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How stress and trauma affect your brain and body

Neuroscience research has shown that people who have suffered trauma tend to activate brain areas involved in the perception of fear, and to show deficits in areas involved in filtering relevant and irrelevant information, as well as in the perception of bodily sensations.


The impact of trauma is felt in the survival part of the brain, which does not return to its baseline state once the threat has passed. This part of the brain is by definition unreasonable: you don't stop feeling hungry when you remember how fat you are, and it's pretty hard to reason with yourself when you're angry or anxious.


What's interesting is that wild animals don't show symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because they release their traumas on the spot. Without this, they would wander around, tense and confused... and wouldn't survive very long. They release their traumas while we humans think about our stresses / fears / traumas and recycle them in our minds 🧠


We ask ourselves "why". We theorise. We think "if only" or "what if" and painful memories settle into our bodies.


As psychiatrist-author and PTSD specialist Bessel Van der Kolk puts it, traumatic events are embedded in our bodies like an image on photo film. And every time we think of a frightening experience, we anchor it deeper into our body and nervous system ⚓


Wild animals, on the other hand, find a safe place, go through the trauma from start to finish, and their nervous system evacuates the fright. This is what Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing, discovered: when a trauma is contained and experienced from start to finish, the nervous system discharges the memory. The stress cycle is complete, the loop is closed ♻️


We forget that our bodies have the same "secret weapon" as wild animals!


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I want to make it clear that your body's response to stress is there to help you manage the challenge you're facing at the time. In the short term, it gives you a much-needed boost of energy and alertness. So you can thank your body for that (instead of resenting it, as I used to do...) 🙏🏻


But when the stress or trauma persists over time (particularly through those painful memories that linger in the mind), your body may cease to be able to cope, and your nervous system and brain adopt "survival mode" as their default mode of operation, even though the initial trigger has passed.


Events such as trauma, prolonged grief or even burnout can cause your brain to choose to start up in "survival mode".


Over time, these reactions become habits, leaving you stuck in a mental and physical rut.
Small everyday tasks seem like the Everest to climb.


trauma brain
Impact of past trauma

Your body and adrenal glands become exhausted: your physical and mental state can quickly deteriorate. You may suffer from the symptoms that I experienced for 15 years:


✨ Inflammations/infections

✨ Chronic pain


✨ Back and joint pain


✨ Chronic fatigue, see apathy✨ Irritability


✨ Sleep problems, see insomnia

✨ Mental fog/concentration problems

✨ Anxiety, see depression


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The good news is that while your body stores the problem, it also contains the solution 🙌🏼


Neuroscience research has shown that the only way to consciously access this disturbed "survival brain" is through your interoceptive pathways, i.e. the part of the brain that helps you feel what's going on deep inside.


That's why it's so important to learn to adopt gentle body-awareness practices (yoga, meditation, sophrology, somatic exercises...) that first enable your body (and only then your mind) to free itself from its habits of tension and contraction.


It's not about being impervious to stress or pain, but about having the tools to move through these experiences with grace and resilience 🧘🏻‍♀️


It's thanks to these practices that I healed myself from 15 years of chronic pain and aches, culminating in exhaustion and hospitalisation...

If I could do it, so can you!


No storm lasts forever.

You're safe,

Here and now.

Within you.


With all my love,

Ana

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