What Does Trauma Do to the Brain?

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Research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder can result in changes to the brain structure. For instance, the hippocampus, which plays a role in regulating stress hormones and is responsible for storing and retrieving memories, can actually shrink. Your ability to engage with memories of trauma can be affected—sometimes those memories might play on loop; sometimes they’re particularly difficult to access or seem fragmented. The amygdala, our brains’ ‘fear center,’ can also shrink, while activity increases, broadcasting a constant danger signal and flooding the body with stress hormones. At the same time, activity in the prefrontal cortex, where we do higher-order thinking like planning and rational decision-making, decreases.

You might experience reliving a traumatic event over and over again, through flashbacks or nightmares. Your mind might feel like it’s taken on a life of its own, and you’re no longer in control of your thoughts or your moods. On the other hand, you might feel a sense of dullness or apathy, or find that you avoid certain people, places, or things.

There is no wrong way to experience trauma. What matters is knowing there are ways to address and heal from your experience.

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