Shock: what is it and why is it happening?

They give us bad news: a loved one has passed away suddenly. We were pale, paralyzed, not knowing what to do, and we stared.

They tell us by name, but we don’t react. We do all of these things because we’re in shock, And the impression of the news or event prevents us from processing the facts in a normal way. Our mind is blocked, it’s in a kind of limbo.

We are not talking about something exceptional: either for that or for other reasons that we sometimes have high intensity reactions or blockages due to situations we cannot handle and that they produce great anxiety. We take a look at what it is, when it appears, and what it means to go into psychological shock below.

What is the state of shock?

The state of nervous shock is one high intensity emotional and physiological response to very stressful and traumatic events that have just happened or that we have known or dealt with at this time. These reactions can include anxiety, loss of consciousness, tunnel vision, dissociative symptoms, anger, rage, crying, nervous laughter, tremors, tachycardia or even complete indifference and lack of awareness. reaction.

The most common is that either there is emotional dullness and loss of cognitive abilities or a hysterical reaction and / or aggressive in the face of the fact.

Reaction to traumatic events: emotional shock

State of shock it is an emotional shock that can occur for several reasons as long as they are very important, Both in terms of personal experience and of observation or notification of an event.

If it can sometimes appear in positive circumstances that cause us great excitement (unexpected hiring, great successes, reaching vital goals, winning the lotto, etc.) usually the state of shock appears in the face of traumatic and aversive situations and events (For example, these are common reasons why we go into shock at the death of a loved one, rape, accident, loss of physical or mental faculties, break-up or rejection of love. or dismissal).

It is important to keep in mind that the state of emotional shock it’s a normal response, not a pathological thing, Which passes transiently over a relatively short period of time (from a few minutes to several days). It is not something that has to do with abnormal functioning of the body, as usually shock occurs in very unusual situations in which emotional involvement is warranted.

What makes us enter this state?

We have said before that the onset of shock is a traumatic or very stressful event for us. But what conditions must this event have in itself for it to appear?

As a general rule, with regard to the event in question, it is considered that for a situation to generate this state of shock it must be perceived as extremely harmful and painful for the subject (Or the opposite if the shock is for something positive). In other words, there is a situation in which our whole nervous system is activated to respond to a complex situation in which there is a lot at stake and in which we should react quickly.

It must also be unexpected and that we do not have or do not believe we have any decision-making or control over it. Thus, we can consider that what causes the state of shock is the perception of the event rather than the event itself.

Being as a perception of the event what provokes the psycho-emotional and physiological reaction shock and given that not everyone experiences this state in the same way in the same situations, it is undeniable that there must be internal variables of the person undergoing this phenomenon involved in the experience of the state of choc.

The configuration of neurotransmitters and neural structure, the type of personality and self-esteem, past experiences and the value placed on the type of event considered traumatic are examples of characteristics that will affect whether or not a disease occurs. condition. Emotional shock, its intensity and the type of reaction that will be triggered.

Shock and stress disorders

It is common to talk about going into shock in situations where stress disorders arise. In fact, we could consider that it would be a first step that can place us between the experience of a traumatic event and whether or not suffering from a stress disorder, whether acute or post-traumatic.

This is because it is considered to be an emotional shock or a state of shock a first phase, acute and impactful, in the process of reaction to the traumatic event. In this situation, the trauma has not yet been dealt with, being the first reactions of disbelief and a direct reaction to experiencing a certain event that we have not yet accepted.

This phase can last from a few minutes to a few days, being in this moment of initial shock the phase in which they usually appear denial of success processes typical of mourning a loss. Later, a second appears in which it appears the continuation of the same previous symptoms, but this time beginning to assimilate the fact.

This is when acute stress disorder might start, In which would appear the avoidance of similar situations or evoking trauma and a set of problems would present as the persistent re-experimentation of a part of the success, hyperactivation or dissociative symptoms such as depersonalization. And if symptoms persist for more than three months, the diagnosis could be post-traumatic stress disorder.

Treat the state of shock

It is normal to be in shock at a very painful situation. It is a process that must go through and will usually eventually recover on its own depending on the person integrating the event into their reality.

However, depending on the intensity of the reaction (for example, anxiety attacks may occur) or the lack of psychological support and counseling can be helpful in dealing with the situation in the first few moments. If the reaction is very intense, they may apply relaxation and breathing techniques or even administer a tranquilizer. In this sense, the possibility of providing psychological first aid is very positive.

Since sometimes the shock comes from notifying something unexpected, you need to consider how you communicate and the type of person you are communicating with, Requiring a different approach depending on the individual. For example, an emotional reaction can be softened if bad news is given in a calm or close-up manner, while delaying or rushing in excess can prolong anxiety and cause anticipatory anxiety before the shock itself. Empathy is crucial in these cases.

later may help prevent the onset of acute or post-traumatic stress disorder, And in the event that these disorders appear, we would work and treat them appropriately (exposure techniques, cognitive restructuring and relaxation techniques being among the most effective strategies).

Bibliographical references:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.

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