How do trauma and the brain connect?
You had a car accident. Luckily, you’re OK with only minor injuries. But, now, you feel very anxious driving and you dread the thought of even getting in your car.
You’re worried that every car you pass is going to hit you. Or you anxiously keep looking in the rearview mirror, worried that someone may not see your brake lights and rear-end you.
It’s been months since the accident and, yet, that feeling of being on edge and not being able to enjoy driving as you used to is still there.
This seems silly since you’re fine now, so why is this happening? Why can’t you let go of the fear?
How are trauma and the brain so connected?
Trauma doesn’t always look like a soldier returning from the war and experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can also be smaller things in life that overwhelm your ability to cope and shake up your sense of security.
There are the big “T” traumas, which are extraordinary events that can threaten your life, such as war, rape, or sexual assault, and there are smaller traumas, like caregiver abuse, bullying or difficult breakups, or abusive relationships.
However, all types of trauma are equally debilitating and damaging and can have a negative impact on our sense of our self, safety in the world, and security.
Symptoms of Trauma
People are often unaware that some symptoms they are experiencing may be indicative of a trauma response.
Here are some common symptoms of trauma and responses to overwhelming events:
Feeling emotionally overwhelmed by things you previously were able to manage.
- Increased anxiety and panic attacks.
- Being in a state of high alert, hypervigilant, or on the lookout for something to happen again.
- Being numb or in shock, not really believing what happened, and feeling detached or confused.
- Constantly thinking about what happened and having intrusive thoughts about the event.
- Physical responses such as headaches, nausea, fatigue or exhaustion, disturbed sleep, or pain.
- Flashbacks of the event or nightmares.
- Memory loss before and after the event.
- Shame about the event or feeling that you did something wrong.
- Dissociation, feeling disconnected from your body, emotions, and events.
- Being distracted and unable to stay focused on tasks.
- Attempts to mask feelings and memories with increased substance use or abuse.
To heal trauma and the brain, here are 6 ways to help yourself.
1. Be kind to yourself.
First and foremost, be kind and allow yourself time to heal. Do not expect that you can go back to your old life immediately and do all the things you used to do. Slow down and take time to process what happened.
Trauma affects your ability to focus and this distraction causes delays in action.
2. See your family and friends.
It’s important not to isolate yourself. Continue to see and talk to family and friends about your experiences.
It’s also very important to express your feelings through close family members or with the aid of a trained therapist. Denying or pushing aside your feelings will make the healing process longer.
3. Don’t avoid certain places.
It’s also important to try not to avoid certain places that make you uncomfortable.
Oftentimes, trauma victims significantly limit their activity and the range of places they will go.
Make sure that you are exercising. Walking, yoga or biking can be very healing.
If you feel like you’re struggling to talk about what happened, start with journaling. If intrusive memories come up, don’t push them aside. Accept and allow them, and then shift your focus.
It may help to take time to write down these memories and once you’ve done that, turn your attention elsewhere and consciously choose not to ruminate over them.
6. See a professional.
Because trauma and the brain are intimately connected, trauma can be challenging to heal from without the support of a trained therapist.
There are several effective modalities that one can pursue with the assistance of trained professionals. One of those is Brainspotting. Brainspotting is an effective modality in healing from trauma and other disorders such as anxiety and depression. Sessions can be just as effective both in person and virtually.
Make sure to reach out for support if finding relief is too difficult on your own.
Monica Ramunda, MA, LPC, LCMHC, RPT-S helps individuals and families heal from trauma. She is a trained Brainspotting practitioner and the owner of Rocky Mountain Counseling and Lighthouse Counseling Services. She has been working for over 20 years with individuals and families.
This article was originally published at Lighthouse Counseling. Reprinted with permission from the author.