Everything You Need to Know About Trauma & How It Affects the Body

In a recent podcase episode, I spoke with trauma therapist Lisa Smith of So My Mom’s a Therapist about how trauma affects the brain, body and nervous system. We talk about connecting the brain and body in general, how to understand what you’re feeling and what certain experiences are doing to your nervous system. So, here’s everything you need to know…

What exactly is trauma?

Trauma is different for everybody. Two people can go through the same exact experience, and the event could register as traumatic for one person while it does not for the other. There are also different types of trauma. Big T trauma is a deeply disturbing, life-threatening event like a natural disaster, shooting, or violent crime. Little T trauma includes non-life-threatening experiences such as emotional abuse, bullying or harassment, the loss of a loved one, or similar situations.

How do you know if trauma has affected the body?

Untreated past trauma can have a significant affect on your body and overall health. Therapists can use a tool called EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to not only treat, but detect trauma stored in the body. If your body tenses up or you have strong emotional reactions when thinking about a traumatic experience, those could be signs of untreated trauma in the body as well.

What does trauma do to your nervous system?

Nausea, anxiety and digestive issues are often tied to trauma. I can speak from experience how my gut issues didn’t go away until I dealt with past trauma. A traumatic experience can cause a heightened nervous system which controls your cortisol levels and the “fight or flight” response. The more you avoid dealing with past trauma, the longer your sympathetic nervous system will be in overdrive because it’s trying to protect you from danger.

How do you heal past trauma?

To deal with past trauma, you don’t necessarily need to relive the experience. Sometimes, moving your body through exercise or walking can help you release that stored energy. It’s also important to remember that you can’t go back to who you were before you experienced that trauma. As much as you want to forget it or pretend it never happened, you will never be the same person you were then and that’s okay. Sometimes, simply accepting that fact will help you to heal from a traumatic event.

Listen to the full episode here for more about relationships, why singleness is frustrating, tips for attachment vs. avoidant tendencies, breakups, and more.