There's a reason that the word traumatized conjures up images of someone wide-eyed and trembling. Trauma can change brain structure, altering the way it regulates the body's functioning. This means that long after the traumatic event is over, you may still experience physiological sensations that influence emotions and behavior. Below are some of the more common issues that people who have experienced trauma struggle with:
Hypervigilance: Jumpiness, or an overreaction to minor triggers, like a door slamming, is caused by hypersensitivity of the amygdala (the brain’s fear and survival center). An amygdala affected by trauma works overtime, keeping the body on high alert even when it’s safe.
Moodiness and Impulsiveness: The prefrontal cortex is like the logical, rational and creative problem-solving part the brain. The prefrontal cortex is always in an intricate brain dance with the amygdala working hard to keep our emotions and behaviors in check. Irritability, aggression, and poor impulse control are evidence that the prefrontal cortex is getting worn down by chronic stress. Traumatic experiences (single episode or chronic) often cause a rapid change in brain functioning which may result in chronic anxiety, feelings of panic, depression, mood swings and even significant lack of motivation.
Forgetfulness: When overwhelmed, we may have a hard time remembering things, even things that just happened, but people who have experienced trauma may have difficulty remembering things all the time. Frequent and extreme stress can shrink the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain in charge of learning and forming new memories.
Information Processing: In addition to these structural changes, trauma changes the way that different parts of the brain communicate with each other, interfering with an individual's ability to process and respond to information. This may be due to the amygdala hijacking the pre-frontal cortex due to a post-traumatic stress response. If left untreated this can turn into post-traumatic stress disorder.
The good news is the brain is capable of change and recovery! There are various therapies and medications that can help individuals reduce their symptoms, heal from trauma and improve neurological functioning.
Sarah Westbrook offers a decade of experience in Neuroscience-based counseling services through Westbrook Counseling Services. Whether you’re struggling after trauma, coping after trauma, or just looking to be your healthiest self, the content on the Daisy Girl Communications website, including podcasts and recommended reading can help you. To reach out to Sarah, click this link. Please check out the Daisy Girl Communications newsletter as well to stay up to date on the latest podcast news and updates.