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How Your Body Holds Onto Unprocessed Trauma

Trauma is a deeply impactful experience that can leave lasting imprints on both the mind and body. While we often associate trauma with emotional and psychological distress, it is essential to recognize that our bodies also play a significant role in how we process and hold onto these traumatic experiences.  

In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating connection between unprocessed trauma and its physical manifestations within the body. By understanding this link between how the brain reacts to trauma and how those reactions manifest in the body, we can gain insight into how trauma impacts overall well-being. Explore how your body holds onto unprocessed trauma and what you can do to overcome it with this overview. 

Our Brain Holds Onto Trauma 

When we talk about the body storing trauma, it does not mean that there is a tangible difference to your physical body. Instead, this is an easy way of describing how trauma has a lingering impact on your brain. Specifically, the areas of the brain responsible for memories and emotions—such as the amygdala and hippocampus—retain the stress associated with traumatic events.  

These parts of the brain also harbor the instinctive urge to safeguard oneself from potential threats, whether they are real or imagined. A traumatized brain activates the nervous system, then the nervous system activates muscles and tendons, creating a physical response to trauma and stress. Since the brain governs the entire body, the effects of trauma can persist both mentally and physically long after the actual experience has ended. 

Any Trigger Can Reignite Trauma 

Your brain possesses an astonishing capacity for memory. Even if you are not consciously aware of the specific details of a traumatic experience, they exert a profound influence on your brain and consequently affect your entire body. For example, say you were attacked by a man wearing a specific cologne. You might not be able to recall what kind of cologne it was or even that he was wearing cologne at all. However, smelling that cologne again could trigger a clear and overwhelming memory in your brain. 

Trauma triggers such as these possess the ability to activate a stress response within the brain, eliciting a survival reaction. These triggers can take many forms, including specific places, objects, smells, sounds, or emotional states. People can also become trauma triggers, even if they were not involved in the traumatic event. Someone who looks, speaks, or acts like someone associated with the experience can activate a trauma response in the brain. 

Understanding Survival Responses As Coping Mechanisms Absent of Psychological Treatment 

The amygdala, a vital part of the brain, plays a crucial role in activating the fight, flight, or freeze response during dangerous situations. An overactive amygdala can cause your body to remain on high alert—always ready to react to danger, even if you are not in a dangerous situation. This leads to elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which in turn creates persistent feelings of fear or anxiety.  

Traumatic experiences can leave the amygdala hyperactive, distorting your survival response and making it difficult to relax. This heightened state of stress affects both the brain and the body. As the brain prioritizes the stress response, the frontal lobe becomes partially closed off, limiting executive functioning. Meanwhile, the physical toll of stress manifests as increased adrenaline, muscle tension, rapid heart rate, and other effects that can leave you exhausted and in pain. 

Trauma’s Effects on Your Physical Body and Mental Health 

Trauma can cause both mental and physical symptoms within the body. Feeling constantly on edge due to the brain’s trauma responses can cause a wide range of issues. Everyone’s experience with trauma is different, but common symptoms of long-term trauma include:  

  • Chest tightness 
  • Insomnia  
  • Recurring nightmares 
  • Brain fog 
  • Memory issues 
  • Persistent muscle tension 
  • Feelings of anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Dissociation 

These symptoms can sometimes create a vicious cycle with your survival responses. For example, the brain’s trauma response can cause your muscles to tense up, which can, in turn, remind you of the physical state you were in during a traumatic experience. This trauma trigger re-activates the survival response as a primitive coping mechanism in lieu of therapy, counseling, and psychological treatment. The continuous cycle makes it harder to break out of long-term trauma. 

Trauma and Other Medical Conditions 

Traumatic experiences can also cause or exacerbate other medical conditions. For instance, the physical stress trauma causes can worsen cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure. Additionally, trauma can contribute to the development of chronic pain, including muscle tension, headaches, and other related conditions. 

The Importance of Processing Trauma Through Receiving Adequate Therapy, Counseling, and Psychological Treatment 

How can individuals actively work through their trauma to ensure it does not persistently define their lives? Processing your trauma in a healthy and positive manner allows you to overcome the challenges of those painful memories and the stress responses they cause. By engaging in the process of trauma processing, one can reconstruct thought patterns and enhance self-awareness, emotional regulation, and other essential skills. This process enables individuals to develop greater mental and emotional resilience and overcome the stress and fear associated with past traumatic experiences. Ultimately, processing trauma empowers individuals to prevent it from continuously disrupting their lives. 

Different Forms of Trauma Treatment 

Trauma treatment with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a qualified therapist specializing in mental health treatment of traumas can help you process your traumatic experiences by sifting through and letting go of the stressors and anxieties that linger in your mind and body. An experienced Trauma Psychologist understands how your body holds onto unprocessed trauma. They can develop a customized treatment plan to help you build skills such as mental resilience and creating positive neural pathways in your brain through Neuroplasticity. This process leads to creating new thought processes and changing associations in your brain. Below are a couple of examples of the many evidence-based therapies and treatment modalities employed by a top Licensed Clinical Psychologist, who is well-trained and skilled at therapy, counseling, and mental health treatment of traumas and PTSD. You should always use the best psychologist—skilled in trauma recovery. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized treatment approach that addresses the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It helps patients identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors stemming from their traumatic experiences. Through CBT, patients learn to identify and restructure negative thought patterns or emotional responses that occur because of trauma. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) 

Originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can play a role in treating trauma-related mental health issues. It combines elements of CBT with mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills. Patients who undergo DBT learn to manage overwhelming emotions, develop healthier coping strategies, and improve their communication and relationship skills. 

Blair Wellness Group Offers Trauma Treatment 

Processing trauma with a qualified mental health professional and the best therapist specializing in trauma treatment helps you overcome the triggers and responses that cause long-term, overwhelming trauma. See how the right treatment plan can put you on the path to recovery when you start trauma treatment with Blair Wellness Group today. 

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