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Survival Circuit and Post-Traumatic Stress

Overview

The survival circuit is how our bodies and brains respond to threats around us. Our brains are made to respond this way to help us survive threats and stress.

Four Steps of the Survival CircuitMind and different speech bubble thoughts - thinking concept. Elements are on different layers.

    1. Something that we see, hear, smell, taste or touch tells our brain there could be danger. The alarm part of our brain reacts right away without thinking.
    2. Our brain tells our body to get ready for possible danger. The sympathetic nervous system starts acting right away without thinking. The black centers of our eyes get bigger, our heart beats faster, and we start sweating.
    3. The alarm part of our brain quiets down. The “thinking parts” of our brain start to figure out what is happening. Our brain thinks about what is going on and compares it to memories of things that happened before. With this new information, our brain decides if we are really in danger or not.
    4. If our brain decides that there is no danger, it tells our body to relax. The parasympathetic nervous system is turned on. The black centers of our eyes get smaller and our heart beats slower. This helps us relax and make it easier to make choices and return to routines.

Post-Traumatic Stress and The Survival Circuit

The survival circuit is how our bodies and brains respond to threats around us. Trauma can change how the survival circuit works in our brain.

    • Sometimes when people go through trauma they may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also called PTSD.
    • PTSD can change the way our brains work and how we understand information.
    • When someone has PTSD, the alarm part of their brain tells their body to get ready for danger sometimes when there is no danger.
    • PTSD can also make the alarm part of our brain, or the survival circuit, work too much.
    • The alarm signals from the brain keep telling our body to get ready for danger even when the threat is gone.
    • The survival circuit may send alarm signals when we remember or think about trauma.
    • This can make our body have strong feelings or reactions even when there is no physical danger or threat.
    • When the survival circuit in our brain is overloaded, it can be hard to pay attention or make good choices.

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Survival Circuit The survival circuit is how our bodies and brains respond to threats around us. Our brains are made to respond this way to help us survive threats and stress. pdf Download file: Survival Circuit
PTSD and the Survival Circuit The survival circuit is how our bodies and brains respond to threats around us. Trauma can change how the survival circuit works in our brain. pdf Download file: PTSD and the Survival Circuit

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.