How Trauma Is Stored in the Body
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Trauma can significantly affect your quality of life and mental health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Trauma is a common experience for adults and children in American communities, and it is especially common in the lives of people with mental and substance use disorders.”
Your body remembers trauma, and certain situations may trigger physical reactions. Alter Wellness Care offers trauma-focused therapy and treatment programs to help clients overcome issues related to past trauma.
What Causes Physical Reactions to Trauma?
The idea that trauma is “stored in the body” has become widely accepted. However, many people misunderstand the meaning. Common misconceptions include a belief that parts of the body — like limbs and muscles — react to reminders of trauma independent of mental processes like memory and perception.
Trauma memories are stored in the brain but activate differently from regular memories. Many factors contribute to the connection between physical reactions and traumatic memories. The direct cause of symptoms like hyperarousal varies, and each case is unique.
Some common triggers include:
- Chronic or acute stress
- Prolonged neglect or abuse
- Witnessing or experiencing a trauma
- Inability to emotionally cope with stressors
Individuals with unreliable coping skills, fewer resources, and a smaller support system have a higher risk of developing trauma-related mental health issues. In addition, anyone who has lived through or witnessed traumatic situations has the potential to experience physical reactions related to those events.
The Brain and Body Stores Trauma Memories Differently
In many cases, traumatic memories are stored in state-dependent memory. Brain Sciences reported that trauma memories are “stored and experienced via the sensory modalities through which they were originally perceived.” For example, if you were in a car accident and broke an arm and later felt distressed while in a vehicle, that arm may begin to hurt even though it has fully healed.
Experiencing a physical or emotional state similar to the one you lived through during the trauma can cause phantom pain, flashbacks, dissociative events, and intrusive thoughts. Treatment for these symptoms usually involves reprocessing the memories and may include some form of exposure therapy.
You can change connections in the brain and reduce the physical effects of past events by processing the trauma under the guidance of a medical professional. Alter Wellness Care offers trauma-informed therapy that provides clients with personalized solutions that address the underlying cause of the triggered responses.
Common Body Reactions
If you experience a physical or emotional state similar to the trauma, your mind and body may react as if you are back in that situation. Individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience somatic reactions to reminders of the memory, including:
- Increased blood pressure
- Changes to breathing
- Unexplained exhaustion
- Emotional numbness
- Muscle weakness
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia, night terrors, and interrupted sleep
- Difficulty eating
You may have problems completing personal and professional tasks if your symptoms remain untreated. The side effects can significantly impact your quality of life and make it challenging to maintain healthy relationships. Your body’s reactions to distressing memories might interfere with your ability to complete basic tasks of daily living.
The Mind-Body Connection
Your mind and body are linked in a variety of ways. Some automatic body systems can directly influence feelings and behaviors related to trauma. In addition, thoughts impact physical body reactions. For example, if you think about something that scares you, then you will probably notice the changes in your body.
The following changes happen automatically:
- Increased heart rate
- Sudden body tension
- Quicker breathing
- Increased awareness of surroundings
Your body is prepared to respond physically even though the thing that scares you is in your mind. Mindfulness-based therapy and coping techniques focus on using the mind-body connection to help you learn to relax and reduce these physiological reactions to stress.
Managing the Effects of Trauma
You can choose how you cope with the effects of trauma. Professional mental health treatment provides you with the tools you need to recover and thrive. The things you experience do not have to define you. Instead, you can use it to motivate healing and build a healthier lifestyle. You do not have to let distressing and painful memories control your present or future.
Managing the effects of trauma requires positive changes and a new way of looking at the world. Many people accomplish this by doing the following:
- Attending individual and group trauma-focused therapy
- Going to trauma-specific self-help meetings
- Regularly practicing self-care
- Removing toxic relationships
- Setting clear personal boundaries at home and work
Everyone reacts differently to stressful events. No matter what you feel, it is valid and does not have to define your recovery. Most people go through multiple stages of therapy and experience a range of emotions about their past experiences and current circumstances. Alter Wellness Care can help you heal and manage the effects of emotional distress.
Traumatic memories are created differently in the brain and can connect situational triggers with physical reactions. How traumatic memories are stored causes the mind and body to react in unusual ways. For example, they may manifest as phantom pain, dissociation, or sensory flashbacks. Treatment usually involves managing the symptoms and using various methods to process and integrate the traumatic memories. Alter Wellness Care uses evidence-based approaches to treat trauma and provide clients with relief from somatic symptoms. Our mental health professionals can give you the tools you need to recover from the damage caused by past trauma. You can learn more about the services and programs offered at our facility by calling our office today at (866) 311-3510.
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