Trauma is not just a category of experiences, it is also about our response to those experiences. An ongoing stressor can be a traumatic experience, as can the betrayal of trust in a relationship, a physical accident, or suddenly losing someone important to you. There is a broad range of events that are typically considered to be traumatic. It essentially refers to a wound.
We all have wounds.
What matters more than the event is how your mind and body responded to it both in the moment and afterward. If something from the past keeps popping up in your present-day life, it’s a good sign that the memory wasn’t properly processed or encoded like your other memories.
The degree of danger or intensity in an experience does not mean that someone will end up with PTSD. Humans all over the world experience awful, stressful things all the time, and not all of them continue to struggle with it. So why is that?
For a moment, think of humans as pots of water. We all start off with a different baseline of water (this relates to our biological predisposition and generational trauma). Then, life happens and water gets added. Throw in some heat, and the pots will start to boil over. Humans are similar. There are things that serve as buffers for us, that can help protect us from the unavoidable difficult parts of being human. So, maybe in this metaphor that would look like someone present in the kitchen attending to the pot. There is nothing wrong with a pot of water that boils over. It is just a result of the capacity and the events that unfold.
Trauma + your Mind
Trauma creates changes in how your mind responds to stress, and it also changes the functioning of your midbrain (amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus). Trauma can impair the functioning of your limbic system; which is involved in our emotional and behavioral responses, memory storage and retrieval, motivation, and learning. It can also impair our HPA axis, its role is to manage the effects of stress as well as our metabolism, immune system, and autonomic nervous system.
So, what does that mean?
It means that after experiencing a single or multiple incident(s), or on-going stressors your brain adjusts accordingly. In order to protect itself, the brain breaks up pieces of stressful memories instead of fully processing them. This is why you notice things we call triggers or flashbacks. Details like colors, sounds, smells, or images that are similar to a part of the fragmented memory will create a response as if the past experience were happening again in the present moment. On the flip side, trauma can also impair your ability to remember traumatic memories or important parts of the memory. These are normal changes in response to stressful and difficult experiences. Your brain does what it needs to in order to survive, not necessarily in order to return to your previous way of being.
You may notice yourself either being over-reactive (feeling on edge or overwhelmed) or under-reactive (numb and disconnected). Difficulty navigating heightened emotions, having a hard time getting in touch with positive emotions, or increased feelings of shame, guilt, self-blame, and despair are common emotional experiences.
Your mind’s perception of yourself, others, or the world around you often changes. You may notice yourself having a hard time feeling calm or resting. That is because your mind has been primed, or overly prepared itself for impending danger. This can show up as feeling on-edge, startling more easily, and feeling overly sensitive to your environment. Or the other end of the spectrum, this can be experienced as shutting down easily, feeling detached from yourself or disconnected from your environment, or feeling like you’re living in a fog.
Another difficulty may show up in your relationships, especially if you’ve experienced relational trauma. This can look like pulling away from friends and family, difficulty trusting, avoiding people in order to avoid reminders of your experiences, or for fear of burdening or negatively impacting others.
Trauma + your Body
Our entire being operates through systems and these systems are interconnected. So, just as trauma leaves its mark on our minds it also impacts our physical body as well.
The nervous system is one of the links between our minds and our body. Your nervous system’s primary job is to constantly scan your inner and outer environment for cues of safety or cues of danger. Trauma can result in encoding neutral cues, or even cues typically encoded as safe, as dangerous. Which can mean that you may logically understand that you are safe, or that you are in a situation where nothing is wrong, but your body may be telling you the opposite.
Our bodies are always sending us signals and attempting to communicate with us, we just may not always understand what it’s trying to say. I’ve seen a quote floating around lately that says; listen to your body when it whispers, and you won’t have to hear it scream. If you’ve experienced something traumatic, your body also holds these memories mostly in its muscles and fascia. That is, until it can be released. For some, this presents itself through pain or muscle tension.
Let’s talk about healing 〰
Healing our wounds happens in waves.
Some trauma healing happens just by getting ourselves to a state of stability. We want to hone in on increasing feelings of safety first. With any traumatic experience, we had needs that didn’t get met — things that shouldn’t have happened or things that should have and didn’t. In order to do the deeper processing, we need to feel safe and rooted enough to go there.
Some trauma healing happens through re-connecting. Re-connecting with your body, re-connecting with your sense of self, re-connecting with others. We can use the mind-body connection to help reconnect you in to your body and your memories with tools to help support you in the moments when things feel too much.
Finding practices that help you feel safe, connected, and embodied are a good place to start.
The next wave of healing entails going deeper. This is best done with a trauma-informed therapist. Brainspotting, parts work, somatics, and self-compassion is my favorite combination when working with trauma. In order to allow your brain to reprocess these memories and allow your nervous system to regulate, we need a tool that allows us to go beyond our conscious awareness of these wounds.
If nothing else, know this. Your mind and your body are always trying to do the best they can for you and if you’ve experienced trauma all these symptoms are just signs that will take us exactly where we need to go. Healing is possible, I promise (:
The exact cause of FND is unknown, however it involves a problem with the body’s nervous system. Historically, the onset of FND was associated with physical or emotional trauma, although many people living with FND don’t report a history of trauma.
Symptoms can include motor dysfunction, seizures, vision and speech difficulties, and paralysis. FND is classified as a mental health condition but because it involves both neurology and psychiatry, it can take a long time to be correctly diagnosed.
What people should know about this disorder:
The disorder impacts us physically and mentally.The symptoms are very real and every symptom is actually happening.
legs would start feeling numb, whole body would start twitching; whole body would literally stop functioning. It’s like an off switch where you suddenly can’t control your movements or anything you’re doing.’
Our movements and mobility can fluctuate from minute to minute.
FND can have the same debilitating symptoms as seen in multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, yet many health professionals lack knowledge and understanding of this condition. This can result in a lack of appropriate treatment, reduced support and feelings of isolation, and lead to enormous distress.
From an arm that shakes constantly, from just tapping to uncontrollable, huge movements; legs that don’t work; pain, uncontrollable emotions, not wanting to go out because of how people look at you or the fear of having a seizure in public.’
Family and friends need knowledge, understanding, help and support. Lack of understanding and acceptance by family and friends increases the feelings of isolation. FND doesn’t just affect our lives; it can have a major impact on our loved ones.
”None of us knew this could or would happen to us. Virtually overnight, our life changed and becomes so hard that even getting out of bed can be tough.”
FND can destroy a person’s ability to work; socialize; make plans; and participate fully in life. It becomes a very lonely and isolating illness.
‘I recognise now that my body needs more rest than the average person. I can’t work 9 to 5 like my friends and family. Initially I couldn’t accept my limitations, but now I remind myself to treat my condition with care and stop comparing myself to others and society’s expectations when they lack understanding about this mysterious condition.’
People are suffering and struggling every day, and no one knows how long it will take to recover from the illness, or if we will ever recover.
Your body speaks to you in a thousand ways each day, and illness is no exception.
As one of the most frustrating, draining, and in some cases, debilitating experiences you can have in life, sickness can leave you feeling helpless.
And if you continually receive negative results on tests with no clear underlying cause for what you’re going through, your illness can be even more infuriating and insufferable.
I am not a medical doctor and I’m not prescribing medical advice here, but I have experienced numerous “unsolved” illnesses before with no clear biological cause.
What I’ve learned is something that many medical professionals now agree on and studies prove: that the mind and body are intimately connected.
Not only that, but our aches, pains, and health struggles can actually be a spiritual wake-up call if we learn to observe them deeply enough. (This is spiritual psychology 101.) I’ll explain why our illness can be a wakeup call in this article – and what healing avenues might bring you some relief.
What is a Psychosomatic Illness?
A psychosomatic illness is an illness for which there are no biological causes (such as physical injuries, hormonal imbalances, viruses, etc.). In other words, a psychosomatic illness is an illness triggered by a mental state such as anxiety, stress, anger, depression, and so on.
Perhaps more simply, a psychosomatic illness – psycho meaning mind and somatic meaning body – is a mind-body ailment.
“It’s All in Your Mind”
Please note that just because a psychosomatic illness is triggered by a mental state such as grief, fear, and so on, it doesn’t mean that it’s “not real.”
As one who has suffered from psychosomatic illnesses such as intense chronic pain, fatigue, immobility I know how painfully real such experiences can be.
If you can’t seem to pinpoint the exact cause of your physical suffering, and if all the tests come back saying everything is “normal,” it doesn’t mean you’re delusional or a hypochondriac. Instead, it likely means that your illness is psychosomatic in nature.
Not only that but likely, some kind of trauma may be the underlying cause.
Trauma & Psychosomatic Illness
When we’re traumatized – whether as a child or as an adult (or both) – we often haven’t been able to recover from something known as the freeze response.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the fight, flight, and freeze response before. Such behavior has been studied by sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, zoologists, and so on for a long time.
The fight response happens when our body’s sympathetic nervous system is triggered, generating adrenaline that makes us want to attack, kick, punch, and so on. Think of a person getting into a street fight.
The flight response happens when we have the irresistible urge to flee: to run away as fast as we can. Think of a zebra that is being chased by a lion in the wild.
The freeze response, on the other hand, immobilizes us in the immediate threat of death or pain (whether physical/mental/emotional) so intolerable that we shut down.
Clinical psychologist and trauma researcher Peter Levine says that freezing helps to offer a reprieve from the pain of death (as a natural analgesic). But also, if we don’t manage to shake off that freeze response from our nervous systems, we become traumatized.
In other words, we need to be able to “complete the cycle” (or shake off the energy and return back to normal) within us to discharge the intense energy generated by the life-threatening (or chronically endangering) situation we experienced. If we don’t, if our neocortex (thinking brain) takes over and mentally spirals, we experience what I’ll crassly call the “blue ball” effect.
The blue ball effect happens when our nervous systems become frozen full of so much undischarged energy that this causes us to stay in a traumatized state. (On a side note, observe animals in nature that have experienced a traumatic brush with death. What is the first thing they do? They shake off the energy, and so must we according to Levine.)
How does this frozen trauma manifest?
Like a valve on a pressure cooker, there must be some kind of release for this pent-up inner energy. The result is – you guessed it! – the occurrence of psychosomatic illness (often accompanied by mental and emotional disorders).
Psychosomatic Illness Examples
So what types of psychosomatic illnesses are there?
It would be impossible to list them all, but I’ll give a few examples below:
Essentially, psychosomatic illnesses can impact any area of your body, whether inside or outside.
A Call to Adventure
As distressing as psychosomatic disorders are, there’s a deep calling inherent in them:
They’re a call to awaken the healer within us; to go soul searching, uncover what is distressing us, listen to our soul’s deeper needs, and find freedom again.
Of course, some people might understandably be skeptical about attributing any “higher” meaning to their illness. That is fine, at the end of the day we’ve got to take what resonates and throw away the rest.
But I’ve personally found, that unveiling the deeper meaning behind our suffering and seeing it as what mythologist Joseph Campbell calls “a call to adventure” is empowering and healing.
Holocaust survivor, neurologist, and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl refers to the transformative power of finding meaning “logotherapy.” Indeed, finding a deeper purpose behind his own horrific pain and trauma in the nazi death camps helped him to survive, and eventually, find the will to thrive.
Pain as a Spiritual Wake-Up Call
To build on top of the previous section, another reason why pain can manifest in our bodies is that it is serving as a spiritual wake-up call.
So many of us live our lives constantly dissociated from our bodies, disconnected from the present moment, and living in the world of the mind. Such an existence is what Buddhists would call “dukkha,” that is, fundamentally unsatisfying, stressful, and empty.
If along with physical pain, you regularly experience sensations of feeling empty inside, feeling alone, and feeling like you’re lost in life, your physical suffering may be serving as a loud spiritual wake-up call.
Perhaps hearing that our pain is a wake-up call may sound a little silly, crazy, or even sadistic to you. “Right. But isn’t there a better, more gentle way of having a ‘wake-up’ call?!” we might protest.
The answer is that when we’re profoundly entrenched in mental stories, emotional programming, and various forms of negative societal conditioning, sometimes the only thing that can get our attention is pain – and a lot of it!
After all, how else would you wake someone up who was deeply asleep? Would you gently whisper to them? Probably not. They wouldn’t hear you! No, you’d probably speak loudly or even shake them awake! The same is true of psychosomatic illnesses, they shake us to awake us!
How to Discover What Your Psychosomatic Illness is “Trying to Tell You”
So what is the hidden message behind your pain? What is it trying to tell or teach you?
Of course, pain can sometimes just be pain – its function may simply be to get your attention so you can alleviate it, and that’s it.
But sometimes psychosomatic pain has a lesson or message for you. It might, for instance, teach you about:
The undigested emotions associated with it
The unmetabolized trauma you need to process
A decision in your life that you need to examine
Something you need to let go of ASAP
A part of your shadow self that you need to explore
A negative habit you need to correct
An opportunity for self-love and self-care you can take
An ancestral wound you’re carrying
Keep in mind the above list isn’t exhaustive and there could be many other lessons buried in your pain.
So how do you discover what your psychosomatic illness is trying to tell you?
The best methods I’ve found are journaling, meditation, visualization, and breathwork. Here are some practices you can try:
The hand-resting technique (best for specific pain). Get into a relaxed state. Close your eyes. Place your hands over the part of your body that is causing you pain. Send some mindful, soft breaths into that area to release any tension. Then ask internally or out loud, “What are you trying to tell me?” Note any memories, flickering images, words, or sensations that bubble up on the surface of your mind. You can take this mental material and journal about it and ask further clarifying questions such as “What does that mean?”
The body journeying visualization. In this visualization, you’ll be meeting your bodily pain as personified by a garden and a gardener. Relax by lying down somewhere and listening to soft ambient music (sounds of nature are the best to add to the experience). Imagine that you’re standing in a field full of soft grass swaying in the wind. In the distance is a tall gate with a long fence stretching out either side. You can’t see what’s behind it so you move closer. As you go to open the heavy gate you notice a sign hanging off it saying “Welcome to Your Body.” You swing open the gate and peer into the garden in front of you. What does it look like? What stands out to you? Take a moment to look around and acclimatize yourself. Suddenly, in the distance, a gardener approaches you. He or she says, “Hello, welcome to this garden.” You then ask whatever questions you’d like to know the answers to. For instance, you might ask, “What do I need to know about how to take care of this garden (my body)?” “What does [x,y,z] part of the garden mean?” and so on. Once you’ve finished the conversation, thank the gardener and leave the garden, closing the gate behind you. Once you’re back in the grassy field, return to normal consciousness. Journal about what you learned.
The body dialoguing journaling technique. Dialoguing with your body can be a simple but illuminating way of uncovering the meaning and lessons behind your psychosomatic illness. Begin your journaling session by addressing the part of your body causing trouble (or whole body if it’s generalized pain). You may like to write, “Dear back, neck, chest, etc. what would you like to share with me?” Close your eyes, let go of any thoughts in your mind and let yourself write without stopping (this is also known as the stream of consciousness technique). Try not to judge yourself, correct your spelling, or stop for any reason, just let your writing flow unhindered. Once you’ve stopped, think of another question to ask your body. Keep the conversation flowing until you are satisfied. Thank your body at the end. Reflect on your discoveries.
Sometimes it takes a little practice to tune into the voice of your illness and create that mind-body connection. But choose one practice and keep at it – you might be wildly surprised by what you discover!
How to Release Psychosomatic Trauma
As I mentioned earlier, psychosomatic illnesses are often caused by unreleased/unresolved trauma in the mind and frozen in the body. Some psychologists refer to this as “somatization” which is when our inner states of anxiety, heartbreak, and anger are converted into physical distress in the body.
Releasing this frozen energy often requires professional assistance, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or Somatic Experiencing psychotherapy.
But to equip you with some resources in the meantime, I want to offer you some ways you can experience relief:
Take an inventory of what you eat (aka. what unhealthy foods can you eliminate and replace with more wholesome options?)
Exercise each day, even if that just involves gardening or housework
Try breathwork techniques that help to soothe the mind and body (e.g., pranayama or yogic breathing like Nadi Shodhana)
Practice consciously shaking your body – explore TRE or the Tension and Trauma Release Exercise
Do self-massage each day
Make sleep your priority
Practice mindfulness and meditation (progressive muscle relaxation and body scanning may be particularly helpful for you)
Do some gentle stretching or yoga each day (my favorite simple asanas for body pain are cat-cow, child’s pose, seated twist, butterfly pose, and seated forward fold)
Walk barefoot in nature (if you have grass in your backyard or live near the ocean, let the grounding energy of the earth soothe your body!)
I can’t promise that any of these practices will be a “magic solution” for you, but they have certainly helped me and those I know of who have suffered psychosomatic illnesses.
Chronic illness can make us feel debilitated, confused, and weak. And yet, for some, it can trigger a positive existential crisis – a quest for healing or a call to adventure that awakens the healer within them.
For others, psychosomatic illnesses are like wake-up calls that shake us out of our normal autopilot state and sparks the desire to go soul searching.
Whatever meaning you attribute to your illness (or not), just know that it can be transformed into a ‘sacred wound’ that enables you to grow and evolve. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote about “bells of mindfulness” that occur in our everyday lives, and pain is most certainly one of them!
Do you suffer from a psychosomatic illness? What do you think its purpose, origin, or teaching is? I’d love to hear from you below in the comments.
Trauma is anything that is too intense for the nervous system to process in the moment.
Does this sound all too familiar? You’re going about your day when something catches you off guard. In a flash, your body comes alive with energy, your head is foggy, your thoughts spin, and your emotions feel huge. Shame or fear may overtake you. You want to lash out in anger, hide, or simply run away. Or you might feel frozen in place, like you can’t make decisions or even move.
Common Symptoms of Trauma
One of the best ways to know if you’ve gone through trauma is to look at your symptoms. While there are many trauma symptoms, and everyone experiences trauma somewhat differently, here are some of the most common symptoms:
Intrusive thoughts of the event
Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories of the event
Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
Fatigue and exhaustion
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Aches and pains throughout the body
Shame (a feeling that you are damaged or bad)
Denial that certain events happened
Always on the lookout for potential danger
Taking too much responsibility for others
Obsessive and compulsive behaviors
Detachment from other people and emotions
Why Trauma Matters
You might say, why do we need to call it trauma? The bad experience is over, so why focus on it? Yet, there are important reasons we must recognize trauma for what it is:
We can’t heal from something that remains undiagnosed. If you broke your arm but are calling it a sprain, you’ll never set the bone. If you know you’ve experienced trauma, you can get treatment specifically designed to heal it.
It helps us understand ourselves. When we can see that our reactions aren’t part of a constellation of symptoms, we start to understand ourselves in a more holistic way, which invites self-compassion, another important component of healing.
That which we keep inside festers. When we realize we’ve gone through something that’s still affecting us, we can start discussing it with safe people (or a therapist). This is the precursor to healing.
Are Highly Sensitive People More Susceptible to Trauma?
In a word, yes. As highly sensitive people, our nervous systems are more finely tuned than those of non-HSPs. This means we respond to all stimuli in a stronger way, including traumatic experiences.
When we have positive experiences, we have the gift of potentially feeling more excitement and joy than non-HSPs. If we’re lucky enough to have a supportive and positive family, community, or work environment, we’ll flourish more than others would. Researchers call this concept “differential susceptibility.”
Conversely, when sensitive people have a negative experience, we may feel more profound fear and hurt than non-HSPs. And if we grew up in an unsupportive environment, we’re more likely to bear the scars from it. So, because of this sensitivity to our environment, we’re more vulnerable to being traumatized by our experiences.
Only You Can Say if Something Was Traumatic for You
When we define trauma as anything that is too intense for the nervous system to process in the moment, we can view bullying, being criticized frequently or publicly, or feeling chronically rejected or abandoned by a caregiver as traumatic. Other examples of things that can be experienced as trauma are:
The death of a pet
The loss of any significant relationship
It’s also important to take into account how long the trauma went on. If something distressing happens over and over (such as a chronic illness, neglect, psychological abuse, or living in a country in or under the threat of war), it often moves into the category of trauma.
It’s important to note that only you can say whether or not something was traumatic for you. Because our experiences interact with genetics, our nervous systems, and previous life experiences, what’s traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another.
How You Can Start Healing
Are you ready to start healing from trauma? The first step is a simple but profound one: Recognize that you have trauma. Most importantly, know that it wasn’t your fault, you’re not alone, and there’s help for you.
Start practicing mindfulness and becoming more aware of your physical experiences. Many trauma survivors are disconnected from their bodies, so starting to notice your body sensations is crucial. Trauma-sensitive or gentle yoga can help you come back into your body and start experiencing it as a safe place again.
Practice self-compassion. Healing from trauma is daunting work, so you must approach it with self-love.
Develop safe relationships. Build relationships with people who respond to you with kindness and accept your sensitive nature.
Healing from childhood trauma is possible, but survivors need the right environment. Often, it is not until a child is fully grown and far removed from their toxic past that they have an opportunity to deal with the fallout. Some people never get to escape their abuse, and some people never get to a place where they feel safe enough to do the hard work of healing.
Well-meaning friends and loved ones who want to support survivors often end up doing more harm than good when they don’t first educate themselves on the effects of trauma. Pushing survivors into “forgiving” their abusers or telling them to “get over it” are some of the most common mistakes. Based on my personal experience as well as the journeys of many other survivors, here is a list of five things trauma survivors need in order to heal. By no means is it a complete list, but for those who seek to support their loved one, it’s a good place to start.
1. Distance from toxic people.
First and foremost, survivors of trauma need to get far away from anyone who creates stress and disharmony in their present environment. No other healing can take place until and unless the current environment is free from people who lie, cheat, manipulate, blame, rage or show poor impulse control. Opening up old wounds will only magnify the toxicity that is in the present. For many, no contact is the way to go, but not everyone can do that. One of the most important skills a survivor needs to learn is to remove themselves from anyone who stresses them out, and to do it without apology.
2. A quiet, calm environment.
There is a war raging inside the brain of a trauma survivor, and many struggle with PTSD or complex PTSD. Trauma survivors can easily startle from loud sounds or overly excited energy around them. Even a positive, but chaotic environment, such as a sports game or being around children who are playing, can cause extreme distress for many. Noise feels like static in the brain, and can quickly overwhelm someone dealing with trauma. A calm environment is crucial to feel safe. Some studies show that trauma survivors need up to two hours a day of total silence to decompress and recalibrate.
3. Gentle activity.
It is well known that exercise has many positive health benefits. For someone dealing with trauma, activity is an important part of the healing process, but it has to be the right kind of activity. Too often, competitive sports teams or other high-impact activities are counter-productive, and pushing a traumatized child to achieve in sports can be re-traumatizing. If, say, a survivor has a “rageaholic” father, the coach yelling from the sidelines will do more harm than good. Activity needs to be motivated by what feels good to the survivor, not what feels like a punishment. Individual, “personal best” sports, like swimming, can feel good, or activities that encourage the mind-body connection, such as yoga, are often preferred. The survivor must feel that she is in control of her own body and her experience. For trauma survivors, getting reacquainted with, and allowing them to choose for themselves what feels good to their bodies is an important step.
Trauma survivors are often dissociated or detached from their feelings as a coping mechanism that protected them from extreme terror. It is important for a survivor to decide for themselves what feels safe. It is equally important for any supporters in their environment to immediately honor whatever survivors need to feel safe. Do not try to reason or argue with a trauma survivor about what is safe and what is not. It’s their perception, not yours. If they don’t feel safe, support them to make whatever changes are necessary to their immediate environment. Allowing a trauma survivor to say the words, “I don’t feel safe,” is a huge step toward recovery. If you are someone they don’t feel safe around, don’t take it personally. If you want to support them, do whatever they need you to do to be a safe person.
A survivor needs the freedom to decide for herself what she likes and dislikes. It is extremely important for a survivor of trauma to not feel controlled or manipulated by anyone in her immediate environment. Child trauma survivors do not respond well to authoritarian, “my way or the highway” rules and regulations. Trauma survivors need people who teach them how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking skills can be life-saving for abuse survivors. When survivors are empowered to make their own choices, their confidence and self-esteem grows. Abusers are by definition controlling, manipulative people who twist facts around to suit them. Survivors of abuse need to be supported in reclaiming their own power.
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call Lifeline at 13 11 14.
Trauma is usually defined as an incident where you experience physical or emotional/psychological damage. How trauma affects you varies greatly based on whether it is physical or psychological. Physical wounds heal, we can see improvement, we can feel it, but when we go through psychological trauma sometimes we inadvertently delay healing.
As someone who has gone through mental and physical abuse for a number of years, I was wounded, damaged, and skeptical of other human beings. After the traumatic period of my life ended I still had gaping emotional wounds that kept me from living a full and happy life. I kept to myself, I was deeply afraid of letting other people close to me. I was constantly anxious. I felt weak, I felt powerless, and when I would catch myself thinking of the years I spent living a lesser life because of my trauma – I felt shame.
The problem with how we teach people to deal with negative feelings and experiences is we tell them to get over it. We tell people to ignore their trauma and emotions, we instruct them to focus on the good things in their lives. However, when we advise our kids to “get over it”, we are essentially teaching them not to deal with their negative experiences and instead carry around emotional baggage that we think they should ignore.
I know people mean well when they tell you to focus on the good – unfortunately, when they do that they are asking you to not heal.
I spent many years lugging around my emotional baggage while not understanding why I acted the way I did, why I attract the people I attracted, why I was anxious and frightened – or why I felt stuck. I lived in limbo for a number of years before I realized my obsession with physical wellness was my effort in trying to heal the emotional wounds I’ve been ignoring.
I didn’t feel whole and healthy – I was tired and exhausted all the time.
I am not sure if it was through my meditations or prayers that my answers came. I am not sure if it was just age and wisdom that aided in my discovery of my emotional wounds, but it became painfully clear I wasn’t doing what I needed to do in order to feel alive again. I wasn’t even sure if I have ever felt alive up to this point.
I understood that my life depended on ridding myself of the baggage resulting from trauma, and I would have to face the pain head on. I knew that I needed to be in a place to handle the ramifications of bringing up old issues that were lurking beneath the surface. Running from my pain or obsessively trying to pursue physical wellness without gaining emotional wellness would leave me spinning my wheels forever.
The first thing I did to deal with my emotional trauma was assess my ability to relive the experiences.
When we face horrific memories we have to be ready to walk through the trauma all over again. We will open up those memories to actually be processed, dealt with, and then resolved. The first step is confronting your experiences, the wounds, the words, all the times I was hurt and belittled.
I had to be honest with myself about my ability to deal with some of these situations, and honestly, it has taken years of going through one experience at a time. I couldn’t face all of them at once, it would have driven me over the edge into an abyss of despair – it would have been too much to bear. For many of us, we should seek out professional help to deal with all of the emotions and pain that will bubble to the surface. Having a person who knows how to help you through the process is important so do not overwhelm yourself.
The second thing I needed to do was allow myself to acknowledge my pain. We spend so many years acting like we are okay after trauma, we follow the advice of trying to get over it by ignoring it. However, the truth is when we acknowledge our pain we face it head on. We gain control by being able to admit what happened to us and how it impacted our lives.
What I did personally, I went back to the moments that wounded me. When working through my experiences I saw my abusers in my mind, sometimes I would relive the traumatic experience – other times I would just feel the impact of the trauma emotionally. In talking about my experiences I feel I have taken control of my life again.
It was an excruciating process. It is painful to admit that you are still hurt, that you’ve been hurt, and that the healing hurts. I went back to emotionally feeling like a child, and I felt bad for this young me who endured so much. I even felt sorry for the abusers who were so wounded themselves that they had to place their pain onto another human being.
I cried, I felt sorrow, I felt lost, I felt the sting of loneliness, I tasted the bitterness and hate for the people who hurt me. I allowed myself to feel all these things for the first time. I spent so many years of my life ignoring the past, making excuses for it, and pretending that I was okay. Finally letting those emotions come to the surface after I’ve shoved them down for so long was freeing. It was also very exhausting.
A day or two after dealing with a traumatic memory, I felt the freedom of actually dealing with my emotions and acknowledging the things that happened – I felt much lighter. I am human, I need to feel the things that happen to me. I cannot just shut myself off from my experiences. When we go through difficult situations we are made to hurt, to grieve, and to move on.
After I worked through my emotions and sat with them for a little while, I began the process of forgiveness. Some people who have hurt me I still live and deal with to this day – these are the people I am sure have no clue how their actions crushed me or affected my life. However, to fully move on and regain control over my life, I needed to forgive them. The problem with our perception of forgiveness is we are afraid that it gives people license to hurt us again.
I will boldly declare that is not the case! We have the power to lessen their impact on our lives. When we are in a situation to deal with a person who wounded us, we do run the risk of being hurt again, but we have the power to face the emotions, process them, and go through the steps of releasing our pain. We don’t have to give them years of our lives over their reckless words or actions.
I’ve also had to forgive people who were major abusers who did more than hurt my feelings. They hurt me deeply – psychologically and physically. I feared for my life. I couldn’t sleep for months. I was afraid of them finding me and hurting those I loved.
How could anyone possibly forgive someone like that?
Honestly, it was a process. If a person hurts you to that degree, you do yourself a huge favor by not going near them ever again, and then forgive them from a distance. You take the pain they put you through and you let it all go – release it into the universe.
You allow yourself to experience peace in knowing that just because it happened once doesn’t mean it has to happen again. You visualize the trauma moving away from you. Speak your forgiveness out loud so you can hear it – share it with a psychologist, friend, or trusted family member. Forgive the experience for what it did to you.
Perhaps, you can give yourself the freedom of seeing how the experience added to your life.
Forgiveness allows you to heal while also opening you up to see how you’ve grown and changed as a human being. You aren’t less from your traumatic experiences, you’ve gained insight, wisdom, and compassion many could not obtain otherwise.
After extending forgiveness to all those around me, I then forgave myself. Yes, I may have not asked for the trauma, but I did spend years holding on to my pain by not sharing my experiences or moving on from them. I had to forgive myself for holding myself back and not living because of my trauma. I didn’t do all that I could have done with my life because I was afraid to live. I had to forgive myself for not seeing my worth. I had to forgive myself for wallowing and being selfish with my suffering. There were a million ways I could have reached out for help, instead, I pushed any pain or uncomfortable emotions down deeper and I lived with very harmful habits and thought processes.
After I forgave all that had happened and those who hurt me, I began to live again.
It is amazing how facing your trauma, in turn, frees you and releases the experiences from your being. Forgiveness doesn’t give you amnesia of the events that happened in your life, but it does allow you to lose the weight of the pain. I carry my memories with me but the shame, guilt, and negative emotions associated with those memories are no longer there.
I now use my experiences to reach out to other people who have walked down the same path as me. I share my story so others know that there is hope for a future. You can go on and have healthy relationships, a family, friendships that are deep and meaningful. You don’t have to live bound to your traumatic past. In life, we all walk down paths that can destroy our self-image, our trust in other human beings, and kill any hope we may have. My hope was extinguished for a long time. When I faced my trauma, processed the pain and moved through forgiveness, I was finally able to move on.
Anxiety: a dreaded feeling you never want to experience. Yet, over 33% of the U.S. population will experience anxiety in their lifetime- that’s 40 million Americans. However, a holistic and functional approach to health can help explain why anxiety isn’t just in your head, while addressing and healing chronic anxiety disorders.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety describes an inner state of emotional turmoil. It’s a mental, and often physical, response to stress, fear, and worry. In many cases, anxiety is a normal and healthy reaction to unknown situations or danger. However, deeper trouble arises when anxiety becomes chronic and debilitating.
Different Kinds of Anxiety Disorders
When anxiety starts to negatively impact day-to-day activities, a formal anxiety disorder might be at play. The most common kinds of anxiety disorders, include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Feelings of excessive anxiety and irrational worry
Panic Disorder (PD) – Panic attacks and feelings of intense fear
Social Anxiety Disorder – Fear and anxiety in social situations
Phobias – Persistent fear of an object or situation
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Frequently repeating thoughts or actions
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Fear triggered by a previous traumatic event
Major Depressive Disorder – Over two weeks of experiencing low mood
It’s important to work closely with a health professional to accurately diagnose and manage any anxiety disorder.
8 Uncommon Reasons Why Anxiety Isn’t Just In Your Head
Although anxiety can feel primarily like a mental or emotional issue, there is much more going on beneath the surface. Meaning, your anxiety isn’t only in your head. In fact, there are many root causes of anxiety. Some of the most common ones are:
Mental or Emotional Stress
Stress comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. And, it can be in response to previous life experiences. Some of the most common sources of mental/emotional stress are:
Learned behaviors as a child
The result of different parenting/attachment styles
Lack of healthy boundaries
Not enough downtime/rest
Social, financial, relationship stress
Ongoing and acute stress (due to finances, work, family, relationships, etc.) can also contribute to anxiety symptoms.
The thyroid gland affects every physiological function in the body. When thyroid hormones become imbalanced, consequential dysfunction occurs. This imbalance can have a major impact on mood regulation. For example: an underactive thyroid can result in low mood or depression, while an overactive thyroid can create anxiety or fear. Autoimmune thyroiditis can trigger both under and overactive thyroid symptoms.
A functional medicine practitioner can help you identify and address any imbalances within the thyroid through functional testing.
In addition to thyroid dysfunction, other hormonal imbalances can be a primary root cause of anxiety disorders. In many cases, these physiological changes create a chronic stress response in the body, leading to chronic anxiety. The most important hormone imbalances to pay attention to, include:
Dysglycemia (blood sugar dysregulation)
Caffeine sensitivity (ie. an intense adrenaline rush when consumed)
Inflammation is the root cause of all chronic disease, including anxiety. Common causes of inflammation include: unhealthy lifestyle choices, an inflammatory diet, chronic infection, acute sickness, autoimmunity, and more.
In the case of anxiety disorders, cytokines play a starring role. Inflammation causes a dysregulation of cytokine production and can lead to cognitive imbalances, like depression and anxiety. More so, the concept of psychoneuroimmunology further explains the role of inflammation on the central nervous system and brain. GABA deficiency has also been associated with anxiety disorders.
Hippocrates once said, “All health starts in the gut.” Hence, poor gut health is a breeding ground for a host of health issues. Regarding anxiety, the following gut imbalances should be addressed:
Unsurprisingly, imbalances in the brain largely influence mood and anxiety. Common examples of brain imbalances, include:
An overactive mesencephalon (midbrain)
Excessive CO2 levels in the body
Increased amygdala function / limbic system activation
Underactive frontal lobes
Neurotransmitter imbalances (ie. GABA deficiency)
Vestibular, Balance or Eye Tracking issues
Unfortunately, toxins are all around us. We find them in our air (pollution, mold, mycotoxins), food (pesticides, herbicides), water (heavy metals, pharmaceutical drugs, bacterial, parasites, viruses), cleaning products (chemicals, fragrances), cosmetics (endocrine disruptors), and more. Chronic exposure to these toxins in everyday life can greatly alter brain, immune and hormone function.
Various socioeconomic factors can play a role in anxiety disorders. The most common factors, include:
Lack of access to healthcare
Discrimination, racism and bias
Cultural influences and expectations
It might feel like anxiety is all in your head. However, it’s clear that anxiety stems from other imbalances in the body. The key is to identify what is causing anxiety, so that it can be effectively addressed and healed.
How to Heal Anxiety (from a Functional Approach)
Anxiety can feel like a life sentence, but it doesn’t have to be. When looking at anxiety from a functional medicine approach, it’s important to understand and address the root cause, starting with:
1. Improving Gut Health:
You may not be able to change all external factors that contribute to anxiety. But you can somewhat control what you eat. An inflamed gut and brain will have a much harder time managing stress and calming anxiety.
First and foremost, it’s critical to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet when anxiety is present. Minimally, this means removing inflammatory foods (ie. gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, corn) from the diet. However, for those with a chronic health condition, an autoimmune disorder or severe anxiety, the Autoimmune Protocol might be the best option.
Additionally, it can be beneficial to include plenty of gut-healing foods in the diet, like:
2. Practicing Mind-Body Exercises:
Clearly, the mind-body connection is strong. Practicing mind-body exercises is an effective way to address both chronic anxiety symptoms and acute anxiety attacks. Try these exercises to expedite healing:
Vagal nerve exercises
Deep breathing- Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 2, breath out for 8, hold for 2, and repeat.
Deep pressure application- weighted blankets, hugs, massage, applying pressure to your own body
3. Implement Natural Remedies:
Naturally remedies, like supplements and essential oils, are foundational in functional healing.
Supplements- GABA deficiency is very common in those with anxiety. Precursors to GABA, like glutamine, magnesium, and zinc, can help the body naturally produce more GABA. Additionally, adaptogens, like ashwagandha, are helpful in regulating the nervous system and stabilizing mood. For those who are sensitive to nightshades, opt for eleuthero root, instead.
Essential Oils – Essential oils are an effective and enjoyable method of aromatherapy for anxiety. Specifically, Lavender, Wild Orange, Lemon, Ylang Ylang, and Melissa Frankincense have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve stress response.
4. Consider Therapy:
Arguably the most well-known treatment for anxiety is therapy. Various methods of therapy, like talk therapy, neuro-based therapies (EMDR), and energy psychology techniques can be beneficial. Explicitly, EMDR has been shown to help people heal from the past traumas and experiences that cause anxiety in the first place.
Unaddressed anxiety can affect every part of your life. To fully heal from your anxiety disorder and get your life back, it’s necessary to take a root cause approach. And, sometimes, we need help doing so.
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