Fact: Trauma Literally Changes How Your Brain Functions… But How?

Many people experience trauma at some point in their lives. 

Traumas can be defined as distressing events that threaten our life, safety, or even our physical or mental health… 

They can be natural disasters, assaults, accidents, combat, or the loss of a loved one. 

Although traumas can be isolated events, there can also be ongoing traumas, like abuse, poverty, and homelessness.

The impact of trauma on the human physical body and mental well-being is profound. 

Trauma can elevate the sense of helplessness, self-sabotage, and anxiety that can stay with a person for a very long time. 

After a traumatic event, many people may carry shame or guilt from their experience and suffer from eroded self-worth. 

Also, many survivors claim that after a trauma, they are left feeling like they have experienced an emotional or spiritual death. 

Most alarming: many physical and mental health problems can occur as a result of extreme stress on the body.

Did you know that trauma can literally change the BRAIN?!

To understand how this happens, let’s examine how the brain deals with traumatic events..

One of the primary functions of our brain is to keep us safe.

On the most fundamental level, our brain converts experiences into memories so we can maximize activities that have good results and avoid the ones that have negative results. 

So, whenever we experience trauma, our brain’s main function becomes keeping us safe. 

In order to operate efficiently after a trauma, our brain will rely on negative blueprints of the past, and warn us of present threats long after a traumatic event ends. 

This changes the way our brain functions….

Our brain is divided into three main parts: the reptilian, mammalian, and neomammalian brain. 

And each part of these has specific functions.

  • The reptilian brain is responsible for housing survival instincts and managing autonomic body processes like heart rate, breathing, hunger, and thirst.
  • The mammalian brain processes emotions like joy, sadness, and fear and regulates our attachment style.
  • The neomammalian brain is responsible for sensory processing, memory, learning, decision-making, and problem solving.

What happens when we experience trauma?

In short, our brain will shut down all nonessential systems and activate both the sympathetic nervous system and the mammalian brain. 

The brain gives an order to the sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones (“fight or flight” response).

And once the traumatic event passes, the parasympathetic nervous system reactivates and the three parts of the brain will start functioning again.

Studies show that traumatic stress can interfere with this normal process and trap the brain in “survival mode.”

When traumatic stress affects the brain, many people may develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), others may deal with a heightened sense of anxiety and fear, or they may have difficulties managing their emotions and thought patterns.

Here’s How Traumatic Stress interferes with normal brain function:

1. Traumatic Stress Activates The Amygdala:

The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure that processes our emotions. 

It also helps regulate our response to fear and create emotional memories. 

Traumatic stress over-activates the amygdala, which:

  • Makes our fear responses become more intense. 
  • Makes memories of traumatic events become nightmares and flashbacks. 
  • Makes the emotion-driven thoughts become so intrusive preventing us from sleep.
  • Prevents our brain from differentiating between past and present threats.

So, when you remember a trauma event, the amygdala will respond the same way it would if you were experiencing the trauma for your first time causing you to be on high alert and feel like you’re always on edge.

In addition, an overactive amygdala can also cause many other symptoms like:

  • Chronic stress
  • Heightened fear
  • Increased irritation
  • An inability to calm down
  • Insomnia

2. Traumatic Stress Shrinks The Hippocampus:

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that’s responsible for storing and retrieving memories and realizing the difference between past and present experiences. 

Studies show that when you experience trauma and live with high levels of stress, the volume of the hippocampus decreases. 

This makes it hard to differentiate between the past and present. 

Because of this, anything that reminds us of our past experiences may cause fear, stress, and panic. 

3. Traumatic Stress Decreases Function In The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC):

The prefrontal cortex helps us regulate and interpret emotions, control impulses, think logically, and solve problems. 

Studies say that traumatic stress can diminish functionality in the prefrontal cortex, impacting our ability to learn and store new information, manage our emotions, and solve complex problems. 

In short,  traumatic stress makes logical thinking a difficult task which in turn will elevate our fears and anxiety.

Living with traumatic stress can change the brain so much that daily life can feel like a challenge. 

But, there’s hope…

There are many alternative therapies to assist in recovery from traumatic stress, including somatic therapy, acupuncture, Reiki, and, of course, IV therapy. 

Ketamine, NAD+, and psilocybin may offer relief to those battling PTSD.

You deserve to thrive….

We support you on your journey healing journey.


Psychological trauma is a response to an event that a person finds highly stressful.

(MedicalNewsToday: What Is trauma? What to know, 2020, View reference).

Fight, flight, or freeze are the three most basic stress responses. They reflect how your body will react to danger.

(WebMD: What Does Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn Mean?, 2022, View reference). 

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exhibit heightened amygdala reactivity.

(National Center for Biotechnology Information: Amygdala Response to Negative Stimuli Predicts PTSD Symptom Onset following a Terrorist Attack, 2014, View reference). 

People with PTSD may also have problems overcoming their fear response to thoughts, memories or situations that are reminiscent of their traumatic event.

(Verywellmind: The Effect of PTSD on the Hippocampus, 2020, View reference).

Chronic stress exposure leads to dendritic atrophy in PFC.
(National Center for Biotechnology Information: The effects of stress exposure on prefrontal cortex: Translating basic research into successful treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, 2015, View reference).

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