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  • Writer's pictureMaria Diaz

6 Anxious Behaviors That May Actually Be Trauma Responses

Woman with anxiety

Our brains are wonderful things. When faced with a particularly stressful situation, the brain and body react in a way that protects and keeps us alive. These anxious behaviors have a purpose and, when functioning correctly, will do a great job. But the brain can also wrongly perceive threats. When it is inappropriately triggered, these responses can become problematic. 

When we suffer a traumatic experience, the body has similar responses, which can lead to feeling guarded, feeling on high alert, and having trouble with concentration. An anxious response and a trauma response are very similar in nature. However, the difference is where the symptoms stem from. 

Anxiety and trauma can go hand in hand, and the traumatized brain will do anything possible to keep us from reliving that experience. Responses can manifest in several different ways, and behaviors we thought were anxious might, in fact, be trauma responses. 

Here are six behaviors that might actually be informed by trauma. 

1. Experiencing Discomfort When Someone Unknown is Too Close

There are jokes and memes about people invading personal space. Most people enjoy their space but can also remain unfazed when someone enters it.

For those of us who have suffered trauma, we may feel anxious and uncomfortable when someone unknown comes into too close proximity. If boundaries have previously been violated, there is an increased likelihood of being hypervigilant. 

2. Shutting Down in Social Settings

Social settings can be very overstimulating and difficult to navigate, especially if we experience social anxiety. Our nervous system can become overwhelmed, resulting in our body shutting down. 

Trauma survivors often share a similar feeling of overstimulation and becoming overwhelmed in social settings. The response can be to shut down and avoid interactions, especially with those who feel unsafe or are new. It is a variation of the classic freeze trauma response. 

3. Hypervigilance in Public Places

Traumatic experiences can leave us feeling like we have lost some element of control. As a result, the mind and body learn to stay ready as a coping strategy. Our nervous system stays on even when no immediate threat exists. 

For this reason, it is not uncommon to have a specific routine or preferred seating arrangement in public places. It is a way for us to impose control in an uncomfortable situation, all while keeping an eye on the environment. 

4. Constantly Apologizing

Anxious people tend to over-apologize, whether due to a fear of rejection, an inability to be assertive, poor self-worth, social discomfort, or perfectionism. The slightest criticism can result in shame.

After suffering from trauma, a natural response that manifests is this need to apologize, even when we have done nothing wrong. We are protecting ourselves from feeling any emotional turmoil. 

5. Disliking Unplanned Social Interactions

Ask anyone who suffers from social anxiety, and they will likely tell you how uncomfortable social gatherings are, especially those that are unplanned. This can be a phone call, a casual encounter in a store, someone knocking on the door, or unplanned guests. 

When there is a history of trauma, these unplanned encounters can instantly cause a cortisol spike and adrenaline to start pumping. It can send us back into a fight-or-flight response and cause feelings of being trapped and out of control. 

6. Eating/Drinking Too Much or Too Little

Feelings of anxiety can cause certain behaviors like “stress eating” or self-medicating with alcohol. Trauma survivors are also at a higher risk for developing similar behaviors. 

Over-indulgence or avoidance of food and alcohol has been found to share a link with traumatic experiences and childhood traumas. 

If you are having trouble controlling anxious behaviors, you may be experiencing underlying trauma responses. Therapy is an excellent way to address anxiety and trauma. Call our office today so we can help you identify what you are experiencing and how to find relief.  


About the Author

Maria Diaz is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY, NJ and CT. She's certified in EMDR and trained in modalities that are trauma focused. She is focused on healing and providing compassionate treatment to best support clients who are looking to feel better.


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