One of the things that can happen when you experience trauma is that your nervous system becomes less able to regulate itself. Ordinarily, when you encounter a stressor, your sympathetic nervous system readies your body to respond—you’ve probably heard of this as the ‘Fight, Flight, or Freeze’ response. Once the stressor has passed, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, calming your body back down. This cycle can happen many times throughout the day.
But trauma makes it much harder for the nervous system to regulate this process. As a result, your body can get stuck in overdrive, causing feelings of panic, anxiety, over-arousal, or anger. Sometimes it’s the opposite: you might feel tired, depressed, disconnected from the world around you. It’s also common to jump between these two states, even though the changes don’t seem to connect with anything going on in the external world around you.
Trauma can increase cortisol production and decrease oxytocin, as well as increase long-term inflammation. It impacts our sleep, our moods, and the way we feel in our bodies. These physical reactions to trauma can have long-term implications for our health. Studies have found correlations between unprocessed trauma and heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and even cancer.