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Trauma’s Effects on the Mind and Body


What is Trauma?

Trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. Examples of trauma may include being involved in an accident, losing a loved one, or surviving a natural disaster, to name a few. Everyone processes traumatic events or experiences differently. Because of this, scientists have developed categories to differentiate between the different types. Some categories of trauma include complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and developmental trauma disorder.

Trauma Symptoms

Symptoms of trauma may include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness/despair
  • Flashbacks
  • Unpredictable emotions
  • Feelings of isolation and hopelessness
  • Physical symptoms, such as nausea and headaches

How Trauma Affects the Brain

Three of the most important changes to the brain after trauma usually occur in the following areas:

  1. Prefrontal Cortex (“Thinking Center”)
  2. Anterior Cingulate Cortex (“Emotion Regulation Center”)
  3. Amygdala (“Fear Center”)

The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for rational thought, problem-solving, personality, planning, empathy, and awareness of ourselves and others. This area of the brain allows us to think clearly and make good decisions. In a traumatized brain, this area of the brain, the “Thinking Center,” is underactivated.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex is responsible, in part, for regulating emotion and ideally has a close working relationship with the Thinking Center. When this area of the brain is strong, we are able to manage difficult emotions or thoughts without becoming completely overwhelmed. A traumatized Anterior Cingulate Cortex will be underactivated.

The Amygdala receives all incoming information, including everything you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, and determines whether or not it is a threat. If it senses that a threat is present, it will produce fear within us. In a traumatized brain, this area of the brain is overactivated.

How Trauma Affects the Body

The symptoms of trauma can manifest both physically and mentally. Some physical symptoms of trauma may include the following:

  • Night terrors and insomnia, leading to fatigue and difficulty concentrating
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Anger, rage, and mood swings
  • Aches and pains with no other explanation
  • Racing heart and high blood pressure
  • Extreme startle reflex
  • Withdrawing from social situations and/or personal relationships
  • Disconnect from reality

Getting help for your struggles with trauma will help you regain control of your life. Changing the brain takes effort, repetition, and time. If you are ready to start the journey, contact Greenville Psychiatric Associates for help in treatment recommendations. Our team has the tools you need to help you process and analyze your feelings to work toward healing from your trauma. Call us today to schedule an appointment!