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Trauma: What does it do to your Brain?

Updated: Feb 4

Research has showed the brain is actually rewired from excessive stress and trauma.

The middle of the brain, a sensor called the amygdala, is responsible for detecting if there is danger to your life. In PTSD, the amygdala is often enlarged or overactive as a result of the physiological effects of trauma. Once this sensor gets activated, it sends a signal down to your adrenal glands that are on the top of your kidneys. When the adrenal glands get the message, they send out a chemical called adrenaline that then activates your “fight/flight/freeze/fawn” response in your Limbic System, which controls your Autonomic Nervous System. This is the system that controls your heart rate, breathing, bowels, your bladder, pupils open and closing, gastric juice, and saliva in your mouth. When your Limbic System is activated, you feel an intense sense of dread. All you know is that your life feels in danger and you want to fight, flee or freeze or faun. During this experience, your ability to rationally think things through has been hijacked. All you know is that you feel an intense sense of activation, be it rage, anger, upset or just a need to escape from the situation. This is an automatic survival response to a perceived threat. When there is a situation that resembles the original trauma, it triggers the amygdala and the fight/flight/freeze/faun takes over as if the original event is reoccurring again in present time, causing intense reactions and inability to cope. This is PTSD/CPTSD.

Other parts of the brain affected by trauma are the Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex. The Hippocampus actually becomes damaged from ongoing high levels of stress and shrinks in size making it less effective to perform its function of creating new memories, store old memories & events in the past and effectively regulate emotions.

The rational part of our brain is the Prefrontal Cortex. This is the front part of our brain, where consciousness lives, processing and reasoning occur, and we make meaning of language. When trauma occurs, people enter into a fight, flight, freeze or fawn state, which can result in the Prefrontal Cortex shutting down. The brain becomes somewhat disorganized and overwhelmed because of the trauma, while the body goes into a survival mode and shuts down the higher reasoning and language structures of the brain. The result of the metabolic shutdown is a profound imprinted stress response that reoccurs at any perceived threat.

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