Therapy Reflections is reader supported. When you buy items through links on this blog, I may earn an affiliate commission, which will assist me in continuing to create useful content for the healing journeys of my readers.
Trauma is a complex experience that affects each person and their mind and body uniquely. While traditional talk therapy can be helpful in processing traumatic experiences, it’s important to recognize that trauma can also have a profound impact on the body. In fact, research has shown that traumatic experiences can result in changes to the nervous system, brain function, and bodily sensations. Therefore, incorporating body-based approaches into trauma therapy can be crucial for addressing the full range of trauma-related symptoms.
One of the ways in which trauma can impact the body is through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This is the part of the nervous system responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which prepares the body to respond to perceived threats. In the case of trauma, this response can become chronic and result in heightened levels of anxiety, fear, and hypervigilance. As a result, people who have experienced trauma may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and digestive issues.
Trauma can also have an impact on brain function, particularly in the area of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, called the amygdala. Research has shown that people who have experienced trauma may have an overactive amygdala, which can result in heightened emotional responses and difficulty regulating emotions. This can manifest in the body as symptoms such as panic attacks, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing.
In addition to these physiological changes, trauma can also have an impact on how people experience bodily sensations. People who have experienced trauma may have a difficult time with bodily sensations such as touch, which can trigger memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event. This can make it difficult for them to engage in activities that require physical contact or intimacy, and can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection.
Given the impact that trauma can have on the body, it’s important to incorporate body-based approaches into trauma therapy. These approaches can include techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, therapeutic massage, Chinese medicine, acupuncture and somatic experiencing. Mindfulness techniques can help individuals become more aware of bodily sensations and learn to regulate their emotions. Yoga can help to reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation, while somatic experiencing can help individuals to process trauma-related emotions through bodily sensations.
Incorporating body-based approaches into trauma therapy can be especially important for individuals who may have difficulty verbalizing their experiences. By focusing on bodily sensations, individuals can learn to identify and process their emotions in a nonverbal way. This can be particularly helpful for people who have experienced early childhood trauma or who may have a difficult time accessing their emotions through traditional talk therapy.
Complex traumatic experiences can have a wide range of effects on physical health, including:
- Chronic Pain: People who have experienced complex trauma may have an increased risk of developing chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or chronic regional pain syndrome.
- Cardiovascular Disease: Research has shown that people who have experienced traumatic events are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.
- Digestive Problems: Trauma can disrupt the digestive system, leading to issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other digestive disorders.
- Immune System Dysfunction: Trauma can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses and infections.
- Sleep Disorders: People who have experienced complex trauma may struggle with sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea, which can further impact their physical health.
- Substance Abuse: Trauma can increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction due to people often using substances or alcohol to cope with trauma related symptoms, which can lead to a range of physical health problems.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Trauma can impact sexual function and lead to issues such as sexual dysfunction, pain during sex, and difficulty with intimacy.
- Obesity: Trauma can impact the body’s metabolism and lead to weight gain and obesity.
- Headaches and Migraines: Trauma can increase the risk of developing headaches and migraines.
- Chronic Fatigue: Trauma can cause chronic fatigue, which can impact physical health and quality of life.
These are just a few examples of how complex traumatic experiences can affect physical health. It’s important for individuals who have experienced trauma to seek support from healthcare professionals who can help address these physical health issues alongside the emotional and psychological impacts of trauma. Releasing and healing from trauma stored in the physical body can be a long and complex process, but there are several approaches that can be helpful for individuals who have experienced complex trauma.
Here are some ways in which people can release and heal trauma stored in the physical body:
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness and meditation can be helpful for individuals to become more aware of their bodily sensations and emotions, which can aid in releasing trauma stored in the body. Mindfulness practices can help individuals to develop a non-judgmental attitude towards their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations allowing them to process difficult emotions in a more productive way.
- Yoga and Other Body-Based Approaches: Yoga and other body-based approaches can be helpful for releasing trauma stored in the physical body. These practices can help to promote relaxation, reduce muscle tension, and improve body awareness.
- Somatic Therapy: Somatic therapy focuses on the relationship between the body and the mind and can be helpful for individuals who have experienced complex trauma. Somatic therapy can involve techniques such as movement, touch, and breathwork, which can help individuals to release tension and emotions stored in the body.
- Therapy: Therapy can be helpful for individuals to process and heal from past traumatic experiences. Trauma-focused therapies, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Internal Family Systems (IFS), can be particularly helpful for individuals who have experienced complex trauma.
- Expressive Arts Therapy: Expressive arts therapy can be helpful for individuals to process difficult emotions and experiences. Art, dance, music, and other creative expressions can help individuals to release and process emotions stored in the body.
- Bodywork: Bodywork, such as massage, Chinese medicine, and acupuncture, can be helpful for releasing physical tension, stored trauma in the body, and promoting relaxation and overall health. These practices can help individuals to become more aware of their bodies and release trauma stored in the physical body.
- Self-Care: Self-care practices, such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise, can help individuals to improve their physical and emotional well-being, which can aid in releasing trauma stored in the body.
In conclusion, releasing and healing from trauma stored in the physical body can be a complex and challenging process, but there are several approaches that can be helpful for individuals who have experienced complex trauma. Mindfulness, yoga, somatic therapy, expressive arts therapy, bodywork, therapy, and self-care practices can all be helpful for releasing and healing from trauma stored in the physical body. It’s important for individuals to seek support from mental and physical health professionals who can help guide them through this process and provide tailored treatment approaches based on their unique needs and experiences.
Trauma can have a profound impact on the body, resulting in changes to the nervous system, brain function, and bodily sensations. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate body-based approaches into trauma therapy to address the full range of trauma-related symptoms. These approaches can help individuals become more aware of their bodily sensations, regulate their emotions, and process trauma-related emotions in a nonverbal way. By recognizing the connection between trauma and the body, we can provide more effective and holistic treatment for individuals who have experienced trauma.