Did you know that trauma impacts you both physically and emotionally?
Trauma is an overwhelming and distressing experience that can have a profound impact on your life, leaving you with both physical and emotional pain.
To heal from this experience, it is crucial to understand the effects of trauma on your body and mind. In this post, we will explore the physical and emotional effects of trauma, and the benefits of trauma therapy for those in the process of healing.
Let’s first define what trauma is…
Generally, trauma refers to any distressing event or experience that surpasses your capacity to cope. This can range from physical abuse to natural disasters, from witnessing violence to enduring life-threatening experiences.
Regardless of what type of traumatic experience you have had, it can make you feel scared, helpless, and overwhelmed.
Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that trauma is subjective and can affect different people in different ways. Meaning, a traumatic event could happen to two people and their responses and emotions could be different.
To better understand, let us look at some real-life examples of traumatic experiences that people may encounter.
- Paula, for instance, had a traumatic childhood, where she was a witness to her mother being physically harmed by her stepfather. This experience has left her with trust issues, fear, and nightmares.
- Michael, a soldier in the military, experienced combat trauma which included witnessing the death of his fellow soldiers and getting injured himself. This has caused him to suffer from flashbacks, anxiety, and hypervigilance.
- Sarah, a victim of sexual assault during her college years, is now dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. She also struggles with trusting people and intimacy.
- Jake, who was involved in a severe car accident, now experiences panic attacks, nightmares, and a fear of driving.
- Emma, who was affected by a natural disaster, experienced anxiety and panic during storms and now has a persistent fear of severe weather.
These examples demonstrate the various forms of trauma individuals may experience, each having a unique way of processing and responding to the traumatic event.
The Emotional Effects of Trauma
Experiencing trauma can have a profound impact on your emotions and mental well-being. When you go through a traumatic experience, your emotions can become overwhelming and intense, leaving you with feelings of fear, sadness, anger, or confusion. Even long after the event has occurred, months or years later, these emotions can linger and interfere with your daily life and relationships.
A common emotional effect of trauma is a heightened sense of anxiety. You may constantly feel on edge, anticipating danger and experiencing panic attacks. This constant state of alertness can make it difficult for you to relax and feel safe, even in seemingly ordinary situations.
For example, if you have been in a car accident, you may become extremely anxious while driving, constantly checking your mirrors and feeling a sense of impending danger. This hyper-vigilance can make it challenging to do things as simple as walk down the streets or feel comfortable in crowds.
Another potential outcome of trauma is depression. The experience of trauma can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless about the future, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. You might have difficulty finding joy or meaning in life. You may also feel guilty, shameful, and worthless.
Another emotional effect of trauma is difficulty regulating emotions. You may experience intense mood swings, going from extreme anger to profound sadness in a matter of minutes.
You may also struggle to control your impulses or engage in self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope with emotional pain.
Your relationships may become strained, as you withdraw or become irritable and easily angered. You may also struggle with trust and have difficulty forming close connections with others. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation as you feel misunderstood or disconnected from those around you.
Although these behaviors are ways your brain tries to cope with the trauma, they can be extremely distressing and impact every aspect of your life.
The Physical Effects of Trauma
When you undergo a traumatic event, your body’s stress response system immediately activates and triggers a cascade of physical reactions. This can result in a variety of physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.
One of the most common physical effects of trauma is an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. When your body perceives a threat, stress hormones such as adrenaline are released, leading to a racing heart and elevated blood pressure. While this response is crucial for survival during danger, it can be detrimental to your health if it occurs in response to past trauma. Studies show that prolonged stress and anxiety can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
Muscle tension and chronic pain are also prevalent physical symptoms of trauma. Stress and anxiety tend to cause muscle tightness, which can exacerbate the physical effects of past traumatic experiences. This can result in chronic pain and discomfort throughout your body over time.
Moreover, trauma can impact your digestive system, leading to digestive issues and even conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Trauma can disrupt your sleep patterns as well. Many individuals who have undergone a trauma experience insomnia or have difficulty staying asleep. Sleep can also be frightening due to nightmares about the traumatic event. Problems sleeping can further worsen the physical toll of trauma as it is vital for your body’s healing. They can also impact cognitive functioning, making it challenging to concentrate, remember things, and make decisions. This can affect work or school performance and overall quality of life.
Additionally, chronic stress from trauma can cause weight gain or loss as stress hormones disrupt appetite and metabolism.
Connecting the Dots: The Role of the Nervous System in Processing Trauma
Your nervous system serves as a bridge between your body and mind, allowing you to process and respond to the world around you.
In the face of trauma, your nervous system plays a crucial role in helping you survive dangerous situations. However, when triggered repeatedly due to past trauma, it can wreak havoc on your overall well-being.
To understand how this works, it’s important to know that your nervous system is composed of two main components: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
- The CNS includes your brain and spinal cord
- The PNS includes all the nerves that branch out from the CNS to the rest of your body.
Together, these two components work to coordinate your body’s responses to trauma.
During a traumatic event, your brain receives sensory input and quickly assesses whether it perceives the situation as a threat. If it does, your brain signals the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These trigger a range of physical and emotional responses.
This cascade of reactions is known as the fight, flight, or freeze response.
The fight response prepares your body to confront the threat, increasing heart rate, heightening the senses, and boosting energy.
The flight response prompts you to flee the danger, activating a surge of adrenaline and increased blood flow to muscles.
Lastly, the freeze response causes you to become immobilized, conserving energy and allowing you to blend in with your surroundings.
These responses are essential for survival in the face of immediate danger. However, continued activation of these responses can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and physical health issues.
Your nervous system can become stuck in a state of hyperarousal, constantly on high alert for potential threats. As we’ve talked about in previous sections of this blog, this chronic activation of the nervous system can lead to a variety of symptoms. These include irritability, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and heightened sensitivity to stress. It can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.
Therapy Options for Trauma Recovery
When it comes to recovering from trauma, therapy can be a powerful tool for healing. There are several different therapy options available to individuals seeking to process and work through their traumatic experiences.
- One commonly used therapy option is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors that may be contributing to the emotional and physical effects of trauma. Through CBT, you can develop healthier coping mechanisms and learn how to reframe their thoughts in a more positive and adaptive way.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another effective therapy option for trauma recovery. This therapy uses guided eye movements or other bilateral stimulation techniques to help you process and release traumatic memories and emotions. EMDR is particularly effective for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can bring about significant relief and healing.
- Brainspotting is another effective therapy option for trauma recovery. In Brainspotting, the therapist works with you to identify a “brainspot,” or an eye position that activates the traumatic memory. By maintaining eye focus on the brainspot while processing the traumatic memory, you can release the emotional charge and gain a sense of control over their experiences.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a trauma-focused therapy that is often used for military-related traumas. This approach helps you process experiences by identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs related to the trauma. Through CPT, you can develop new ways of thinking about the experiences. This can lead to a reduction in symptoms and an increase in overall well-being.
- Another therapy option is group therapy, where you can connect with others who have had similar traumatic experiences. This provides a supportive environment where you can share stories, gain validation, and learn from each other’s experiences. Group therapy can foster a sense of belonging and understanding, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- In addition to these therapies, some individuals find somatic experiencing, art therapy, or mindfulness-based interventions helpful for trauma recovery. These therapies focus on physical sensations, creative expression, and present-moment awareness, respectively.
Each person may respond differently to various therapies, and it’s important to work with a qualified therapist to determine the most effective treatment plan.
Developing Coping Strategies for Daily Life
Developing coping strategies is an essential part of healing from trauma and moving forward in daily life. While therapy can provide guidance and support, it’s also important to have strategies in place that can help you navigate life’s challenges
Here are a few strategies that you can try:
- Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself is crucial during the healing process. This can include activities such as exercising, eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. Making self-care a priority can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.
- Build a support network: Surrounding yourself with supportive and understanding individuals can make a big difference in your healing journey. Reach out to friends, family, or support groups who can provide a listening ear and offer validation and encouragement. Having a strong support network can help you feel less alone and provide a sense of belonging.
- Practice mindfulness and grounding techniques: Mindfulness and grounding techniques can help you stay present in the moment and manage overwhelming emotions. This can include deep breathing exercises, meditation, or using your senses to connect with your surroundings. These techniques can help calm your nervous system and bring a sense of peace and stability.
- Set boundaries: It’s important to establish and maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships and daily life. This means learning to say no when necessary and recognizing your limits. Setting boundaries can help protect your emotional well-being and ensure that you have space to prioritize your own needs.
- Engage in therapeutic activities: Find activities that help you express your emotions and process your experiences in a therapeutic way. This can include journaling, art therapy, dancing, or engaging in creative pursuits. Engaging in these activities can provide a sense of catharsis and promote healing.
Engaging in these coping strategies may not fully heal your trauma, but they can certainly alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, making daily tasks more manageable. Additionally, these techniques can be beneficial when used alongside the therapy approaches mentioned earlier.
Moving Forward: Healing from Trauma
Moving forward and healing from trauma is a challenging journey, but it is possible. It’s important to remember that healing is a unique process for each individual, and there is no timeline for how long it should take. The key is to be patient with yourself and to practice self-compassion and self-care along the way.
One of the most powerful tools in healing from trauma is therapy.
Finding a therapist who specializes in trauma recovery can provide you with the support, guidance, and tools you need to navigate through your experiences.
Through therapy, you can learn coping strategies, challenge negative thought patterns, and develop a better understanding of yourself and your emotions.
With the right support and resources, you can work through trauma and begin to rebuild your life. Remember, healing is a journey, and it takes time. Be patient with yourself and others as you navigate through the process.
Begin Working With A New Bern Therapist
Working through trauma can seem overwhelming and scary. Our team of caring therapists are all trauma-trained and are here to help make the experience less daunting. We are happy to offer support from our mental health New Bern, NC-based practice with online services available across the state. You can start your therapy journey with Renewed Wellness Counseling by following these simple steps:
- Complete our consult form
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start experiencing more confidence and positive thoughts!
Other Therapy Services Offered With Renewed Wellness Counseling
Our team understands that you may have more than one mental health concern which is why we are happy to offer multiple mental health services. Our therapists specialize in therapy for military families, chronic illness counseling, stress and anxiety counseling, and addiction counseling. We also offer life transition counseling for those going through some changes such as employment, relationships, or college. Let’s work together to get you to a good place!