Trauma is a deeply impactful experience that can leave lasting imprints on our minds and bodies. It affects individuals from all walks of life, making it essential to comprehend the profound connection between trauma and our nervous system. In this blog post, we will explore how trauma affects us physically and emotionally, discover the healing power of the nervous system, and uncover coping strategies for finding relief from the devastating symptoms of trauma.
Trauma and the Nervous System
Our nervous system is impacted when traumatic events occur, shaping our reactions and emotions. Unresolved trauma can lead to long-lasting changes within the nervous system, disrupting our overall well-being.
Our nervous system serves as a network of communication within our bodies. It carries important signals between different parts of our body, such as sensations, movements, and instructions from our brain. Our brain—“the captain of the nervous system”—processes information, coordinating our body’s responses to various stimuli. Together, the nervous system and the brain work as a team to interpret, coordinate, and respond to signals from the environment and our bodies.
The Dysregulated Nervous System
When trauma strikes, it triggers a cascade of reactions that can overwhelm the balance of the nervous system. This disruption affects various parts of the system, such as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for regulating involuntary bodily functions. Understanding this relationship is key to unraveling the complexities of trauma.
When trauma triggers changes in our nervous system, it changes how our brain perceives and responds to the world. One critical change to the brain is the impact on the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for processing emotions, particularly fear responses. When our minds and bodies have experienced a traumatic event, the amygdala elevates our fear responses, creating a state of alert. When traumatic events are unresolved or chronic, our minds and bodies can get stuck in this state, leaving our nervous systems in a dysregulated state.
Living with a dysregulated nervous system can have serious health consequences. Physically, trauma is linked to muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, gut distress, chronic pain, and more. Emotionally, being in a constant state of alert can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, suicidal ideation, and more. To find relief from these symptoms, understanding the various available treatment methods can help you take control of your healing journey.
Healing from Trauma
While healing from trauma may seem challenging, it is important to acknowledge our resilience and embrace our ability to restore balance to a dysregulated nervous system. When seeking help for trauma, many are distressed to learn that trauma alters the brain. While that is a hard truth, it is key to understanding the brain’s neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is what allows the brain to create new pathways and connections. So, while your brain’s makeup may have changed, it can also change again. In other words, healing is possible.
The Role of Professional Support
Seeking support from mental health professionals who specialize in trauma can be instrumental in healing and finding relief. Therapies like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and somatic experiencing focus on targeting trauma’s impact on the nervous system, offering invaluable guidance and tools for recovery. Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength and a crucial step toward healing.
A Pioneering Alternative: Psychedelic Therapy
Psychedelic therapy encompasses various forms of therapy that use substances that promote neuroplasticity, such as psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, and ketamine. This method can facilitate the processing and integration of traumatic memories, reducing their emotional intensity and associated symptoms. Among these therapies, ketamine-assisted therapy has gained momentum in recent years as an innovative approach to treating trauma, PTSD, mood disorders, and more. Ketamine is administered under medical supervision. As with any medical treatment, we encourage you to consult with the care team at your local ketamine treatment center. They can discuss with you the details of your case and a treatment plan that will ensure optimal safety and effectiveness.
What is Nervous System Regulation?
Nervous system regulation is the process of bringing the body’s dysregulated nervous system back into balance after a stressor has activated it or has gone into alert. This can be done through a variety of techniques. The best approach will vary from person to person, so it is best to find approaches that work for you and to practice them regularly.
The benefits of nervous system regulation exercises on quality of life cannot be understated. If you practice regular nervous system regulation exercises, you may…
- Improve sleep by helping to calm the mind and body. This can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Reduce pain by helping to reduce muscle tension and inflammation. This can make it easier to manage pain.
- Improve mood by helping to increase feelings of calmness and well-being. This can make it easier to cope with the challenges of recovery.
- Reduce emotional dysregulation, learning to regulate emotions in a healthy way. This can help reduce symptoms such as anxiety, anger, and depression.
- Increase resilience by supporting the body and mind to adapt to stress and trauma. This can make it easier to cope with future challenges.
- Increase self-awareness, becoming more aware of the body and how it feels. This can help identify triggers and develop coping mechanisms.
It is important to note that nervous system regulation exercises do not cure trauma, PTSD, or mood disorders. However, they can be an excellent tool in managing symptoms, complementing traditional therapy. They are also a positive and powerful momentum builder on your healing journey. If you’re interested in getting started with nervous system regulation exercises, speak to your doctor or try searching YouTube for various exercises available for free in an easy-to-follow format.
Coping Strategies & Nervous System Regulation
Personal coping strategies are also crucial in the trauma healing journey. Effective coping will give you the tools to regulate emotions, manage triggers, and build resilience. Here are just a few techniques that can assist in nervous system regulation or the process of restoring balance to your nervous system:
Self-Care and Emotional Well-Being
Engaging in self-care practices is essential for healing from trauma. Self-care refers to engaging in healthy activities that bring joy, such as leisure time in nature, practicing hobbies, or engaging in creative outlets. Taking care of your emotional well-being by journaling, expressing your emotions, or cuddling with a beloved pet are all examples of self-care activities that offer comfort, stability, and will
ultimately help you maintain a regulated nervous system.
Grounding techniques help us to connect with the present moment by focusing on our senses. Some
common grounding techniques include:
- Pay attention to your surroundings: Notice the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around you.
- Focus on your breath: Pay attention to the feeling of your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
- Feel your feet on the ground: Notice the weight of your feet on the ground.
As Ram Dass says, if we can learn to “be here now,” this technique can help reduce depression and anxiety, thought to be about the past and future respectively.
Practicing mindfulness means being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness helps you increase your ability to be self-aware. When you increase your self-awareness, you are in greater control of your emotional responses. This helps reduce impulsivity and reactivity. There are many opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout the day. Some techniques include mindful eating, mindful listening, and mindful walking. Any practice that works by slowing down your thoughts and bringing attention to your physical sensations can help create a sense of calm within and help maintain a regulated nervous system.
Building Healthy Relationships
Nurturing healthy relationships can play a vital role in trauma healing. Building connections with supportive and understanding individuals who validate your experiences creates a sense of belonging and helps rebuild trust. Seeking out support groups can provide a safe, compassionate community where you can share your journey and learn from others who have experienced similar challenges.
Activating the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is a critical component of nervous system regulation. It is the longest nerve in your body, running from the base of your brain to the bottom of your spine, and is responsible for calming the body after a stressful event. Activating the vagus nerve can help reduce heart rate and blood pressure, promoting relaxation. Some ways you can stimulate your vagus nerve include yawning, swallowing, and humming. Polyvagal yoga is another effective technique that promotes vagus nerve activation through specific yoga poses and breathing exercises. By activating the vagus nerve, you can expect to feel more centered and regulated.
Key Takeaways for Healing Trauma
Trauma can have a profound impact on an individual’s mind and body, and trauma healing requires an understanding of the connection between trauma and the nervous system. While living with trauma symptoms can leave you feeling hopeless, the good news is that neuroplasticity allows an altered, traumatized brain to heal. Seeking support can also aid in recovery. Furthermore, advancements in treatments, including psychedelic therapy offer new hope to people seeking relief from trauma symptoms. Finally, we can relieve the symptoms of trauma, PTSD, and mood disorders by adopting nervous system regulation exercises to re-establish balance and a sense of peace.