Trauma is a word that has become more common in our society. We hear about it on the news, in movies, and in books. But what does trauma actually mean? Trauma can be defined as an emotional response to an event or situation that is so intense that it overwhelms your ability to cope. This can cause physical and psychological symptoms. Here’s the science behind trauma and how it affects your body.
Trauma isn’t just a result of a physical event
Many people believe to experience trauma, you must have some sort of physical abuse event occur. But this isn’t the case, trauma can look a lot of different ways and cause many health problems. According to Medical News Today, “a person may experience trauma as a response to any event they find physically or emotionally threatening or harmful.” This means that any event that leaves you feeling scared, helpless, or out of control can be traumatic.
Trauma affects your body and brain
One of the ways trauma affects your body is by impacting your brain. Traumatic events can cause the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can impact the way different parts of your brain function in relation to your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.
When you experience a traumatic event, you go into survival mode and trauma changes the brain, affecting your mental health. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated, which causes the release of cortisol. This stress hormone helps to prepare you for fight or flight by releasing energy stores and increasing heart rate and blood pressure. This hormone also suppresses the immune system, which can lead to physical and psychological issues related to your health.
Trauma and your memory
The amygdala is responsible for emotional responses, and it can become overactive after a traumatic event. This can cause you to feel anxious or fear even when there is no danger present. The hippocampus, one of the parts of the brain, is responsible for memory, and trauma can cause it to shrink. This can make it difficult to help us remember details about the event or to handle our emotions. Whether it’s short-term or long-term, traumatic events can affect patients’ memory because of the hippocampus, requiring therapeutic treatment to reduce or eliminate fear in your life.
Trauma affects your body through physical symptoms
Not only can trauma affect your brain, but it can also cause physical issues. When you’re in survival mode, your body releases stress hormones that can impact different parts of your body. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Physical responses to trauma may also mean that an individual needs help. Physical symptoms may include:
Stomach pain and digestive issues
Racing heart and sweating
Being very jumpy and easily startled”
Trauma can also increase your risk for longer-term physical illness
Trauma can have a lasting impact on your body. According to Harvard Medical School, “Research shows that these events can trigger emotional and even physical reactions that can make you more prone to a number of different health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.”
It can also lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which has its own range of problems associated. Symptoms of PTSD can cause things like non-epileptic seizures (PNES) and panic attacks, which tie back to your nervous system. The goal is to treat it as early as possible to reduce anxiety around painful memories in patients for an improved life. Survivors work to combat chronic disorders like this that could impact their sense of well-being for a normal life.
So what can you do if you’ve experienced trauma?
If you’ve experienced some sort of trauma or a traumatic event in the past, it’s important to seek help to begin healing. There are many different types of therapy and systems that can help you deal with the symptoms that cause anxiety and depression. Talk therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you understand and process your emotions, while body-based therapies like yoga or massage can help to release the tension and stress that you may be feeling. There are also many self-help books and online resources available to help you begin healing whether it’s past physical, mental, or emotional trauma.
EMDR is another great way to process a past traumatic experience while having structure in place. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and it involves moving your eyes back and forth while you open yourself to exposure of the traumatic event. This helps to process the memories and emotions that are associated with the trauma in an active way and is done through a therapist.
Resources for trauma:
The National Institute of Mental Health:
This website provides information on the different types of trauma and their effects on the body.
The Harvard Medical School:
This website provides information on the long-term physical effects of trauma.
This website is a great resource for those who are struggling with PTSD. It provides information on the symptoms, treatments, and resources available.
The American Psychological Association:
This website provides a list of therapists who specialize in trauma treatment.
This website provides information on EMDR, a therapy that can be used to process traumatic memories.
National Center for PTSD:
This website provides information on PTSD, including symptoms, treatments, and resources.
The Mayo Clinic:
This website provides information on different types of trauma and their effects on the body. It also includes a section on self-help tips.
This website provides a database of therapists who can be filtered down to your specific needs for adults and children.
If you suspect you may be suffering from trauma, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by the symptoms of it, it’s important to reach out for help. There are many resources available to you and there is no shame in seeking help. Trauma can affect anyone, so don’t hesitate to get the support that you need.
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