Trauma can have long-lasting effects both on our mental and physical well-being. The word trauma itself carries an immense weight that is undeniable. It is often thought that trauma is associated with the mind. However, research has shown that trauma manifests in the body as well. Throughout this piece, we will look at how trauma shows itself in the body and why it is essential to focus on both the mental and physical properties when trying to heal from trauma.
Before we get into it, let us look at understanding the connection between our mind and body. When we understand the mind and body connection, we can start understanding how trauma has affected us in multiple facets.
A person can experience a single trauma event (Trauma I) or multiple traumatic events (Trauma II), this immediately triggers the body’s stress response. Our stress response can also be thought of as our fight, flight or freeze response. While in this stage, our body releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline to prepare us for the threat. Over time, it is found that people are stuck in their fight, flight and freeze response even when the perceived threat is no longer around. This leads to stagnant adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause many physical and psychological issues.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional and psychological response to an event that is distressing or disturbing. This can be one serious event or a number of events. These events can be harmful, threatening, highly distressing, and can have a long-term impact. There is no right or wrong when it comes to trauma. How we react to trauma can be individual and come on a spectrum of severity. Symptoms can show up right away, or show up later on and vary in duration.
Trauma and the Body
Digestive Issues: this can show up as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ulcers, or gastritis. The gut and body connection is powerful, and when we are distressed from trauma, this can show up in our digestive system.
Chronic Pain: psychogenic pain disorder and CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome) have been shown to be linked to unresolved trauma. There are cases where this medical diagnosis does not fit medical treatment, and in these cases seeking psychotherapy may be the next step.
Immune System Disregulation: When we are stuck in the fight, flight, or freeze, we indirectly weaken our immune system. This makes us more vulnerable to becoming sick and a more difficult time getting rid of illnesses. This can be caused by the long-term impacts of unresolved trauma and stress hormones have on our immune system.
Muscle Tension and Pain: Being in a state of chronic stress can cause our muscles to constrict and flex, creating tension and pain and can look like medical conditions such as fibromyalgia. There are cases where people with stress are stuck in the freeze state and flex parts of their body as a way of coping with stress without actually being aware of what they are doing.
Dissociation: Those who have experienced a severe form of trauma can dissociate. The act of dissociating is when there is a separation between identity, thoughts, memory, and consciousness. This can also show as a disconnection from our body. An example of this would be standing in front of a mirror and not feeling in your body or the lack of physical sensation. A way dissociation shows up in our thoughts and feelings is by struggling to feel any emotion, whether it be joy or sadness. The feeling of being ‘meh’ or losing interest in the things we used to love.
Cardiovascular Problems: This can look like high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. When there is chronic stress and unresolved trauma, the continual state of being alert and anxious puts an immense strain on our heart function.
How can we Heal Trauma in the Body?
Therapy: therapy should be one of the first steps to combat trauma. Having an understanding of your own trauma and how it specifically affects you is your first step to healing. Qualified therapists can teach you coping mechanisms and help you resolve trauma so that you are able to function at your optimal state. Talking about trauma can be an uncomfortable process, so make sure you find a therapist that works for you.
Nutrition and Exercise: Maintaining a healthy diet and participating in physical activity can help us regulate our nervous systems and support our physical and mental well-being.
Body Awareness: practices that can help us gain self-awareness of our bodies are recommended for those who have experienced trauma. These practices are individualized to you. They can look like yoga, meditation, deep breathing going for a walk, reading self-help books, or participating in something you love.
Medication: In cases where people experience severe forms of trauma, medication may be necessary to manage symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or sleep issues. This should be considered on a case-by-case basis and is not required to treat most forms of trauma.
Trauma is not just a mental health problem. It is a problem that impacts our mind and body as a whole. Emotional recovery needs to be acknowledged to ensure physical recovery can happen. Being on the path to healing trauma can be a difficult and uncomfortable process. Ensure your therapist is qualified and fits your needs. If you are interested in taking the first step in your trauma recovery, please reach out to schedule an appointment with me!