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  • Writer's pictureSusan Pitler

Trauma and The Nervous System

Updated: May 29, 2020

The nervous system does more than collect sensory information -- it also plays a central role in how we process trauma, loss, and grief.

The nervous system is the body's communication system. It collects and communicates physical sensations like warmth and cold, pain and pleasure to the brain. It allows you to do things like walk, speak, breathe, and learn. And if that wasn't enough? It controls how your body reacts in an emergency.

If you have experienced a trauma, that means you have lived through something that was too much, too fast, or too soon for your nervous system to handle. Learning more about the nervous system, and how trauma impacts it, is an important first step in anyone's journey toward healing.

About the Nervous System

The Nervous System is essentially made up of two parts; the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

  • The Sympathetic Nervous System is associated with Fight and Flight responses and the release of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream to ensure high activation.

  • The Parasympathetic Nervous System puts the brakes on the Sympathetic Nervous System and stops the body from releasing those stress chemicals. It is responsible for shifting the body from an aroused and agitated state to relaxation, digestion and regeneration.

Trauma's Affect on the Nervous System

Trauma interferes with the balance of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic functions and can lead to feelings of high anxiety, depression, stress, dissociation, numbness, exhaustion, panic attacks, chronic physical ailments and symptoms of PTSD.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy can help restore a vital sense of body awareness and can increase the ability to regulate, that is, respond effectively, to emotional intensity by recognizing subtle signals of overwhelm, panic and shut-down.

By recognizing triggers we can learn how to gently shift from feeling highly aroused and disturbed to a more regulated feeling of safety, embodiment and calm awareness.

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