Stress and trauma are part of everyday life – so much so that we usually don’t notice their cumulative effects – such as disruptive sleep, chronic pain, constant feeling of anxiety or depression, weight gain, being overly reactive, ill health (including many mental health challenges) and general lack of vitality, difficulty in relationships, and many others.
We don’t readily associate these conditions with trauma or even stress. In fact we tend to think of trauma as horrific events – but it also includes experiences such as death, loss, accidents, medical procedures, financial pressure, relationship challenges, work pressure, and others.
Other traumas that may not be recognised as trauma
- Self-limiting beliefs that restrict our ability to fully express ourselves, connect with others, set healthy boundaries, and lead vibrant fulfilling lives. These beliefs often are formed in our early years due to a failure in our environment to support our developing needs and sense of who we are. It is a ‘trauma’ because our innate sense of who we truly are has been offended, and for many possible reasons, we were unable to make a correction (Self-protection).
- Trans-generational trauma is where we inherit the trauma of our parents and ancestors. In this case, the trauma was not our direct experience, but our bodies behave as if it was. We may not even know what the trauma was, but our bodies do and we re-act accordingly. (Our bodies almost always have more ‘say’ in our behaviour than our rational brains.)
- We may have unexplained pain or an irrational response to certain ‘triggers’ (people, situations, places, comments …) that could be the result of a past life trauma. Again, we may not know what the trauma was, but our bodies do.
Find out more about what is trauma.
Our bodies are designed to cope with stress and even extreme traumas
Biologically speaking, all mammals (including humans) are equipped with nervous systems that take appropriate action within nanoseconds when they detect danger. When the danger has passed, our bodies release residual energy and return to a resting state. Stress (perceived by the body as a threat to its well-being) and trauma become problematic for us when our bodies’ natural and automatic defense responses get interrupted (such as being unable to prevent harm to ourselves) and are unable to return to a state of equilibrium.
Unresolved energies keep the event ‘alive’ in our bodies
The energies of unresolved emotional upsets, chronic stress, and incomplete survival responses continue to send messages to the brain that ‘it’s not over.’ Consequently, chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol are released – flooding the brain and compromising the function of many systems in the body, including the digestive system and immune system. Similarities of past stresses and trauma that appear in our current lives activate the unresolved energies and cause us to react as if the past event(s) are happening now (even if we don’t remember them).
Our bodies become unbearably uncomfortable
All of this chaos in the body makes it unbearably uncomfortable to inhabit. Our behaviours become strategies to find relief, safety, and comfort. If we have had a physical trauma we may become hyper-vigilant toward the side of our bodies where we were impacted and neglect the other sides – leaving us vulnerable and even accident-prone. Generally we keep our attention on our thoughts and outside of our bodies so we don’t have to feel the discomfort. Essentially, we have abandoned our bodies. As long as we neglect our bodies in this way, the more pain, discomfort, and dis-ease we are likely to experience.
While there is chaos (dysregulation) in our bodies, talk-therapy approaches are not effective
Recent research in neuroscience reveals that there is no direct link between the rational, logical brain (neocortex), and the emotional (limbic) brain – which is central to the experience of emotions, stress and trauma. This means we cannot talk ourselves into well-being while our bodies are in dysregulated chaos. However, we also know that when we change our physical state, we can immediately influence our mental and emotional state.
The key lies with the body
It makes sense that when we bring our bodies’ nervous systems back into balance, our thinking becomes clearer and more creative, all our body functions improve, and our overall sense of well-being is enhanced. Stabilisation must come first. When we are in this state, we can begin the delicate work of clearing our unresolved emotions, stresses and traumas.