Everyone faces potentially traumatic events. In some cases, these experiences result in trauma which can turn into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Those struggling with this condition may have to deal with anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, substance abuse, social withdrawal, depression, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Of course, this is a serious situation that requires professional help. However, trauma is not always as obvious as you may imagine. Its symptoms can be more physical in nature. Therefore, the connection to trauma is not always apparent. A good starting point to recognize this connection is to understand how your body reacts to a threat.
The Physiological Responses to Traumatic Events
When we encounter or merely perceive danger, our bodies spring into action. A major part of this response is the release of a chemical called cortisol. This reaction is automatic and beyond our control. Typically, it provokes any combination of the following scenarios:
- Fight: You battle back against the threat
- Flight: Doing anything you can to avoid the perceived source of danger
- Freeze: Paralyzed by fear and unable to either fight or flee
- Flop: Surrendering to the fear and/or trying to appease the person seeking to harm you
These reactions can be very short-lived. In extreme cases, however, they persist. Your body gets locked into emergency mode. The cortisol continues to be released as you feel trapped in a cycle of fear.
The Danger of Being Stuck
A chronic overflow of cortisol can be toxic to your body. This should not be an issue once the threat has been removed. But again, you never know when an event is more than you can handle. You remain in a state of high alert which only builds on itself. This situation — and the flow of cortisol — put you at risk of many physical ailments and issues. These issues can range from heart disease to depression and beyond.
Some the signs to watch for include:
- Sleep disturbances (including nightmares)
- Unexplained fatigue
- A general sense of agitation and restlessness
- Easily startled
- Sweating, trembling, and elevated heart rate
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Unexplained body aches, pains, and tension
How to Respond to the Physical Impact of Trauma
As highlighted above, a significant first step is learning more about trauma and its potential impacts. This is especially true if the abusive or dangerous experiences occurred in childhood. Trauma is not always easy to discern as a cause. Once you can acknowledge that and recognize the physical symptoms, you may benefit from working with a therapist. In addition, there are always self-help steps you can take to complement that care, e.g.
As you do the work to address the results of trauma, your body would really appreciate some self-love. A great place to start is to embrace stress management tactics like mediation, yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, mindfulness, and more.
Safeguard your sleep routine, your eating habits, and your activity levels. Trauma will try to keep you inactive and detached. You can take steps to address that possibility.
Music, art, writing, and more can all serve to balance the effects of PTSD. They may also provide opportunities to interact with others and feel less isolated.
Trauma recovery is, at times, a very tricky balance. You need a supportive social circle. You also need some safe space where you can learn to keep anxiety at bay. This is an ideal topic to discuss with a qualified therapist.
Trauma often requires support. Don’t suffer alone or in silence. If any of the above sounds familiar, please reach out for help. Read more about trauma treatment and let’s connect for a confidential consultation as soon as possible.