past and worrying is really tough, Mindfulness helps by moving to a sense of calmness and being present in the here and now.

Colouring mandalas helps you focus on the task in front of you, your brain becomes relaxed and away from difficult thoughts and feelings. Here is a link to downloadable free mandalas:



Here are links to books of mandalas:


Meditation Music, to re-regulate, relax and to aid sleep


Safe Place Technique

This is a guided meditation technique which will help you visualise yourself in a safe place, taking you away from present difficult thoughts and feelings






Grounding Techniques

After a trauma, it is normal to experience difficult thoughts, feelings, and behaviours such as flashbacks, bad dreams and feeling worried and anxious. Grounding techniques help you control the symptoms which we have discussed in the flight/fight/freeze section. These techniques turn our attention from the past to the present moment.



1. Focus on 5 things you can see, notice their size, any patterns, colours

2. Focus on 4 things you can feel, the texture of your clothes, your hair, the furniture that is close to you, how your feet feel either inside your shoes or on the ground you are standing on, touch your phone or keyboard

3. Focus on 3 things that you can hear, a clock ticking, the rain outside, bird song, noises outside the room – what are they?

4. Focus on 2 things you can smell, flowers, a candle, a drink you may have close by,

5. Focus on something you can eat which is close by, crisps, gum, a drink that maybe close by


Here is a guided video to help you:


Name as many items in each category:





Create your own categories.






Mental Exercises

Puzzles, word search, sudoku, all of these use your cognitive brain and keep you focused away from the memories of the past or help you re-ground if you have experienced a difficult image from the past. Other helpful techniques are:


Counting back from 100, if that is too easy, count back from 1,000

Play a game on your phone.


When you have experienced a stress episode, you will feel tired afterwards. Do not worry, this is a normal response.

Go with it, take time to relax even if this means taking a nap, cuddle up in a blanket, and use some of the relaxation techniques.



Create your own first aid box. Think about what you can have in this box, draw this on a piece of paper. Suggestions:

A book to read, a jigsaw puzzle, phone/text a friend, watch your favourite film, cuddle into a snuggly blanket, or go for a walk and notice the temperature, noises and smells.

Being prepared is helpful, have a notebook with all of the strategies that help you. Note down what was helpful and what was not.





Understanding Emotions


Your emotions will be all over the place which is normal. These feelings are scary and confusing. It is normal to feel many of these feelings for a long time after the event until you have taken control of the impact with the use of the strategies we will look at in the following pages. Use this time to identify what feelings you feel and when.


On paper, write down feelings you have at certain times during your week, then why you feel like this ending with how you respond. This will help you link feelings to thoughts and then how your behaviours are affected which will begin to help you move from a place of helplessness, to a place of beginning to understand and regain your life back, this is just an example:





Use the wheel to link your emotions to how your body responds (click to download). As well as different feelings, your body will also seem different to you which can feel really tough for you to deal with. You can share this with a parent, a friend, or a teacher to help them understand what you are going through.

Emotions can be experienced as difficult and may cause distress. You may have ruminating thoughts. For some, risky behaviours are adopted as a copying strategy.

Link to Risky Behaviours Page






Trauma Reminders and Relapse Prevention

It is important for you to acknowledge, that although you have learnt about what is trauma as well as learning strategies to help you with the impact of trauma, in the future you may experience moments when you may be reminded of the trauma. This is normal, you may have been re-triggered. We have already discussed triggers; we have encouraged you to identify what your triggers are so that you are better skilled at overcoming then. Something in the present that reminds you of the past such as visual cues, special dates, Birthdays, holidays, or an experience such as a car journey which may then trigger thoughts, feelings, or snapshots of your trauma. This is you not going backwards, it is a small moment in time when you are feeling as if you are back in the place where the trauma was experienced. When this happens, review what you have previously learnt and the strategies that helped you. We term this ‘relapse prevention’. Think of yourself as a detective, think about what you have been doing, write down a log of your day, try to look for what may have triggered your trauma reminder. As described earlier, this will empower you to logically think it through, you can then plan to avoid or prepare yourself for future reminders.


“The lightning strike reminded me of the day it happened. It seems strange to me now that I can remember the

weather when something so awful was happening to me, but I remember the noise so vividly”.


From this point, you can rationalise that even though it was lightening when you experienced the trauma event, the trauma is not in the present, it is left in the past and that you are ‘SAFE’.


Think of this as having a little ‘wobble’ or a ‘hiccup’.


Recently, we have all learnt the new skill of communicating on zoom.

Think of a time when you experienced a glitch, you froze, you are stuck, frozen.

You decide to pull yourself out of the meeting and re-enter.

There you go, you are back!

This is the same as when you experience a reminder, you freeze.

Reboot your frontal cortex so that you can process that you are safe and that this is merely a reminder.


This section is to help you understand how trauma may impact you and to then support you with techniques to enable you to feel safe, emotionally regulated, relaxed and to feel a sense of calmness and control.

Whilst this page is helpful and progressive in your journey towards healing, for some, further support maybe helpful.

For further support, please look on the following pages:

What is counselling?

Resources page




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