Your mind, body, and spirit are all connected. When you experience trauma in your life, you may feel the trauma in your body as well. The trauma can get stored, and you may feel a sensation when the pain of the trauma reveals itself.
When you do not allow yourself to fully feel emotions and they get repressed, they can surface in the form of pain within your body.
You may notice body sensations when you experience emotions. Fear can show up as an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or a stomachache. Jealousy may feel like a clenched jaw, fist, or sensitivity to a loud noise.
An emotion usually only lasts about 90 seconds if you acknowledge it, feel it and allow it to move through you. However, when you repress the emotion, it can be stored for much longer in your body.
In his popular book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, author Bessel van der Kolk said:
“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.”
Trauma can often cause shame within you. One of the antidotes to shame is to speak up, which is why recovery rooms and therapy can be instrumental in many lives.
When you carry shame, and everyone does, it becomes a burden to not only your mind but also your body.
This can negatively impact your mental health and prolong trauma as well as childhood trauma. Traumatic memories that are not recalled or recovered of a traumatic event can also be stored in your body.
This may result in stress or even a stress disorder. A trauma survivor can have various bodily symptoms throughout their life when a physical sensation isn’t addressed.
Your experience with trauma may not be the same as someone else, and there can also be common themes when it comes to how emotions are stored.
Stress may show up in your back. Frozen shoulders can occur when you feel an overwhelming amount of anxiety, which can make your shoulders tense and your jaw clench. Your nervous system may be racing constantly, and you may not even realize it anymore.
Depression and loneliness may be felt in your stomach. There can be a feeling of hollowness or emptiness rather than satiation. This may lead to confusing cues about hunger. Past trauma can lead to an overactive stress hormone and increased anxiety. Sometimes, understanding your body takes a moment of pause, awareness and reflection.
Trauma and pain are difficult to fully feel, and many people choose an escape route instead through avoidance, being overactive, working long hours, thinking of suicide, and over using alcohol or drugs.
Trauma, movement and grief work can help move your emotions again, and a trusted professional like a therapist can help.
When your body has experienced trauma, chronic illnesses and auto-immune responses can also develop as a result of trapped emotions and trauma leading to more suffering and discomfort in your body.
Sensations in our body and emotional reactions related to trauma can show up when we least expect it. Learning to understand your trauma, what triggers your trauma responses, noticing when and where you feel it in your body and learning how to manage is crucial to healing from trauma.
When your body receives a signal that it associates with your trauma, it’s helpful and often maladaptive response is fight, flight, freeze or fawn. In your body’s attempt to keep you safe, it reacts as though you are in danger, even if there is no real danger in the moment.
One of the more disturbing trauma responses is the experience of dissociation in which the body and mind become disconnected in the brain’s attempt to protect the body from experiencing the emotional or physical pain.
When you dissociate; it may feel fuzzy, numb, or unsettled within yourself. This can be quite distracting and disruptive. Learning to re-connect your mind and body is helpful to healing trauma.
Here Are 5 Ways To Get Back In Your Body:
When you experience trauma, you may leave your body or dissociate and a way to get back into yourself is through movement.
Wiggle your fingers and toes, inviting sensations to come back into your body. If this does not help, more intense movement may be necessary.
Running in place, doing jumping jacks, dancing to music can all help shift your experience and re-connect your mind and body.
- Allow The Sensation Of The Emotion To Pass Through.
This can be difficult if you are not located in a safe place; however, when you do feel safe, allow yourself to feel the emotion fully even if that is uncomfortable.
It’s okay to release an emotion with tears, rolling your shoulders, or stretching. Sit with yourself and show up when your emotion comes through.
- Access A Favorite Scent.
One of the most powerful senses is your smell. When you are feeling disoriented, overcome with anxiety, loneliness, or having another physical response to trauma; you can get back into yourself by smelling a scent that you enjoy and reminds you of something good in your life or that you associate with calm and relaxing.
- Take A Breath.
When you breathe in and breathe out for only a moment, you allow yourself to shift from your amygdala (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) to your hippocampus. This means that you can begin to access higher level thoughts again instead of only feeling automatic physical responses.
Learning to use your breath to help regulate your body is one of the most helpful tools to managing stress, anxiety, trauma, overwhelm and more.
- Change The Temperature.
Exposure to cold temperature decreases your heart rate, while hotter temperatures can increase your heart rate. Whether you are struggling to feel present in your body or feeling emotions intensely in your body, using temperature changes can help.
Taking a cold shower, putting your face in a bowl filled with ice cold water or just splashing your face with cold water can bring your body and mind to the present moment and help shift your current emotional and physical experience.
Taking a warm bath, wrapping in a blanket or sitting in the sun can shift these as well. The important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself and don’t use either in extreme. It is not necessary for them to be helpful.
- BONUS: Say the Serenity Prayer.
(God*) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference
*Even if you aren’t religious or spiritual, you can replace the word God with anything that makes sense for you or remove the reference all together.
The serenity prayer is a built in pause that can help you access your mind, body, and spirit again.
Even though the serenity prayer is often used and associated with addiction recovery, it can be helpful for anyone, including you.
Stressors in your life can remain in your body until you are able to safely heal them in a safe place. When you experience trauma, therapy can help. Identifying how trauma shows up in your body can be an access point in your healing journey. You deserve to feel healthy and balanced in mind, body, and spirit no matter the impact of trauma in your life.
Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of Denver therapists who provide teen therapy, young adult therapy, adult therapy, family therapy and other counseling and therapy in Denver and throughout Colorado. We specialize in relationships, codependency, communication and boundaries and provide supportive therapy for people struggling with life transitions, trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more.