The Connections Between Trauma and Anxiety

CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Cheryl has been working in the private Mental Health and Addiction treatment world for 30 years, as a clinician, clinical director, program founder, program administrator, and facility decorator!

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The Connections Between Trauma and Anxiety

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relation between trauma and anxiety

Updated June 2024 by: Sara Sorenson, LCMHC

When we think of anxiety, we think about an isolated issue and we never think that, actually, anxiety is just a normal response humans have programmed to act before a stressful situation

The reason this response exists is to warn us of things that we should be paying attention to protect us from it, even though, there might not be any real danger ahead of us. This response called anxiety usually lasts as long as the stressful trigger lasts. 

Now, when we talk about trauma, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Trauma refers to the actual result or outcome that comes after being exposed to an event (or multiple events in some cases) that might have been either distressing or even life-threatening. These events tend to have short and long-term negative effects on the person on a physical, social, mental, and even emotional level.

According to data from The National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 31% of the US population has had an anxiety disorder sometime during their life. This doesn’t mean 31% of Americans also have trauma, but symptoms of classic anxiety: hypervigilance, tension and feeling worried ill ease after a trauma reaction.

Does Trauma Lead to Anxiety?

Though trauma doesn’t always lead to anxiety in some cases, it is considered a risk factor for developing it. Other risk factors include genetics and temperament. Anxiety disorders and trauma don’t always go hand in hand, and trauma doesn’t always lead to anxiety —but the conditions often occur together and have some similar symptoms..

Trauma leads the body to respond with “fight or flight mode” as a reaction to a real or perceived dangerous state that can be beneficial for survival as a short-term adaptive physical response. If sustained over a long period of time it can become harmful to health because the body remains in hypervigilance releasing stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol.

Inflammation occurs in the body from cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol and adrenaline can also block neurotransmitters that help calm anxiety. These include GABA, dopamine and serotonin.

Signs of Trauma-Induced Anxiety

Diagnosing if a patient is only anxious or may have trauma is not straightforward. It’s best if the doctor has established a good rapport with the patient to get the best possible detailed history from the patient.

Trauma-related events that may cause anxiety in patients include:

  • Military combat
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • Physical assault or violence
  • Environmental disaster
  • Witnessing a death or injury
  • Car Accident
  • Terrorist attack

Anxiety After Trauma Symptoms

Physical Symptoms

Trauma-induced anxiety can present with a number of physical symptoms including:

  • Fatigue
  • Tension
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweaty palms
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea
  • Chest tension
  • Panic attacks

Behavioral Symptoms

Trauma-induced anxiety can also manifest with upsetting behavioral symptoms including:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Fear, panic or worry
  • Low or depressed mood
  • Thoughts of guilt or shame
  • Distrust or paranoia

What Are Treatment Options for Trauma-Related Anxiety?

Many of these symptoms can be draining. If untreated trauma can lead to an increasing number of health risks. The good news is that in the past, healing from trauma and anxiety is possible.  Treatment options for patients include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common type of therapy that actually has proven to be really effective when treating people suffering from both trauma and anxiety (both as a separate condition and as trauma-related anxiety). This form of therapy is based on the premise that the patient changes their negative thought patterns.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is also one of the best options available to treat patients with trauma and anxiety symptoms. Different forms of stimulation are used in EMDR to activate areas of the brain making it easier to reprocess and rewire memories.


For people struggling with chronic anxiety, there are several medical-prescribed drugs such as SSRIs to boost serotonin levels and even prazosin and benzodiazepines when the person suffers from chronic anxiety.

Support Groups

Support groups offer patients with trauma and anxiety a safe environment to share and relate their experiences with others who understand their situation.

Experiential Therapies

Experiential therapies can offer patients with trauma a sense of grounding and pleasure. Examples are art therapy, dance, roleplay, yoga or meditation.


 Any Anxiety Disorder.  National Institute of Mental Health.  

The Unholy Trinity: Childhood Trauma, Adulthood Anxiety, and Long-Term Pain. National Library of Medicine. 2020 Jan. 

Chronic Stress. Yale Medicine.

CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Cheryl has been working in the private Mental Health and Addiction treatment world for 30 years, as a clinician, clinical director, program founder, program administrator, and facility decorator!

Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.