August 5th, 2019

How The Body Keeps the Score on Trauma

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you think of trauma, what comes to mind may be war veterans struggling to reintegrate into society after their horrific experiences. Perhaps you think of someone experiencing terrible flashbacks, or too anxious to even leave their house. But this is only part of the picture.

In The Body Keeps the Score, author and psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk M.D. sets out to debunk the myths and misconceptions around trauma and its effect on people. He explains that trauma is not only more common than you might expect but has a much greater effect on our minds and bodies than you imagine.

Studies show that meditation is a great way to supplement your recovery from trauma. We particularly recommend The Body Scan meditation. Give it a try!

How Does Trauma Affect Us?

What is it about trauma that sticks with us? It turns out we remember traumatic events far more vividly than non-traumatic ones. A study conducted by Van der Kolk found that participants who recounted a non-traumatic experience in their past generally only recalled a basic outline it. Participants recounting events that had traumatized them, however, could easily recall vivid sensory information, even years after the experience.

People who experience trauma are often permanently shaped by it. Victims of trauma often have a hard time trusting others who haven’t experienced what they have. They believe that no one can understand them or what they went through. This feeling of isolation can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers to withdraw even further from loved ones, which can lead to–or worsen–depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

When people with PTSD are exposed to something that reminds them of their traumatic event, their brain reacts the same way it did when the event was first experienced. It’s as if the victim is reliving the incident all over again. The ability to reason or speak decreases, while heart rate and blood pressure rise sharply. Psychologists call these “flashbacks,” which you may have heard of from popular depictions of PTSD in media.

These psychological effects can also impact physical health. The constant flood of stress hormones in the body can cause long-term cardiovascular problems. PTSD also affects sufferers’ ability to sleep, work, and socialize. These health problems compound the longer the trauma is left untreated. People who suffer from trauma during their childhoods, in particular, are susceptible to devastating psychological and physical health problems if they aren’t given the space and tools to heal from it.

PTSD can make you feel constantly on alert, which can make it impossible to function. One way to combat your feeling of helplessness is to simply remember to breathe, which helps relax your nervous system. Sign up for the Fabulous Breathe challenge for a daily reminder to take a deep breath.

What Can We Do to Heal?

Trauma feels permanent, and in some ways, it is. The traumatizing event will never leave you, but it doesn’t have to consume you, either. It might be hard to imagine a life without the feelings of anxiety and dread inside you, but it is possible. Here are some suggestions from The Body Keeps the Score:

Find Your People

Speaking to a professional therapist can be a great way to help unpack what you’re feeling, but it can be hard to trust people who haven’t gone through what you have. That’s why the author recommends seeking out support groups of people who have experienced trauma similar to yours. Not only will it be easier to connect with them, finding other trauma sufferers will grant you access to resources and alternate points of view you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Try Yoga and Mindfulness

Being able to reunite body and mind is an essential part of the healing process, according to The Body Keeps the Score. Yoga, in particular, can be a powerful tool in your recovery kit. Yoga is not only good for the body, but it also gives you a chance to reconnect with thoughts and feelings you might be experiencing. A mindfulness practice accomplishes the same thing. By fulling engaging yourself in the present moment, you grant yourself space to safely explore whatever you’re feeling whenever you’re feeling it. Doing so brings you one step closer to being able to let those feelings go.

Give Yourself Time

As much as we at Fabulous would love to tell you that recovery can happen overnight, this simply isn’t true. According to The Body Keeps the Score, recover can take months or even years before you notice any real progress. It’s completely understandable to be frustrated by this news, but don’t let it discourage you from trying. Allow yourself to feel however you feel and embrace the uncertainty and discomfort of the recovery process. It might be hard, but the effort pays off. Sometimes, the most important thing to have is simply time. Time to process what you’ve gone through and what you’re going through now. Time creates distance, and with distance comes perspective.

Recovery is easier when you have support. Sign up for The Fabulous Circle journey to build your own support system.