mind by design



Part 2: The Resilience of the Brain & Body in the Face of Trauma

        In the first part of this blog series, we explored the profound impact of trauma on physical health, particularly through adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Now, in part two, we delve into the physiological effects of trauma and strategies to mitigate its impact on the mind and body.
        Understanding these physiological impacts can guide interventions aimed at promoting healing, restoring balance, and empowering individuals on their journey to healing.

depicting stress in the nervous system

The Physiological Effects of Trauma

As briefly discussed in Part 1, it’s important to understand how trauma impacts the body and mind to guide interventions aimed at promoting healing and restoring balance in individuals affected by trauma.

Here are some researched and applicable examples of trauma’s impact on the body and mind:

  • Sensitizing the HPA Axis
    Research highlights evidence  that trauma sensitizes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which serves as the body’s central stress response system. This axis acts as the connection between the central nervous system and the endocrine system.
  • Hormonal Impact
    Trauma significantly impacts hormone levels, particularly adrenaline, cortisol, and oxytocin. It makes individuals more reactive to stressors and increases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. While cortisol is essential in immediate danger, trauma keeps the body in a perpetually heightened state, causing detrimental wear and tear.
  • Long-Term Effects
    Dr. Yasmin Akhunji, an endocrinologist, emphasizes that trauma can have long-term effects on hormone production. The body continues to produce excessive amounts of cortisol, leading to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, sleep disruption, weight gain, and memory/concentration issues.
  • Reduced Oxytocin Release
    Trauma also decreases the release of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone” that promotes sociability and bonding. Dr. Lina Velikova, a medical advisor, explains that early trauma decreases oxytocin levels in the brain and affects its receptors throughout life. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in mood regulation and acts as a protective buffer against stressors. Lower oxytocin levels may result in decreased protection and adaptability.

Addressing Trauma for Better Health

      First, it is important to acknowledge that trauma’s impact is real, and seeking help is crucial for your overall well-being. Although facing the facts and confronting past feelings and memories may initially feel overwhelming, working with a professional can significantly improve your psychological, endocrine, and immune health.

      Remember that you are not alone, and confiding in supportive friends, family members, or a journal can also aid in the healing process.

maternal mental health image of woman with mood disruption

The Resilience of the Brain & Body in the Face of Trauma

      Similar to the importance of understanding the negative impact trauma has on the mind and body is understanding the resilience of the mind and body

     For example, our brains have the capacity to change and even adult brains can undergo remarkable reformulation through intentional treatment.  The key lies not in the trauma itself but in the aftermath. For instance, avoiding discussions or thoughts about the trauma can increase the likelihood of developing physical symptoms. On the other hand, taking proactive steps to seek help and actively process and transform the trauma can significantly reduce symptoms.

Mitigating the Impact of Trauma on Your Body & mind

        Although the science behind our resilient brain is captivating, relevant and important, the take-away from this reading is the applicable skills that truly mitigate the impact of trauma. Here are skills, activities and guides to helping the body and mind heal from trauma.

Prioritize a Healthy Lifestyle

Incorporating a healthy lifestyle and self-care practices sends a message to your body that it is safe and well-nourished, helping it reset after trauma. Although it can be challenging, focusing on key areas can make a significant difference. Start by adopting a nutritious diet, engaging in regular exercise, and ensuring sufficient sleep. Making these changes a daily priority, even when motivation is low, can aid in recalibrating your body.

Engage in Activities that Boost Oxytocin

Dr. Celan recommends participating in activities that promote hormone balance. Engaging in behaviors that increase oxytocin and reduce cortisol, such as hugging loved ones or pets, displaying compassion, enjoying humor, or indulging in a warm, relaxing bath, can help mitigate trauma-induced body responses. These actions contribute to healthier oxytocin levels.

Reduce Cortisol Levels through Mindfulness Meditation

Practicing mindfulness meditation, according to Dr. Celan, can lead to beneficial changes in brain structure and the release of neurochemicals that induce relaxation. Research published in Psychiatry Research highlights the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in reducing inflammation, biological stress reactivity, and enhancing resilience to stressors. Guided meditation apps like Calm, Headspace, or Breethe can assist you in incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine, or you can simply find a quiet space, focus on your breath, and calmly observe your thoughts.

Advocate for Yourself

Recognize that experiencing trauma can have genuine and lasting impacts on your physical and mental well-being. If you feel run-down, consistently unwell, or emotionally affected after a traumatic event, it is crucial to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional. Don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself and seek the help or additional medical attention you may need. Working with a professional can improve your psychological, endocrine, and immune health, leading to a more fulfilling life. You can also confide in trusted individuals or utilize journaling as you embark on lifestyle changes to heal your body and mind.

Immediate Supportive & Healing Responses

It’s important to acknowledge that the damage caused by emotionally traumatic events can be counteracted by immediate supportive and healing responses. Interventions that focus on the connection between the brain and body can be particularly effective in trauma treatment. Approaches like trauma-focused yoga, EMDR, deep breathing, bioenergetics, and other somatic therapies can bring about positive results. Commonly used techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help individuals gain awareness of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that often stem from trauma, facilitating the healing process. Medications can also provide relief when used in conjunction with other therapies.

Recap & Takeaway

        Remember, addressing trauma is essential for your better health and well-being. Seeking professional help is a crucial step in improving your psychological and physical health.

       You are not alone in this journey, and finding support from trusted individuals, confiding in loved ones or a journal, can aid in the healing process. Embrace the  the resilience of your brain and body. Hold on to hope, for there are countless stories of individuals finding relief and reclaiming their lives after experiencing trauma.

If you or someone you know is seeking specialized mental health treatment in NJ but aren’t sure where to go, please reach out, we’re here to help.

Rebecca Sidoti, LCSW

Rebecca Sidoti, LCSW

Rebecca is the founder of Mind by Design Counseling. She is an expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and has a knack for working with high-intensity, driven individuals who are seeking the ever-elusive balance of professional and personal wellness.