The physical pain might be over, but the trauma might still be hanging around

Quick notes:

  • Trauma affects nearly everyone and can be stored in the body over time

  • Trauma stored in the body can have physical and mental consequences

  • Therapy, acupuncture, and massage have all been shown to be effective releases of trauma

Everyone knows that trauma can destroy your mind and your body. But recent science suggests that severe trauma can affect you for much longer than the incident itself; in fact, it can linger for the rest of your life.

What is trauma?

Everyone experiences terrible times: breakups, accidents, and stubbed toes happen to everyone. And while the word “trauma” traditionally leads us to think about big, serious, headline-making situations, the truth is that we might not even recognize trauma in our very own lives.

Trauma does indeed come in major forms, but there might be a more insidious form: the aptly named micro-traumas. According to researchers, micro-traumas are even more likely to be stored in the body and add up over time. So while these little problems may not seem like such a big deal when they occur, the increasing number of traumas stored in the body can cause serious consequences when they eventually erupt.

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How does trauma affect the body and mind?

When an individual experiences trauma, especially major trauma, their body reacts in a few primal ways. Our basic instincts, when faced with a traumatic situation, lead us to flee or fight: both reactions cause our hearts to beat faster, our digestion to slow down, and our muscles to tense up. However, when the trauma is so overwhelming or long-term, our bodies try and protect themselves by freezing: the decision-making parts of our brain physically slow down.

Micro-traumas are even more likely to be stored in the body and add up over time

When experienced trauma isn’t processed, it can quite literally become stored in the body, preventing release and healing. Depending on the type of trauma, the natural bodily reaction to the trauma, and a variety of other factors, this stored trauma can cause everything from chronic pain and emotional distress to changing hormones and disrupted immune systems.

How can we prevent trauma stored in the body from destroying our lives?

It is pretty clear to many researchers, scientists, and therapists that trauma stored in the body can have serious effects on sufferers. So if we know that most of us will experience trauma at some point in our lives, what can we do to prevent the lingering effects from harming us too badly?

While no one has a direct answer to this question, there is hope. Many practitioners and patients have seen significant results with acupuncture, and several people experience success through a combination of traditional talk therapies and ore physical therapies, like acupuncture or massage. The most important part of processing trauma isn’t just the initial release of emotion, though, so it is important to have follow-up steps available, too.

Trauma stored in the body can have serious effects on sufferers

Bottom line: if you or a loved one is suffering from trauma, whether it be major or micro, a long-term situation, or a one-time incident, help is available. Movement, therapy, yoga, EDMR: the treatment options are nearly endless, and there is no guarantee that what works for one person will help another process their experiences and pain in the same way. But instead of being overwhelmed, be hopeful. There is life past trauma, no matter how long it has been stored in your body.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101

Trauma isn’t the only thing that causes mental health issues. Our genes might actually contribute to our anxieties, too 

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