After suffering a traumatic event, you may have a hard time managing your emotions and physical responses to little things that trigger your memories of the experience. Like your body is going rogue and acts on its own, before you even know what’s happening!
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s common for those who have been through trauma, including those suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Emotions and the Physical Body
To grasp how you can better cope with the physical manifestations of trauma, it helps to first understand how your emotions impact your physical well-being. Your mind and body are connected, working together as a team.
Emotions manifest in your body in physical ways because of your desire to take action. When you feel something, you naturally want to do something about it. For example, when you feel threatened or afraid, you want to either run away or fight. In response, your body produces adrenaline and cortisol, your nervous system kicks into gear and you prepare to take action. Afterward, your nervous system returns to its normal, baseline state and you go on with your life.
Trauma and the Nervous System
However, for people who have suffered prolonged trauma, the nervous system sometimes does not go back to it’s “normal” state. Instead, the trauma victims remain in a hypersensitive state and highly alert for danger. Small things trigger intensely emotional responses (sometimes resulting in “flashbacks” for those with PTSD) that reinforce the already hyped-up nervous system.
Why does this happen? When someone experiences trauma, they are not in control of the situation and are often trapped, helpless and unable to take action. Their emotions tell the nervous system to activate into high gear, and it does, but they cannot act on their urges and the adrenaline and cortisol produced by the body have no outlet. After a time, the body is conditioned to respond in this way and the nervous system gets “stuck.”
Risk of Disconnect and Loss of Self-Awareness
Those suffering from PTSD sometimes try to numb their feelings in order to rid themselves of experiencing flashbacks and highly stressful responses by using alcohol, drugs, self-harm methods or high-risk behavior. While this may help avoid the feeling of terror, it also affects self-awareness and body-awareness to a point of being unable to perceive aspects of everyday living.
In disconnecting from emotion, you also disconnect from visceral feelings and senses such as touch, which are essential to interpreting the world and what is going on right around you. In a way, part of you is not present in the world, though you may be technically there.
Healthy Ways to Cope and Reconnect Your Mind and Body
Here are a few ways to help reconnect your body and mind, emotions and physical sensations, so that you can better control your responses and maintain self-awareness.
- Strengthen Your Sensory Awareness – using mindful meditation techniques lets you focus on your bodily sensations, “signals” and responses to what’s going on around you.
- Practice Mind-Body Movement – try doing yoga or mindful stretching to combine your body awareness with a relaxed, purposeful movement.
- Embrace Human Touch – find a specialized massage therapist to help you feel comfortable being touched. Touch is very effective in helping to establish feelings of comfort and safety.
- Rhythmic Exercises – find a fun activity that employs synchronized movement, such as dance, a drum circle or chanting, which will help to build a sense of control over your body along with feelings of relaxation and comfort.
- Express Thoughts and Feelings Openly – a great way to do this is through theater or improvisation. If you can’t express some emotions “as yourself,” being another character can be a great release.
- Exercise – physical exercise of any type is beneficial to the mind and body. Get up and get moving to feel energized, relaxed and less stressed.
To learn more about mindfulness techniques or schedule a session, feel free to call our Denver office at 720-295-4233 or simply click below.
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