Trauma. A brief definition from the American Psychological Association describes trauma as an “emotional response to a terrible event.” The ambiguity of this definition lends perception into the widespread lack of knowledge many people have of trauma—the way it impacts us emotionally, mentally, and bodily—to not point out its profound implications upon a lot of our lives. Compound the query additional and ask: how is trauma saved in the physique? Today, I’m highlighting the significance of breaking down this very key a part of our well being. I’ll be sharing how trauma lives inside our our bodies long-term—and the way we are able to start to heal it.
Featured picture by Claire Huntsberger.
Experiencing My Personal Trauma
I’ll start with a personal aside. I experienced a traumatic event in 2014 and located myself reeling from the newfound nervousness. I interpreted every thing that came about round me as a perceived hazard. At that time, I had no concept how completely devastating trauma could be in a single’s life. Directly after the occasion, I used alcohol as a coping mechanism. I stayed busy and went out with associates to maintain myself distracted. In quick, I used to be avoiding coping with the methods trauma was impacting my psychological well being.
But after I met my husband, I started to note how not dealing with my trauma made our relationship tougher. Being with him, and seeing how my unhealed trauma impacted us, I spotted I wanted to do one thing about my nervousness and worry. With the help of a tremendous trauma therapist, I started to make sense of what had occurred to my mind. I discovered why I lived as a extremely anxious and hyper-reactive individual for therefore a few years after the accident.
The Path To Healing
I’ve suffered from what I firmly imagine is trauma residing in my physique for years. And to be clear, I’m nonetheless on the lengthy journey to therapeutic. I’ve discovered lots alongside the means and have additionally discovered how necessary it’s to method life and everybody I meet with a trauma-informed lens.
Trauma Looks—And Feels—Different For Everyone
Many of us know that traumatic experiences in life can be scarring both mentally and emotionally. According to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly 90% of American adults have skilled a traumatic occasion at the very least as soon as.
It’s much less generally understood, nonetheless, that our our bodies can maintain unprocessed and unintegrated trauma. This results in painful bodily signs and even long-term illness. What’s extra, everybody who experiences trauma might reply in another way. Not everybody who experiences a traumatic scenario (suppose: automobile accident, sexual violence, pure catastrophe, and so on.), experiences PTSD or is left “scarred” for all times.
Two individuals might be in the identical automobile accident and stroll away with two very completely different experiences of their trauma (try this video for extra info on the concept). But with targeted remedy, our our bodies and brains can start to course of trauma and, in flip, construct resilience.
The Science of Trauma
Our bodies and our brains are experts at protecting ourselves when we sense imminent danger. This fight or flight response is probably going one thing you’ve heard of earlier than. Essentially, our brains launch stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline in response to actual or perceived hazard. Our brains do that for a number of causes, together with to:
- Heighten our senses
- Increase our coronary heart charge
- Slow digestion
All of that is accomplished to extend our skill to maneuver rapidly. Part of this response relies on how our nervous system interacts with what is named the HPA axis or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. When somebody is experiencing extended intervals of stress, the HPA axis tries to maintain cortisol and different stress hormones. This offers your physique a lift of power, pondering that sure stress is one thing life-threatening or harmful.
Your mind retains stress hormones pumping to offer you the power to flee. Unfortunately for our our bodies and brains these days, most demanding issues in life (a crappy electronic mail out of your boss, a automobile reducing you off, or a textual content out of your ex) don’t necessitate this large stress hormone dump. It’s undoubtedly organic overkill—nevertheless it’s simply how we tick.
How Our Brains Try to Keep Us Safe
When an individual’s brain has been impacted by a past traumatic experience, their HPA axis becomes hypersensitive and overreactive. This is our body’s attempt to protect us. While our brains are smart, a traumatized brain doesn’t understand how to differentiate between a real and perceived threat. As a result, they flood the body with stress hormones, elevating your senses to “protect you” at the slightest similar stimuli.
I’ll give an example. In 2014, just a few weeks after the terrible car accident I witnessed, I was living in LA sitting outside a coffee shop. Suddenly, a bicycle that pulled up to the shop struck a nail. The bike tire popped and a deafening noise rang through the air. Everyone sitting around me just glanced at the bike. But within seconds, I was on the ground underneath the coffee table, heart racing, wondering why I reacted that way.
I later learned in therapy that because of the trauma I had experienced, my brain and nervous system had become hypersensitive to seemingly innocuous stimuli. This idea is known as HPA dysfunction—and it doesn’t all the time apply to noises both. The psychological phenomenon applies to all types of trauma.
Trauma’s Mental and Physical Impact
Storing trauma in our bodies comes into play when the untethered release of stress hormones over and over again at higher than normal levels begins to impact our mental and physical health. Eventually, this causes damage to our bodies.
Some of the understood outcomes of unmanaged long-term HPA dysfunction are:
- Frequent illness (lowered immune system)
- Difficulty coping with stress
- Inexplicable fatigue
- Feeling easily overwhelmed
- Exaggerated stress response
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Menstrual irregularities (due to hormonal imbalance)
- Muscle weakness
- Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
So how do we know where to begin and learn to heal from past traumas? Keep reading for tips to help you move forward.
4 Tips For Healing From Trauma
Seek Therapeutic Support
If it’s available to you, start therapy as soon as possible. I recommend and personally use Psychology Today to seek out therapists in my space who take my insurance coverage. By working by a traumatic occasion with remedy, you’re serving to your physique and mind perceive and course of what’s being retrieved by your reminiscence (whether or not that’s by flashbacks, physique sensations, relieving the occasion, and so on.)
Know this: It’s by no means too late to start out remedy. It’s been discovered that two varieties of remedy, Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy, might assist deal with PTSD signs in as little as 12 weeks. Many individuals additionally discover they’ve nice success with EMDR therapy as properly.
Practice Stress Reduction and Calming Techniques
Mindfulness practices reminiscent of yoga, meditation, or breathwork all present promising skill to lower nervousness and rewire damaging thought patterns surrounding trauma. I like apps like Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, or Breethe for guided meditation or breathwork. Research exhibits that 8-12 weeks of mindfulness follow has the skill to alter our brains for the higher.
Practice a Healthy Lifestyle
Avoiding consuming alcohol or caffeine in extra will assist your mind start to recalibrate, supplying you with the house and time to start to course of what has occurred. When you’ve mastered getting out of unhealthy habits, start desirous about consuming properly, exercising as a lot as doable, and sleeping at the very least 7 hours every evening. It might sound like lots if you’re feeling down or have a tough time simply functioning, so don’t decide to all of those directly. Healthy habits take time to construct—strive including simply one in every of these wholesome habits at a time!
Advocate for Yourself
It’s simple to suppose that one thing is flawed with you or that you simply’re being “over-dramatic” or “overly sensitive.” In actuality, your mind IS oversensitive and it’s necessary to be understanding, variety, and affected person together with your expertise. It could be useful to coach your accomplice or shut family and friends on the physiological results of trauma. This may also help them begin to perceive what you’re going by. I’ve discovered it offers individuals extra understanding and persistence with my intense nervousness round automobiles or feeling uncontrolled. It additionally helps individuals assist me after I want help.