We hear a lot about trauma and often associate it with soldiers who’ve been through combat and assault victims. But trauma can be caused by many other things, as well.
While you may be aware of how it’s affected your emotions, you may not be quite as aware of how trauma is stored in your body. The reality is that trauma affects every aspect of a person.
The connection between the mind and body is more intricate than many realize —awareness of how trauma our body stores trauma is growing.
Why Trauma Affects Your Body
Just as our thoughts and feelings are often conditioned to respond in specific ways to trauma triggers, so can our bodies. If you had a parent who yelled at you frequently and physically punished you, your body likely became used to tensing up in fear.
This experience may have led to a cascade of related physical symptoms. But your mind focused on protecting yourself, not on paying attention to your body’s reactions.
Trauma often puts us out of touch with our bodies. However, you can take proactive steps to learn to become more in touch with what your body is experiencing.
The experience of trauma can leave many people prone to shallow breathing. Trauma contributes to the ongoing sense of needing to protect yourself all the time. This response may be happening without you consciously noticing it.
So, intentionally learning to focus on your breath goes a long way toward working through trauma memory. Deep breathing allows more oxygen to enter your brain and bloodstream. It forces you to slow down and relax.
Recognize Muscle Tension
The bodies of many trauma survivors are often incredibly tense—without them even realizing it. If you suffer from persistent aches and pains, seeing a massage therapist or physical therapist can be very beneficial. They can help you identify areas that are tense and work with you to coax your body into a more relaxed state.
When you feel caught in the whirlwind of trauma, it’s easy to forget the pleasure of basic physical care. Set a goal to incorporate a few into your weeks.
Simple things like a long bath or shower, listening to relaxing music with your eyes closed, and snuggling with a loved one or pet without distraction are all great.
When you participate in these, you’re giving your body positive feedback. You’re telling your body that you’re safe and don’t need to be on alert.
Because trauma often does put us out of touch with our bodies, mindfulness can be another essential step in healing. Essentially, mindfulness means learning to be in the present moment. It means experiencing the here and now, not living in our heads by worrying about the past or future.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to feel complicated. It often includes intentional breathing, as described above. An easy way to start is to sit quietly with your eyes closed and focus only on the physical sensations around you. What do you hear, feel, and smell?
Physical exercise is as good for the brain as it is for the body. It releases helpful endorphins that boost your mood as well as your immune system. Increasing your physical health can allay trauma symptoms such as insomnia and high blood pressure. If you focus on what you’re doing, it’s also an excellent way to become more in tune with how your body feels.
If you’re struggling to process your trauma, reaching out to a therapist can be crucial. They can guide you through steps like the ones above and address your emotional and interpersonal symptoms.
I’d be honored to help you learn more about how therapy can help you. Please call my office to learn more.