The Physical Effects of Trauma
Trauma recovery can be a difficult process and the physical effects of trauma can make it even more challenging. The physical symptoms of trauma can be long-term and debilitating, but with the right care, you can take control of your trauma recovery and start living a healthier, happier life. In this blog post, I’ll explore the types of trauma and its effects on physical health, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) for trauma recovery, developing a self-care plan, the benefits of social support, and nutritional strategies for trauma recovery.
Types of Trauma and its Effects on Physical Health
Causes of trauma are subjective for each person and can be a single incident or a series of events. Common causes include, but are not limited to, a car accident, emotional abuse, and childhood neglect. A personal example for me is the frequent rejection I experienced from others in school growing up. Trauma results from the limbic system of the brain keeping a person emotionally stuck in the event, or pattern of events, creating the sense that it's not over even if it ended years ago. That helps explain why I still often fear that I will not be liked by my peers.
People with PTSD may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intense feelings of fear or anxiety. They may also experience physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, and rapid heart rate when they are reminded of the event. These physical symptoms can be long-lasting and can interfere with daily activities.
Researchers are still trying to understand the full scope of the physical impacts of trauma but so far we know that it causes an overproduction of adrenaline (which leads to the fight/flight/panic/freeze response) and cortisol (which is called the stress hormone. Excessive amounts of these hormones can have a significant impact on physical health as it can lead to chronic pain, fatigue, headaches, and digestive problems. It can also lead to changes in sleep patterns, weight fluctuations, and a weakened immune system.
In some cases, trauma can even lead to long-term illnesses such as autoimmune diseases and other chronic conditions. This is due in part to severe trauma causing an over response in which the immune system produces too much of certain defenses which then have unintended consequences on the rest of the immune system.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for Trauma Recovery
CBT and DBT are based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected and influence each other. CBT helps people identify and address unhealthy beliefs about themselves, others, and the world that developed as a result of trauma.
DBT helps people improve their ability to experience and respond to their emotions in healthier ways through distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills. It also includes tools for developing daily mindfulness practices which strengthen self-compassion and your ability to remain grounded in the present moment rather than being pulled back into the past. Interpersonal effectiveness skills can help decrease trauma symptoms by helping with developing healthier relationships, ending harmful ones, and advocating for your needs.
Developing a Self-Care Plan
Developing a self-care plan can help you take control of your trauma recovery and start living a healthier, happier life. A good self-care plan includes activities that you enjoy and that help you relax. Examples of self-care activities are exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling, and spending time in nature. It is also important to make efforts to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and practice positive self-talk. These strategies can help promote a more balanced immune system. Physical activity is especially important because this is how our bodies process out the adrenaline and cortisol so they don’t accumulate so much over time.
Benefits of Social Support
Social support can come from friends, family, support groups, or online communities. Having someone to talk to can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. It can also provide a sense of safety, connection, and belonging which can help boost self-esteem and decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. Having a strong social support system can also provide practical help, such as assistance with daily tasks or transportation. Trauma support groups help you understand that you are not cursed or alone. This can help produce other hormones for a more balanced brain and body such as dopamine and serotonin.
Nutritional Strategies for Trauma Recovery
Good nutrition is an important part of trauma recovery as well because it can help reduce stress and improve physical and mental health. Eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help reduce the physical effects of trauma such as chronic pain and problems with digestion and the immune system. Foods that are high in omega-3s and other antioxidants, such as walnuts, certain fish, chia seeds, blueberries, dark chocolate, and green tea may also help counteract some of the harmful impacts of stress.