How Your Body Remembers Trauma
The Mind-Body Connection
Physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions are interconnected and can influence each other. This concept has gained significant attention in recent years, as research shows how trauma can impact mental and physical well-being.
Trauma can affect the body’s physiological response. When faced with a traumatic event, the body goes into survival mode through its fight-flight-freeze response. Release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, causes blood pressure, breathing patterns, and heart rate to change, leading toward hyperarousal or hypo-arousal states.
These responses are essential in helping people survive when encountering danger, but prolonged exposure to trauma leads to chronic anxiety disorders such as PTSD and depression, which affect daily functioning.
Neurobiology of Trauma
Trauma has a significant impact on the brain’s neurobiology. In particular, it can affect critical areas responsible for processing and storing memories — such as the amygdala and hippocampus, situated deep within the temporal lobe region responsible for emotion regulation and memory consolidation, respectively.
The prefrontal cortex regulates emotions, decision-making, and social behavior. However, trauma can significantly impact the PFC’s function by disrupting neural pathways that control emotional regulation and cognitive processing. This disruption often leads to hyperarousal or dissociation in response to triggers associated with traumatic events.
Individuals who’ve experienced trauma may struggle with impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and difficulty making decisions due to changes in their brain structure that affect the executive functioning of the PFC.
Physical Manifestations of Trauma
Trauma can have significant physical manifestations that affect an individual’s daily life. Chronic pain and tension, digestive issues, and sleep disturbances are some of the most common physical symptoms.
Chronic Pain and Tension
Trauma can trigger chronic pain and tension in various body parts such as the neck, shoulders, back, or limbs. This is often due to prolonged activation of stress hormones, such as cortisol, leading to muscle stiffness that eventually causes chronic conditions if not addressed in time.
Digestive Issues and Gastrointestinal Disorders
Trauma also affects gut health and digestion negatively, causing disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, and stomach ulcers. These are due to auto-immune responses triggered by increased inflammation that harm the intestinal lining and lead to nutrient deficiencies and other complications.
Sleep Disturbances and Insomnia
Sleep is crucial for maintaining overall health; however, trauma disrupts this vital process. It triggers nightmares, interfering with the REM cycle, and affects mental well-being over time.
Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic Nervous Systems
The autonomic nervous system, also referred to as ANS, plays a crucial role in regulating the physiological response to stress through two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The sympathetic nervous system activates during traumatic events, releasing adrenaline and increasing heart rate and blood pressure while slowing down digestion.
On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system controls rest-digest-repair functions, counterbalancing sympathetic activity and returning the body to normalcy after stressful experiences.
Long-Term Impact of ANS Dysregulation
Prolonged activation or dysregulation of the ANS may negatively impact mental and physical health. It can lead to difficult relationships, poor memory and attention, and irritability. Poor relationships result because this condition interferes with normal behavior and causes individuals to overreact or underreact. Such individuals may have rage outbursts and become argumentative or vindictive.
Healing Trauma in the Body
Healing from trauma is possible through various therapeutic approaches that focus on the root cause and how to release trauma from the body.
Trauma-informed therapy is an approach that recognizes and acknowledges the impact of traumatic experiences on individuals’ lives. It emphasizes safety, empowerment, choice, and collaboration while building trust between the therapist and the client. Trauma-informed therapists work with clients to recognize triggers of distress in their life while developing coping skills and strategies promoting resilience.
Somatic experiencing is another type of therapy that focuses on bodily sensations to process past traumas. It utilizes awareness techniques like breathwork, repetitive motion, and touch-based exercises, facilitating the discharge of stuck energy stored within muscles and tissues after traumatic events occur.
Mindfulness practices such as meditation are effective ways to connect with the body and inner self, ultimately reducing anxiety-related symptoms caused by trauma. These practices help individuals become more aware of their present moment while cultivating self-compassion, leading toward positive changes over time.
Body-based approaches include somatic therapies, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, that use eye movements and bilateral stimulation to target and remove negative thoughts or memories associated with traumatic events from brain pathways. This helps clients regain control over cognitive processes related to past experiences.
Seeking Professional Help and Support
Seeking professional help for healing trauma in the body is essential. A therapist specializing in somatic therapies may help address issues related to traumatic experiences encountered earlier in life.
Bodywork practitioners, such as massage therapists and somatic experiencing professionals, offer alternative therapeutic options worth exploring. These methods are designed specifically for people looking to relieve tension or pain symptoms originating from exposure to stressors, including past traumas.
Building a support network helps create an environment conducive to recovery after treatment. Friends, family members, and support groups provide invaluable resources needed most during challenging times and encourage better decision-making as a team.
Learn More About Trauma-Focused Therapy at Beachway Therapy Center
Understanding how the body remembers trauma is crucial to heal fully from its effects. The mind-body connection plays a significant role here; thus, adopting some of the strategies mentioned may help restore balance when dealing with everyday stresses. Seeking professional help and support is also essential to ongoing recovery efforts.
At Beachway Therapy Center, we offer trauma-focused therapy services to help individuals heal from traumatic experiences. Our trained professionals provide a safe and supportive environment to explore the body’s response to trauma with curiosity and compassion. If you’re struggling with the effects of trauma in life, please reach out for help today — healing is possible.