How Your Body Remembers Trauma

Trauma can be defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. It can be physical or psychological and it can happen to anyone. After experiencing a traumatic event, the body can remember it in many ways.

What Happens During Trauma?

During a traumatic experience, the body goes into survival mode; as a result, the body’s natural response is to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make the heart beat faster, increase blood pressure, and provide more oxygen and energy to help the body respond to the threat. In short, the body is preparing itself for fight or flight.

How Does the Body Remember Trauma?

Trauma is not just a mental experience; it can have physical effects on the body. When an event is traumatic, memories of the event can become stuck in the body, particularly in the nervous system. The body can continue to respond to the trauma long after the initial event has ended; this is known as traumatization.

Traumatization can manifest in different ways. For some people, it can manifest in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. Others can experience hypervigilance, feeling jittery, nervous, and anxious. Some people may try to numb the emotional pain of trauma by using drugs, alcohol, or other forms of self-medication.

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is another way that the body can remember trauma. Dissociation is a defense mechanism that can happen during or after a traumatic event. It is a way for the mind to protect itself from experiencing overwhelming emotions or pain.

Dissociation can manifest in different ways. Some people may feel detached from their body or emotions, and others may experience a loss of time or memory. Dissociation can also cause a person to feel numb or disconnected from the world around them.

The Role of the Amygdala in Trauma

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. When faced with a potentially dangerous situation, the amygdala sends signals to the rest of the brain to activate the body’s stress response.

During a traumatic event, the amygdala can become overactive, causing the body to release a large amount of stress hormones. This is why people with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) experience intense anxiety, even when they are not in danger.

How to Heal from Trauma

Healing from trauma is a process that can take time and the right support. It is important to remember that everyone’s healing journey is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from trauma.

Some common approaches to healing from trauma include therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy or exposure therapy. Medication, such as antidepressants or antianxiety medication, can also help manage trauma symptoms. Alternative therapies, such as yoga or acupuncture, can also be helpful. Exercise, eating well, and getting enough rest are all important components of healing.

Conclusion

Trauma can have a profound impact on our lives, and the body can remember trauma in many ways. Understanding how the body processes trauma is an important part of healing from it. While healing can be a difficult and complex journey, it is possible to find a way forward. Seeking support from a qualified professional can be an important first step towards healing.

FAQs

1. How does the body remember trauma?

The body remembers trauma through a process known as “somatic memory,” where the body stores and recalls the physical sensations associated with the traumatic event. These sensations can manifest in various ways, such as muscle tension, headaches, and stomachaches. Additionally, the brain remembers trauma through emotional and cognitive memory, which can lead to flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.

2. Can trauma affect physical health?

Yes, trauma can negatively impact physical health. Trauma can lead to chronic pain, digestive issues, immune system dysfunction, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Trauma can also cause changes in brain structure and function, which can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression and PTSD.

3. How can we support our body in healing from trauma?

There are various ways to support the body in healing from trauma. Practicing mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and regular exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eating a balanced diet and getting enough rest can also support physical health. Seeking therapy or counseling can provide a safe space to process and work through trauma with a qualified mental health professional.


References

1. van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.

2. McLaughlin, K. A., Sheridan, M. A., & Lambert, H. K. (2014). Childhood adversity and neural development: Deprivation and threat as distinct dimensions of early experience. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 47, 578-591.

3. Jovanovic, T., & Ressler, K. J. (2010). How the neurocircuitry and genetics of fear inhibition may inform our understanding of PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(6), 648-662.