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How Trauma Impacts the Nervous System

We often hear about the mental, emotional, and even physical toll that trauma can have on a person. What is sometimes less known is the fact that all of these effects can be traced back to the nervous system. In fact, trauma is often considered a disease of the nervous system.

What Is Trauma?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as “an event or circumstance resulting in physical harm, emotional harm, and/or life-threatening harm.” These events can have lasting negative effects on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health. They can also affect social and spiritual well-being.

SAMHSA mentions that some traumatic experiences are “associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions,” especially the ones that occur during childhood. Substance abuse and mental health disorders have also been linked with trauma.

Functions of the Nervous System

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nervous system “plays a role in nearly every aspect of our health and well-being.” It guides “everyday activities such as waking up; automatic activities such as breathing; and complex processes such as thinking, reading, remembering, and feeling emotions.”

A wide variety of human functions are controlled by the nervous system. These include brain growth and development, thought, emotions, healing, aging, memory, movement, and stress responses.

The Nervous System and Traumatic Stress Response

The nervous system controls much of the human body’s daily activities. It’s no wonder that trauma can have a great effect on regular functioning.

According to Physiology, Stress Reaction by Brianna Chu, Komal Marwaha, Terrence Sanvictores, and Derek Ayers, “any physical or psychological stimuli that disrupt homeostasis result in a stress response.” Traumatic situations are one such stimulus that can send the nervous system into overdrive as it tries to regulate your body’s stress reaction.

A 2011 study in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience points to the “classic fight-or-flight response” to perceived threats, like trauma. The nervous system may become dysregulated in the process of handling reflexive survival behaviors. This can happen the moment the threat occurs or even well into the future every time the mind or body remembers the threat.

“Fight or Flight” Response

According to Physiology, Stress Reaction, a threat from a stressful situation, like trauma, can “activate a cascade of stress hormones that produce physiological changes.” This nervous system activation triggers the stress response known as “fight or flight.”

The “fight or flight” response is one of the main characteristics of trauma. Heightened stress and adrenaline from this response enable a person to either fight the outside threat or flee.

Over time, traumatic events can continue to cause stress reactions in a person well after they occur. Physiology, Stress Reaction mentions that the body will try to adapt to these higher levels of stress by continuing to secrete stress hormones.

After a while, the body’s reaction to trauma can cause a stage of exhaustion. Burnout, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and reduced stress tolerance can take hold. When symptoms continue to persist, the body’s immune system will continue to weaken.

Trauma Stored in the Body

Trauma, along with its stress response, can actually be stored as memory in the body. According to a 2022 study in Brain Sciences, body memory is defined as “the sum of all past bodily experiences that are stored in memory and influence behavior.”

We may be consciously or unconsciously aware of body memories. Sometimes you’re aware that a certain traumatic situation continues to affect your life. Other times, you may not remember the trauma or realize how much of an impact it still has.

Brain Sciences also mentions that “memories of stressful, painful or traumatic bodily experiences have been associated with various mental health conditions.” It’s important to seek treatment that will help you re-regulate your nervous system and heal trauma alongside any co-occurring conditions.

Healing Trauma and a Dysregulated Nervous System

When a person is experiencing a prolonged stress reaction to trauma, their bodies may go into a “freeze” mode instead of “fight or flight.”

According to a 2021 study in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, this freeze can lead to “persistent somatic and emotional dysregulation of the nervous system. Methods like somatic therapy can help get your nervous system back to a regulated state.

Other ways you can begin re-regulating your nervous system can include:

  • Therapeutic journaling
  • Exercise
  • Meditation and yoga
  • Hiking, camping, and biking
  • Acupuncture

Trauma-Specific Care at The Guest House

At The Guest House, you will find a wide variety of methods to help you heal trauma and regulate your nervous system.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Our highly-trained staff and unique programs specialize in trauma healing and recovery from a variety of conditions. Many people who experience trauma also struggle with one or more co-occurring disorders, like substance use disorder (SUD). You can rest assured knowing that you’ll receive a full continuum of care at The Guest House. Our mission is to help you overcome your struggles in a way that works best for you.

Traditional Treatment

At The Guest House, you will find a wide range of both traditional treatment and holistic therapies. Individual therapy can help you process trauma with expert support to assist you in sticking to your goals for treatment. Group therapy is where you’ll be able to work through trauma and any other issues you may be experiencing with others who understand your struggles.

Holistic Care

The Guest House also provides a vast array of programs to help you regulate your nervous system and heal your mind, body, and soul. Our somatic therapy program can help you move trauma out of the body through physical practices like acupuncture, massage, exercise, and even skin treatments.

No matter what, you’re here to heal; you’ll be able to find solace and re-discover yourself at The Guest House.

Trauma has a direct, negative effect on the nervous system. When a person experiences trauma, their body goes into a stress response known as “fight or flight.” This response triggers stress hormones and can lead to a highly dysregulated nervous system. At The Guest House, we offer a high level of trauma-specific care. We understand that trauma doesn’t end after the experience is over. In fact, traumatic experiences can be stored as energy in the body that needs to be regulated and released. We offer a wide variety of traditional and holistic therapies designed to help you process trauma and re-regulate your nervous system. For more information, call us today at (855) 483-7800.