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  • Writer's pictureMaria Diaz

How Does Your Body Remember Trauma?

The Body Keeps Score
The Body Remembers Trauma
Trauma is the result of a distressing situation or an emotionally overwhelming experience. It can happen at any time, at any age, to anyone, and for any reason. 

When something is perceived as being traumatic, it causes the mind and body to go through a sort of change. The examples of trauma range from witnessing a major distressing event, to childhood forms of abuse, to grief over a loss, to being the victim of violence, and everything in between. The experience that you go through can have a lasting impact. 

How Trauma Affects Your Brain

During a trauma, the brain perceives danger in your environment. It begins to prepare your body for a fight. The stress can then rewire your brain to process the potential threats ahead. 

The amygdala goes into overactive mode. Its responsibility is to regulate emotions, so when it grows and overworks, it can have an impact on how pain and memories are processed. 

The hippocampus, on the other hand, decreases activity during trauma. Its role is to regulate memory storage. When it does not work normally, it can improperly store the negative memories of the trauma. 

The altered functioning of the amygdala and hippocampus also impacts the prefrontal cortex. Rational thought processes and decision-making processes become less efficient. 

How Your Body Remembers Trauma

When you think of trauma, the body having an impact does not often come to mind. As the changes occur in your brain, trauma memories can become stuck in the background, causing your body to become triggered.

Each of your five senses can hold onto fragments of a traumatic event. Later on, things you see, smell, hear, taste, or touch that were present during your event can trigger you and take you right back to that moment. 

Triggers can be more complex or very basic, such as the sound of an ambulance, a tone of voice, or being in a similar environment. 

How Your Body Responds to Trauma

When your trauma is on your mind, or some stimulus triggered you, your body can have emotional, physical, and mental responses. These responses can occur even when you are not actively involved or thinking about your trauma. 

Emotional responses include anxiety, irritability, depression, feeling overwhelmed, agitated, and dissociation. Physical symptoms include tension, body aches, chronic pain, headaches, and digestive problems. Disturbances or nightmares can also impact sleep. 

Mental responses impact your cognitive functioning. You may experience issues like brain fog, decreased concentration, an inability to focus, and memory issues. 

Your mind and body, to keep you protected and safe, remember the trauma and will do anything necessary in times of distress. The memory of trauma can lead to isolation and avoidance of triggering situations, people, or places. You may notice appetite, sleep, and routine changes. 

Healing From Trauma

Healing from trauma is something unique to each person and situation. For some, processing what happened and overcoming the aftereffects can take time.

When you think of traditional talk therapy, it focuses on your thoughts and feelings. If your body is harboring remnants of the traumatic experience, you may need something that works on what is going on in your body first. 

Healing from trauma is not something that needs to be done alone. Whether your trauma was something small or something completely life-changing, no trauma is insignificant. If it impacts your ability to function in any way, it is worth getting help to get professional support with healing. 

Options for therapy approaches include Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing EMDR, Internal Family Systems (IFS) and exposure therapy.


About the Author

Maria Diaz is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY, NJ and CT. She's certified in EMDR and trained in modalities that are trauma focused. She is focused on healing and providing compassionate treatment to best support clients who are looking to feel better.

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