Perhaps you’ve heard that trauma is stored in the body. But what does this statement really mean? Simply put, trauma isn’t just a memory. Being reminded of your trauma can often become a full-body experience.
Your body holds on to these memories, too. Even when you’re not explicitly thinking about your trauma, you might still suffer from the physical effects. If you don’t take the time to process what happened, your body will still remember, even if you try to suppress thoughts relating to your trauma.
Understanding how trauma affects your physical body is key to healing. Here’s why your body physically holds on to trauma and how you can work on releasing it.
When you experience a traumatic event, you can’t help but react physically. You might feel like you need to fight back, or you might freeze in place. Alternatively, you may try to flee the scene.
Your body responds instantly in the moment to the events you’re experiencing. You’re not just witnessing something traumatic, your body is put into survival mode, and every physical reaction you experience afterward is intended to keep you alive. However, your body doesn’t just forget these sensations when the event is over.
Trauma changes your brain, which affects the way you respond to triggering events in the future. For example, your hippocampus shrinks. This area of the brain influences your emotions and stores memories.
Furthermore, your prefrontal activity decreases after experiencing trauma. This makes it harder to execute lots of complex cognitive processes, such as planning for the future, weighing the consequences of big and small decisions, and focusing on self-development. You might notice symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD as a result of these brain changes.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze
The same sensations that you experienced when you lived through trauma can come back to haunt you, seemingly out of nowhere. When you encounter a trigger or reminder of your trauma, you might feel like you lose control of your body in a sense.
Rationally, you might know that you’re safe. But suddenly, you feel like you need to run away, fight back, or freeze. The memory of your trauma, which your body holds on to, inspires this reaction.
After living through trauma, you may notice physical symptoms that just won’t go away. Perhaps these symptoms seemed to pop up for no explainable reason, and your doctors can’t find a cause. You may end up dealing with stomachaches, headaches, muscle pains, insomnia, or a loss of appetite.
It can be frustrating to live with chronic symptoms like these when you can’t discern the cause. But if you’re relatively certain that these symptoms began shortly after your traumatic experience, there’s a good chance that they’re connected. Living with the aftermath of trauma can make you feel physically ill.
If trauma is stored in the body, it makes sense that some physical practices can help release it. Before trying any specific form of treatment, it’s a good idea to talk to a therapist first. Sometimes, releasing trauma stored in your body through physical movement can feel very intense and overwhelming, so you don’t want to push yourself too hard.
Practices such as breath work and yoga can help you work through trauma and release some of these feelings. Furthermore, exercise can be a powerful way to mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are often related to trauma.
Have you been holding on to trauma in your body? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.