What happens when we are in shock?

Anthony Golden
What happens when we are in shock?

Sara has just heard some very important news, she has been fired from her job suddenly. After receiving the news, he feels that everything is spinning around him and he cannot react, much less understand what is happening. When her relatives ask her what happened, she cannot speak a word. The ideas cross in his head with each other and he is not able to reconsider what has just happened to him. Sara is in shock.


  • What is shock?
  • Symptoms of shock
  • Phases of shock
  • Events that trigger shock
  • How to react to shock
    • Links of interest

What is shock?

The state of shock is a psychological response that appears as a consequence of experiencing a traumatic event. It is a response in which very strong emotions arise that lead to a spontaneous physical response of fight, flight or blockage that our body generates.

The intense feeling of fear that the event causes us makes our body react to prepare for one of these three self-defense responses. That is why blood flow is concentrated in the extremities as a flight response or that we hyperventilate when breathing faster, a reaction that in turn causes a greater sense of confusion and lack of reality..

Symptoms of shock

When there are cases like these, the nervous system generates a high level of adrenaline and, as we said, prepares the body for a rapid response to the stressor stimulus. Some of the most common symptoms that are felt in this state on a psychological and cognitive level are:

  • Feeling confused and unclear when thinking
  • Feeling of derealization, as if we saw reality as a movie
  • Feeling of depersonalization that implies that we do not feel owners of what we are doing or saying.
  • Feeling anger, fear, and wanting to scream
  • Lack of reaction, cognitive block
  • Need to run or flee

On a physical level, the most common symptoms are:

  • Tension in muscles and joints
  • Hyperventilation
  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain, nausea, and intestinal problems
  • Tiredness and exhaustion
  • Feeling dizzy

Phases of shock

Shock is a condition that lasts for a few hours or days. During the following weeks this can turn into a state of acute stress, which later could turn into post-traumatic stress disorder.

Shock comes and goes through the following phases:

  • Impact phase: It is the phase in which the shock state itself occurs. It is the moment in which the organism prepares itself for the response to the stressful stimulus and the symptoms described above such as confusion and tension occur..
  • Intermediate phase: After the state of shock, reaction feelings such as sadness, fear or loneliness are experienced. These feelings indicate that the stimulus experienced is being assimilated and that the person is becoming more and more fully aware of what happened..
  • Acceptance phase: It occurs later and entails a total acceptance of what has been experienced. Although the situation may continue to provoke intense emotions, the person is already able to move on with his life and better manage his thoughts and emotions.

Events that trigger shock

There are many events that can trigger a state of shock, events that were not expected and that can put our psychological stability at risk due to their importance. These events can become terrible events such as catastrophes, accidents, ruptures or other more subjective such as listening to a story that causes us fear.

The magnitude of the fear that the event produces in us corresponds to the individual history of the person and what for someone can be horrible, such as a dismissal from work, for others it may not cause them any shock, as a breakup would..

Be that as it may, although some good news can also leave a person in this state, due to its importance for the individual, it is mostly very extreme news such as losses or violent acts, which unleash this cascade of blocking emotions.

How to react to shock

Having external help such as psychological first aid or a positive reaction from those close to you can be crucial for the development of the person's state of shock and overcoming the setbacks experienced in the future..

Treating the person calmly, helping them meet certain needs such as emergency calls or medical help, finding a phone in case they want to talk to a family member can be of great help for a person who is in this psychological state.

A clear and concise way of speaking will also help the person focus their thoughts. If the person in shock is very aggressive, it is best to give him space to calm down. Having the help of emergency professionals and psychology is always very important, not only in this state of shock but in the later phases, for the best recovery of the person, helping him to overcome the traumas that may have been generated.

Links of interest

  • What is Psychological Shock? And 5 Tips for Coping .Alice Boyes. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-practice/201803/what-is-psychological-shock-and-5-tips-coping
  • 7 Warning Signs You Are Suffering from Emotional Shock. Harley Therapy. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/7-warning-signs-acute-stress-reaction-emotional-shock.htm

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