top of page

Trauma's impact on the Brain and Body 

 

What happens to the BRAIN following a traumatic experience?

 

The AMYGDALA is part of our THREAT SYSTEM.

Its job is to keep us safe by alerting us to danger. 

It does this by setting off an ALARM in our body: by triggering the

‘flight, fight OR freeze’ response to react to danger. 

Unfortunately, the AMYGDALA

1. can be triggered by our own worrying thoughts OR

2. by relationship stresses and worries over whether we belong OR

3. by things the brain has learnt to be linked with trauma, e.g. certain sounds or smells

Survivors of complex trauma also usually have an enlarged and more reactive amygdala. An overactive amygdala makes you more susceptible to severe reactions. This might lead to chronic stress, heightened fear, and increased irritation. It might also make it harder for those suffering to calm down or even have healthy sleep.

The HIPPOCAMPUS helps us to STORE and REMEMBER INFORMATION

 It is like a library, and it ‘tags’ our MEMORIES with information about where and when they occurred.

 

When our ‘THREAT SYSTEM’ is active the hippocampus doesn’t work so well. It can FORGET to tag the memories with time and place information, which means they sometimes get stored in the wrong place. WHEN WE REMEMBER THEM, IT CAN FEEL LIKE IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN!!

 

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that regulates  emotions. Damage to this area of the brain due to trauma can cause an inability to regulate emotions like fear and anger. This damage can also lead to a stress response being activated in the absence of any danger.

Watch this short video to find out more:
 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens to the NERVOUS SYSTEM following a Traumatic Experience?

Your autonomic nervous system has two big parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

 

When you are faced with a threat, this activates the sympathetic nervous system and the body releases cortisol (body's main stress hormone) throughout the bloodstream. It also communicates to the parasympathetic nervous system to slow down functions such as digestion to save energy. When the time is right the parasympathetic nervous system should put the brakes on sympathetic nervous system so body stops releasing chemicals and shifts back to relaxation. 

For those who have suffered traumatic stress,  they often have an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This means that they perceive threats even when there are none.


Trauma survivors are also shown to have an under active parasympathetic nervous system. This results in difficulty turning off the stress response even when the threat has passed.

Watch this short video to find out more:


 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens to the IMMUNE SYSTEM following a Traumatic Experience?

When someone suffers from chronic stress they can actually see a decrease in cortisol which can create increased inflammation.

This can lead to many diseases including: asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, etc.

 


 

 

 

 

 

What Happens to the NEUROTRANSMITTERS following a Traumatic Experience?

Those that have suffered from long term trauma are shown to have low levels in many key neurotransmitters.


Studies have shown that trauma victims have low levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Low serotonin levels have been shown to lead to depression, problems with anger control, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicide.


In trauma victims, dopamine transmitters are often underdeveloped or damaged.

Dopamine controls arousal, alertness, attention, and is vital for giving motivation. Those with low dopamine levels are more vulnerable to addiction. Substances such as cocaine, heroin, nicotine, and alcohol all increase levels of dopamine.


GABA is the neurotransmitter that acts like a brake to the excitatory neurotransmitters that lead to anxiety. GABA is severely reduced in those who have suffered from trauma, which creates issues regulating anxiety levels. 

Degrees-of-Stress.jpg
ffsr.jpg
brain.jpg

What Happens to the NEURAL PATHWAYS following a Traumatic Experience?

Those who have lived with repeated trauma need to “rewire” their brains from old thought patterns and habits of mind, whether conscious or unconscious.


Trauma can cause changes in reward pathways. This can mean that survivors anticipate less pleasure from different activities and may appear less motivated.

 

In addition, those who experience childhood trauma may experience an impact on their attachment styles, which can lead to long term health and social impacts.

 

Children who grow up in chaos don’t have a secure base, and learn that they can’t rely on their caregiver for comfort. This means that they struggle to calm themselves when threatened. If a child can’t regulate their emotional states or rely on others to help them, their biological fight/flight/freeze response is repeatedly triggered.

The overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to what is known as toxic stress.

bottom of page