The Effects of Trauma: What Does Trauma Do to The Brain?
When people experience trauma, they are not prepared for the effects of trauma on their broader mental health. Many people feel alone, and like most people will have no understanding of the difficult mental and emotional experiences they are having. In any given year about 20% of adults in the United States are working through their own mental health challenges.
There is a saying that claims that suffering is the result of pain multiplied by resistance. Some people feel like there is something wrong with them because of the pain that their trauma causes them even after a lot of time has passed.
However, understanding more about how trauma affects the brain can help you realize that what you are going through is normal and natural.
Learning to work with your trauma instead of against it can help you diminish your resistance and suffering even as you deal with the pain that comes. That can then lay the foundation for recovering from your trauma and reducing the pain it causes you. So what does trauma do to the brain?
Read on to learn all about the effects of trauma and the impact it can have on the brain.
Understanding Different Types of Trauma
There are several different kinds of trauma. Learning more about them can help you gain a clearer understanding of your own traumatic experiences.
When many people think about trauma, they think of acute trauma. Acute trauma is the result of a single traumatic event. For example, suffering injuries from an accident or an assault can cause acute trauma.
On the other hand, chronic trauma happens when a long series of negative events leave their mark on an individual. Many people develop chronic trauma as a result of child abuse or living in a war zone.
People can also experience vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is the result of hearing about or witnessing the traumatic experiences of others. For example, first responders and healthcare professionals often hear about or see some of the most painful experiences of other people’s lives. This can cause them to develop vicarious trauma.
In some cases, whole groups of people experience collective trauma. When a community or nation suffers from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, it can leave an imprint on the collective psyche.
Although these different kinds of trauma have important differences, they often manifest in similar ways in the brain.
How Trauma Affects Different Brain Areas
Many people think of trauma as only a psychological phenomenon. However, the more impactful traumatic events are, the more likely they are to leave long-lasting traces in the very makeup of our brains.
When this happens, it can require a longer healing process. Although there are exceptions, once trauma has affected brain chemistry and structure, people will often experience a slow recovery process that can take months or even years.
How Trauma Affects the Amygdala
One of the central parts of the brain that trauma impacts is the amygdala. The amygdala is associated with many of the emotional responses that are initiated in the brain. The amygdala can be considered like an antennae that is looking for threats. It perceives current threats based on past experiences. This part of the brain works in less than a fraction of a second to decide how you will respond in any given situation. It clicks the brain into a fight, flight or freeze response long before the rational thinking (pre-frontal cortex) part of the brain can make sense of what is happening.
When people are experiencing flashbacks, their amygdala will often light up at the same time. This increased activity in the amygdala often leads to a strong fear response.
Some people blame themselves for experiencing this because they reason that there is no current threat, so it does not make any sense for them to experience fear. However, when trauma has affected the functioning of the amygdala, it is natural and may even be inevitable that people feel that they are experiencing some of the threats inherent in their initial traumatizing events.
How Trauma Affects the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is another area of the brain that is associated with trauma. The hippocampus deals with memory, so it makes sense that traumatic events of the past often affect this part of the brain.
When the hippocampus activates, people may end up remembering or even reliving old memories. In extreme cases, this can even cause people to believe that they are experiencing their traumatic events all over again.
On top of that, some people end up avoiding thinking about painful memories that are the result of trauma. This can lead to lower activity in the hippocampus, which can make it more difficult to form memories.
How Trauma Affects the Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex is in charge of many of the higher thinking processes of the brain. Trauma can make it more difficult for the prefrontal cortex to take charge. As a result, it can be difficult for people to reason themselves out of their painful reactions and experiences.
Improving Mental Health After Experiencing Trauma
Although there are many causes of trauma, there are also many different strategies for healing from trauma. Some people have tried one strategy and not enjoyed significant results. However, there are a variety of other techniques for recovering from trauma for a good reason.
If the first things you try do not work, do not lose hope. Keep trying other approaches until you find the one that provides the most healing for you. We specialize in specific trauma therapies that help to reduce how trauma has impacted the brain including EMDR and IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapies.
Understand the Effects of Trauma on the Brain
In some cases, not understanding what is happening with your brain when you experience trauma can make a difficult situation even harder. The more you understand the effects of trauma on the brain, the easier it can be to feel a certain amount of acceptance and understanding. It can also help you hone in on the right path to healing from your trauma.
To learn more about how you can find the help you need to recover from your trauma, reach out and get in touch with us here at any time. You can schedule a free consultation to learn about how we can help you with trauma recovery.