When a traumatic event happens, there are parts of our brains that go offline, so to speak. What this means is that the parts of our brains that help us work through memories and our actions stop working in the way that we want them to—think spotty cell reception.
What happens when we are activated?
When something activates us, our bodies engage without us even knowing it. Our brains sense that we are in danger, either perceived or real. Thus, we are involving different parts of our nervous systems, stimulating the flight, fight, or freeze response. Then, challenges can become bigger and more frightening for us to navigate. All of this is what is better known as the arousal response. What’s needed is to complete the arousal response. This requires alertness—having that tense response, action, and then returning to equilibrium.
Trauma Gets Stuck in the Arousal Cycle
However, while experiencing trauma, our arousal cycles become interrupted in the action stage, and our bodies get stuck in that response. As a result, we tend to overcorrect, and our bodies can come become trapped in the hyper-aroused or hypertense state. Consequently, our minds and bodies are attempting to work through these memories and are unable to do so, creating more fear and dissonance within us; thus, the arousal cycle remains interrupted and traumatic memories are stuck within our bodies.
How does this impact us?
What can come next are feelings of not being in control, anxiety, depression, unease, flashbacks, panic attacks, disturbed eating habits, and nightmares. This all can be incredibly overwhelming and, truthfully, is a lot to unpack.
So, how can we work through this or help a loved one who may be struggling with trauma?
Establish safety. Safety can look like a visualized safe place, an actual safe place, or the presence of safe people. Additionally, develop resources, including where someone may reach out for help or connect with professionals trained in trauma recovery. After these are established, work can begin on unpacking the traumatic memory and how it lives within the mind and body.
If you want to learn a little or A LOT more about trauma and how it affects us, check out The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk.
Contact Us to Connect with a Therapist
If you or someone you know could benefit from working through trauma, we are here to help. At Greenway Therapy we have multiple therapists who can guide you on your journey, provide resources, and support you.