Trauma can be defined in many ways. We can experience big traumas in our lives, such as car accidents, violent assaults or rough childhoods. We can experience little traumas in our lives, such as being scolded in class at a young age. Trauma, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is an emotional response to a tragic or horrible event. Shock and denial typically occur after a big trauma, followed by longer term effects such as erratic and unpredictable emotions, nightmares, flashbacks and even physical symptoms, such as headaches.
Unfortunately, everyone experiences some type of trauma in their lifetime and no one is immune to it. In fact, past traumas can still be affecting your health today. According to Andrea Roberts, a research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, traumatic events such as a rocky childhood or car accident from childhood can still be affecting your health today. The Harvard research studies show that past traumatic events can cause emotional and physical reactions in your body even through adulthood. You may even be more prone to developing certain health conditions, such as cancer, heart conditions and obesity.
Unprocessed Trauma Stored in the Body
In fact, when trauma isn’t processed and resourced out of your body, it ends up being stored and imprinted on your body. Each traumatic event as a child is referred to as an adverse childhood experience (ACEs), according to the ACE Studies. If you had three or more negative experiences, or ACEs, as a child, then you are at an increased risk for developing mental and physical health problems as an adult.
A trauma survivor, especially from childhood traumas, may appear normal and happy on the outside. In fact, they may have repressed the memories from coming to the surface at all if they weren’t taught how to properly handle it. However, the now unprocessed trauma imprints onto the body and slowly manifests through the body until it begins manifesting outwardly through physical ailments, such as headaches, diabetes or even stroke.
What Happens to the Brain and Body?
According to the ACE Studies, adverse childhood experiences can cause impaired memory as well as reductions in the hippocampus and amygdala. The studies showed reductions in the hippocampus among women who were sexually abused as children. The hippocampus is the center for emotions and memory. The amygdala is an important brain function whose purpose plays a role in fear responses, such as flight, flight or freeze responses. Neurobiological evidence has been shown that dysfunction is created throughout the prefrontal cortex portion of the brain, hippocampus and amygdala, which all are important brain functions for mediating anxiety and mood dysregulation.
The neurobiological evidence of these were shown to increase among certain adverse childhood experiences as well as the amount of ACEs a person may have experienced throughout childhood. There was also strong evidence linking ACEs with other mental health issues and substance abuse issues.
When we deal with unprocessed traumatic events and emotions, our bodies hold onto them and store them as an imprint in our cells. This can continue to manifest in physical and mental ailments until the event has been processed out.
So, How Can I Process it Out?
Luckily, trauma can be moved on out of your body. It doesn’t have to cause lifelong problems. There are ways to both unlock and process hidden (or known) traumas in your body. Listed here are several ways to move past these traumatic events:
- Therapy. According to the APA, therapy works by helping you identify unhelpful thought patterns, learn coping skills to deal with difficult situations and gain a better understanding of why other people behave the way they do. Therapy can help through regaining memory of the event, processing it and releasing it out of your body.
- Hypnotherapy and Subconscious Work. Diving straight into the subconscious can give you access to dissociated traumatic memories, which allows for use in the positive restructuring of the memories during a session. According to past studies in regards to PTSD and sexual abuse, working in the subconscious can be used to face and process past traumas while also embedding the memories with acknowledging feelings and emotions during the event and linking the experience with a broader prospective. Practicing self-hypnosis after such power sessions also helps to move trauma out of the body.
- Yoga. According to Bessel van der Kolk, a clinical physician who wrote the book, The Body Keeps the Score, about how trauma is stored in the body, “yoga opens you up to feeling every aspect of your body’s sensations. It’s a gentle, safe way for people to befriend their bodies, where trauma from the past is stored.” The areas of the brain that include self-awareness are activated through the practice of yoga.
- Meditation. Studies show that regular meditation actually thickens your prefrontal cortex region of your brain – the section of your brain that is linked to attention control. Regular meditation also increases the limbic system, which processes emotions. It also improves the connection between your amygdala responses, which helps to regulate emotions.
- Nature. Connecting with nature has many natural healing properties. According to a study done by the Sierra Club, the University of Michigan and the Department of Veteran Affairs, nature provides a link to healing and long-term mental health wellness. This is also a way to release trauma through healing in nature, whether you are participating in an outdoor activity, such as fishing, hiking or simply ‘forest bathing’ (sitting or standing in nature).
Our bodies have an amazing way of restoring themselves when we allow them to. Trauma doesn’t have to stay in the body! It can be processed out through nature, yoga, subconscious work and therapy.
At Progressive Health and Wellness, we offer mindset coaching with work in the subconscious focused on improving all aspects of the mind and body. Reach out to us for more information on what we can offer you.
For more on this topic, join the conversation on our Facebook group, Integrative Health and Nutrition for Chronic Conditions. We post live videos, guides, and other useful information to help you elevate your health and wellness.