What is Trauma Anyway?
Trauma can be defined as: “exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual well-being.” Trauma can be exposure to yourself directly, or the WITNESS of a traumatic event to another individual.
Just because you’ve experienced trauma does not necessarily mean that you have PTSD, but it could still mean there are lasting effects on your nervous system.
So what are some common effects of trauma?
Effects of trauma can be seen in many different ways. You might be someone who experiences disassociation, or maybe having flashbacks, or perhaps you’re chronically sick. There are also other symptoms that many experience like extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance, difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, chronic pain or illness, difficulty sleeping, negative views of self, avoidance of people or places, or substance use. Some individuals may experience all of these, and others may only experience some.
What About my Nervous System?
While all of the above are common symptoms, many of these symptoms are stored in the nervous system. Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote a book entitled, “The Body Keeps the Score” because of this stance that much of trauma is stored in the body via the nervous system.
The reason this happens is because the nervous system is responsible for helping to regulate the body. We have our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response) and our parasympathetic nervous system (our “rest and relax” nervous system). When the body and nervous system is pushed too far beyond its capacity or pushed too often, the nervous system starts to go into overdrive. It can go into “overdrive” by activating the sympathetic nervous system too often (often making you more HYPER aroused) or the parasympathetic (more HYPO aroused).
So What Now?
So when the nervous system gets pushed beyond its capacity, it tends to move on autopilot because its job is to protect you. Unfortunately that autopilot isn’t always helpful. You could go to therapy and try to talk about it all day long, which is super helpful, but if your therapy sessions aren’t incorporating nervous system regulation then you’re missing out on true healing from traumatic events. You have to let your nervous system know that you are okay ultimately so it does not have to kick into overdrive so often.
And how do we do that?
There are multiple things you can do to help regulate your nervous system. A few things include:
- Guided Imagery/Meditation
- Vagus Nerve Stimulation (humming/singing/tapping/temperature differences)
- Grounding techniques
- Breathing Exercises
When we engage in nervous system regulation, we are training our bodies/brains on how to recognize that we are actually safe and that our environment (internally or externally) is nothing to actually be afraid of.
If you are someone looking to help regulate your nervous system, or need help processing a traumatic event, it is best to do so along a professional who knows how to guide you through this process.
If you’re needing someone to walk alongside you in healing your trauma, be sure to reach out today to get connected with a practitioner today. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
The Made Well Team