Releasing Trauma Stored in the Body
Trauma can leave a lasting impact on our nervous system, affecting our physical and emotional well-being. Let's take a hypothetical client named Paula as an example. When she encounters loud noises or crowded spaces, it triggers feelings of panic and anxiety. These triggers activate her body's stress response - her heart races, muscles tense up, and breathing becomes shallow - all stemming from her nervous system's memory of the traumatic experience.
Chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, and complex regional pain syndrome have also been linked to trauma. Trauma can cause changes in the nervous system, making pain signals more intense and contributing to the development of chronic pain.
Moreover, early-life trauma and chronic stress may impact the immune system, potentially increasing the risk of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Trauma and chronic stress can also lead to disruptions in the autonomic nervous system and hormonal imbalances, which could heighten the risk of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
Stress and trauma can even affect our gut function, leading to gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Additionally, trauma can contribute to other mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders, beyond just post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Impact of PTSD Triggers
When PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is triggered, individuals may experience a rapid and intense response to stimuli associated with the trauma. This can lead to heightened anxiety, flashbacks, dissociation, or a sense of being overwhelmed. PTSD triggers can significantly impact daily functioning and quality of life, making it essential to seek professional support for managing triggers and processing trauma.
However, there is hope in healing from trauma and PTSD. Therapeutic techniques like mindfulness, body-based therapies, and trauma-focused therapies such as Prolonged Exposure and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy can help release trapped emotions and memories. By gently processing traumatic experiences, we create space for emotional release and pave the way for true healing.
Can Releasing Trauma Make You Sick?
You might wonder if working on releasing trauma can make you ill. The answer is a bit complex. Releasing trauma is indeed a transformative and healing process, but it can also be emotionally taxing. During trauma release, you may experience heightened emotions and temporary discomfort. However, the natural emotional intensity during healing is different from symptoms of illness, even if they might appear similar. As your therapist, I can help you differentiate between these during our sessions together, ensuring you have the support you need throughout the healing journey.
What are the Most Common Body Areas Affected in Trauma?
The neck and shoulders are often the most common body areas affected by trauma. Emotional stress and tension can lead to physical manifestations such as neck stiffness, headaches, and tight shoulders.
If you recognize this in yourself, here’s an exercise to practice release:
Neck and Shoulder Release Exercise:
- Sit or Stand Comfortably: Find a comfortable seated or standing position. Ensure your spine is straight, shoulders are relaxed, and your feet are grounded.
- Relax Your Shoulders: Take a few deep breaths and consciously relax your shoulders. Let them drop away from your ears, allowing any tension to melt away.
- Neck Stretch - Side to Side: Inhale deeply and as you exhale, gently tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, feeling the gentle stretch along the left side of your neck. Inhale and return to the center. Exhale and repeat on the left side. Continue this gentle side-to-side movement for about 3-4 repetitions on each side.
- Neck Stretch - Chin to Chest: Inhale deeply and as you exhale, slowly lower your chin towards your chest, feeling the stretch along the back of your neck. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly lift your head back to the center as you inhale. Repeat this movement for 3-4 times.
- Neck Stretch - Ear to Shoulder: Inhale deeply and as you exhale, tilt your head to the right again, but this time, gently bring your right ear towards your right shoulder. Avoid lifting your shoulder. Hold for a few seconds and then return to the center as you inhale. Repeat on the left side. Perform 3-4 repetitions on each side.
- Shoulder Roll: Inhale deeply and as you exhale, roll your shoulders back and down in a circular motion. Imagine drawing circles with your shoulders. Perform 5-6 rotations in one direction and then switch to the opposite direction.
- Shoulder Shrug: Inhale deeply and as you exhale, gently shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Hold for a few seconds, feeling the tension in your shoulders. Exhale and release the shrug. Repeat this movement for 3-4 times.
- Breathing Awareness: As you continue the neck and shoulder stretches, pay attention to your breath. Take slow and deep breaths, allowing the breath to guide your movements. Feel the sensation of stretching and releasing with each breath.
- Closing Relaxation: After completing the stretches, sit or stand with your eyes closed for a moment. Take a few more deep breaths, and bring awareness to any changes in your neck and shoulder area. Notice how the tension has lessened, and you feel more relaxed.
Overall, trauma therapy can be a powerful tool in helping individuals address physical manifestations of illness related to trauma. By addressing the mind-body connection and providing tools for healing, trauma therapy empowers individuals to take an active role in their recovery and move towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. If you are experiencing physical health challenges that may be related to trauma, reach out to me. I am located in Greenwood Village in Denver, though I work mainly remotely over zoom. Together, we can work towards releasing the burden of trauma, promoting healing in both mind and body, and fostering resilience and well-being.