Traumatic experiences can continue to live on in our brains and bodies long after the events are over. Due to the nature of trauma and the strain and stress experienced by the individual, memories, their associated feeling states, and belief systems get trapped in trauma time almost as if hiding away outside of our conscious awareness in the mind.
In our body’s and brain’s best effort to cope, our minds and bodies often work overtime to deal with the overwhelm. Too often, this means our nervous systems will ride waves of repetitive emotional and physical reactivity that keep us in fear, stressed and reliving and replaying patterns from our past.
Even more commonly, our brains and bodies get stuck in the past, in ways we don’t even realize.
Common examples of how an individual may relive traumatic experiences in their present life:
Try Not to Underestimate the Mind-body Connection
Our minds and bodies are capable of self-healing. In fact, they are wired for it. When danger arises, we have the ability to assess and react appropriately. We call it the “fight or flight response.” This just means that we are quite capable of acting for our own protection. When we are safe, we calm down.
Trauma is meant to be a finite experience. The primitive and higher functions of our brains interact synergistically to fully process the event. Then we go on.
Yet, trauma is not always resolved completely within us. That is when the cooperation within us breaks down. Our innate sense of inner balance is interrupted. The body reacts, whether the danger is imminent or not. The mind is disoriented. Sadly, all of this disturbs our self-image and connection to the world around us. We hurt physically and emotionally. Our cognitive abilities are impacted. Trauma can exhaust our bodies, hinder our personal growth, and interfere with our relationships. To find relief, we have to consider the physical impact of traumatic experiences.
How Trauma Changes Your Body
From our internal organs to the way we physically react to triggering sensations or events, our bodies can become fully involved after trauma.
Consider the following common experiences:
Persistent tremors, tension, and pain When your body has trouble releasing traumatic energy it can show up as muscle spasms, tension, or tightness. Your extremities may tingle or feel numb. Chronic pain or nerve conditions may be linked to your trauma as well.
Trauma affects sleep and relaxation. Nightmares, insomnia, and disrupted sleep are common. The resulting exhaustion can negatively affect your ability to heal, physical coordination, weight, cognitive function, and more.
Recurring gut trouble Experts agree that the gut is our “second brain.” What upsets us registers in our bellies. Traumatic stress changes the biological balance with us. You may find that you experience more incidences of bloating, diarrhea, IBS, and constipation.
Exaggerated Startle Reflex
Real or imagined, a threat often receives quick attention and overreaction following trauma. Often in a jumpy, nervous way. Your sympathetic nervous system may be on high alert all the time or just in certain situations. Either way, a persistent state of alarm can wear you out and contribute to fatigue.
A Suppressed Immune System, Increased Inflammation & Chronic Disease
Unaddressed trauma can significantly reduce our kidneys’ ability to filter blood. This is likely due to tense muscles pressing in around the kidneys. High levels of inflammation and autoimmune diseases can result. Moreover, a sustained anxious state raises your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar. Thus, chronic hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, or diabetes may also occur over time. So, with all of that happening biologically, it’s no leap that your mind is impacted too.
How Trauma Changes Your Mind
Trauma-related anxiety must be processed effectively in your mind to avoid ongoing problems later.
Consider some of the following challenges trauma can present to your mental and emotional well-being:
Disturbing or Recurring Memories
Trauma can lead to a subconscious reliving of the disturbing circumstances.
Reaction to Triggers and Avoidant Behavior
Avoidance is a preoccupation for many trauma survivors. Because trauma is stored as sensory data certain songs, smells, or environments trigger real anxiety, flashbacks, or overreaction. As a result, you might go out of your way to avoid people, places or activities that remind you of your past experience.
Unresolved trauma can produce negativity or a growing depression. Depending on your ordeal, hopelessness, powerlessness, or even survivor’s guilt may be at play. Negative self-talk and self-image often result too. For some people, negative thoughts also lead to emotional indifference or numbness. At worst, a sense of nothingness or pointlessness can start to take over the goals and hopes you have for the future.
A cycle of anxiety, conflict, and isolation You may feel irritable, isolated, or even angry and irate. Trauma can create false perceptions of the world and your place in it. More prone to inaccurate assessments of others, your interactions with loved ones, co-workers, etc. can become complex and draining. In addition, loneliness or feeling judged is not uncommon if you feel detached or misunderstood.
Should You Seek Help?
Finding a new normal after trauma sometimes comes naturally. Sometimes calm and comfort require support.
A qualified and compassionate therapist can help you understand the changes you’ve experienced. I’m here to help. Please read more about trauma and reach out for a consultation soon. I look forward to hearing from you.