How Trauma Affects Your Body

The human body has the amazing ability to heal itself after traumatic events. But sometimes, even when we’re physically healed, our emotional wounds remain. This can cause us to feel emotionally numb and unable to process feelings that arise in response to stressful situations. 

Trauma is the result of an emotionally disturbing or terrible event such as an unexpected death, rape, accident, betrayal, or natural disaster. It can be acute, complex, or chronic, and sometimes results in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, even individuals without PTSD can experience ongoing effects of trauma. Many of these effects appear as physical symptoms which may or may not be consciously recognized. 

Here are five ways trauma can affect the body: 

  1. Sleep disorders. Sleep disorders such as insomnia, night terrors, or trouble staying asleep are common after trauma. This can affect people’s mood, behavior, and cognitive functioning.
  2. Weakened immune system. Stress and trauma can cause changes in your immune system. These changes can lead to an increased risk for certain diseases. For example, stress has been linked to higher rates of asthma attacks. It also can make you more susceptible to colds and flu.
  3. High stress hormones. When we experience trauma, our bodies release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstream. These hormones help us cope with dangerous situations, but if we experience too much trauma, they can become toxic.
  4. Adrenal fatigue. “Adrenal fatigue” is a term used to describe the physical symptoms that result from chronic stress. These include headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and low energy. In addition, people who suffer from adrenal fatigue often report feeling disconnected from themselves and others.
  5. Muscle tension or pain. Unresolved trauma can create chronic tension in the body, such as hunched shoulders, a tense jaw, stiff hips, or tightness in the chest. Over time, this muscular tension can lead to pain or nerve pinching and even some health conditions. 

Trauma is not just about what happens to a person; it is about how they respond to shocking or terrible situations in their life. With the help of a mental health professional, a supportive community, and somatic (body-centered) therapy, it is possible to resolve the effects of trauma in the body and live a healthy and fulfilling life. 

If you have experienced a traumatic event or notice any of the symptoms listed above, speak with a mental health provider.