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3 Ways Trauma Affects the Body

Unfortunately, trauma is something most of us will experience in our lifetime. Trauma affects the body in various ways, including physically changing the brain, impacting the nervous system, and influencing mental health. The effects of trauma can spread far and wide and are often long-lasting if left untreated. However, the good news is that healing is possible. Moreover, Sage Recovery is passionate about helping individuals recover from the lasting effects of trauma.

What Is Trauma?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, “A traumatic event is a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that can affect someone emotionally and physically.” It offers some examples of traumatic events, including:

It is important to note that trauma is subjective. This means that what one person categorizes as traumatic may not necessarily be traumatic for someone else, even if they experience the same event.

How Trauma Affects the Body

Trauma can affect the body in various ways, depending on the severity of the trauma and how quickly it is addressed. If the trauma goes unresolved and is not dealt with healthily, its effects can be extremely damaging to the body’s internal systems. Three parts of the body that trauma has profound effects on include the brain, nervous system, and mental health.

Trauma’s Effect on the Brain

The brain and body are intrinsically linked. How trauma affects the body can be understood by recognizing how the brain changes following a traumatic experience. An article in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience explains that traumatic stress affects the following areas of the brain:

The article continues to describe that trauma can have long-term, lasting effects on these parts of the brain. It explains, “Intervening soon after the trauma is critical for long-term outcomes, since with time traumatic memories become indelible and resistant to treatment.”

Additionally, the article cautions that intervening too early after the trauma occurs can also be damaging, as the individual may not be ready to address or process what they’ve been through. For this reason, it is critical to work with a licensed, professional clinician trained to provide trauma-informed care when healing from trauma.

How Trauma Affects the Body and Nervous System

In a publication by NIMH titled “5 Things You Should Know About Stress,” NIMH explains how damaging long-term stress can be to the nervous system. It states, “Because the source of long-term stress is more constant than acute stress, the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning. With chronic stress, those same [life-saving] reactions in the body can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems.” This is otherwise known as the nervous system getting stuck in hyperarousal.

More specifically, the amygdala stays activated because it thinks danger is still present, even if the dangerous event has passed. As a result, the nervous system keeps sending messages to the brain that it needs to be on alert and keep the body safe at all costs. This typically occurs after long periods of stress or recurring trauma because the body and nervous system don’t know it’s safe to return to “normal.” Hyperarousal becomes the nervous system’s new “normal” and will usually stay that way until it has experienced consistent, prolonged seasons of safety.

The Effects of Trauma on Mental Health

Trauma can significantly impact mental health. One of the most prevalent symptoms of trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can have massive impacts on both physical and mental health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, “PTSD is often related to the seriousness of the trauma, whether the trauma was repeated or not, what the individual’s proximity to the trauma was, and what their relationship is with the victim or perpetrator of the trauma.”

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) details that there are typically four types of PTSD symptoms:

  1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
  2. Avoiding things that remind you of the event
  3. Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before the event
  4. Feeling on edge or keyed up (also called hyperarousal)

How Healing From Trauma Affects the Body

Even though trauma can have intense effects on the body, the good news is that healing is possible! The aforementioned article by Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience confirms that the brain can be rewired and certain therapies are effective in building new neural pathways. New neural pathways can promote healing from the effects of trauma.

There are multiple treatment options available that can help heal the effects of trauma. Before we discuss those treatment options, it’s important to reiterate that trauma treatment should only be administered by licensed professionals. Additionally, if you or someone you know are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact emergency services immediately.

Trauma-Informed Treatment at Sage Recovery

Here at Sage Recovery, we believe there are multiple pathways to healing. As a result, our master’s level clinicians are experts in various treatment approaches, prioritizing the use of trauma-informed care. Some common evidence-based therapeutic techniques that we specialize in include:

In addition to our evidence-based techniques, here at Sage Recovery, we pride ourselves on our innovative treatment approaches. Some other treatments we offer include:

Healing from the hard parts of your story takes a lot of courage. Here at Sage Recovery, we know how meaningful that first step toward healing is. That’s why our empathetic, compassionate staff members are standing by, waiting to walk alongside you. Whether you need help healing from trauma, anxiety, or substance use, we’re here to help. Our trauma-informed staff is highly trained to provide care that is customized and individualized so that you can be sure to get the treatment you deserve. You can rest easy knowing that our Master’s level clinicians will treat you with dignity and respect as you heal. When you’re ready, reach out to us at (512) 306-1394. We’re here for you.