A traumatic experience can cause physical effects. Both physiological and psychological effects can persist or appear long after the traumatic event has occurred, and a delayed onset is common.
Whether you’ve experienced some trauma in your life or you’re close to someone who has, learning about the complex response of the mind, body, and nervous system is paramount. The mind-body connection is easily underestimated, but it’s always worth attempting to understand it if you’re supporting someone through their recovery.
What’s the link between trauma and physical health?
The body’s response to stressful situations can lead to physical symptoms. But unlike the usual physical symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder in adults, trauma can affect the body in different and unexpected ways.
When someone feels anxious or scared, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. If someone feels stressed about their traumatic experiences on a regular basis, excessive stress hormones can contribute to deteriorating physical health.
With higher levels of stress hormones, an immune system could eventually become compromised. Unresolved trauma increases the risk of long-term health issues and could make an individual more susceptible to illness.
What is psychosomatic illness?
Psychosomatic illness is when emotional trauma can manifest as physical symptoms. The mental health effects of trauma are somewhat better known, and they include panic attacks, flashbacks, and dissociation – which means is when someone feels spaced out or detached from their own body.
But physical symptoms are prevalent too. Even though these are experienced differently , they can be linked to past traumatic experiences. Physical signs and symptoms might include:
- Gastrointestinal issues: The link between stress hormones and stomach issues is well documented. Many PTSD sufferers also experience IBS, and researchers are now focusing on the link between the two conditions and how they interact.
- Headaches: Stress and headaches come together, and any individuals who feel stressed frequently will be more likely to experience them. Tension headaches can also be caused by a lack of sleep, which is common in those suffering from flashbacks at night.
- Hair loss: Unfortunately, stressful situations trigger hair loss. When trauma remains in someone’s body, stress-induced hair loss is more likely to occur. However, this type of hair loss is often temporary and can be reversed with treatment.
- High blood pressure: The body creates adrenaline under stress. This hormone makes the heart beat faster and causes temporarily higher blood pressure to help the body cope. However, with frequent stress, blood pressure may remain higher.
The importance of trauma-informed care
Trauma-informed care is essential in understanding the root cause of the physical issues experienced by an individual. Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy make a strong starting point for those on their journey to recovery.
Professional health experts and therapists may also recommend practical strategies to help the traumatised person heal from the physical effects of trauma, gain resilience, and learn new self-care methods. These strategies might include:
- Meditation: PTSD survivors need time to rest, reflect, and reset the mind
- Supplements: For many trauma survivors, Vitamin D and hair growth vitamins make effective supplement choices
- Grounding techniques: Dissociation is an instinctive response after trauma, but can be unlearned over time and with support
- Keeping a diary: Many survivors find it useful to keep note of their feelings and coping strategies to build a long-term plan
Trauma can’t be resolved overnight. Healing involves a deeper understanding of an individual’s triggers and symptoms, alongside a structured plan to support individual progress and recovery. If a loved one is acting differently after a traumatic experience, being patient and kind is important.