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After a traumatic experience, a person’s life can be dramatically altered. Most people commonly associate trauma, or PTSD, as something that only impacts those who have served in the military. However, trauma can impact anyone.

Trauma happens as a result of a highly emotional or distressing situation. Or repeated exposure to multiple traumatizing events. Common traumatizing situations that someone may be recovering from are:

  • Domestic, sexual, childhood, or emotional abuse
  • Car accidents
  • Witnessing or being the victim of a crime
  • Loss of a loved one

Regardless of what caused the trauma, it can be extremely challenging to get through. The impact of trauma doesn’t always happen immediately after the fact, either. Some may have PTSD symptoms as soon as a week or month after. Alternatively, others may not begin to exhibit symptoms until months or years later. In either case, the brain is altered by the experience. Yes, trauma does change the brain.

3 Ways That Trauma Changes The Brain

The Immediate Impact

From the moment trauma happens, the brain is altered. It begins with the fight-or-flight response. In ancient times, our ancestors developed this response to keep them alive. They could either stay and fight through the danger or flee from it. It’s the brain’s way of protecting someone during emotional situations.

Sounds good, right? The problem with this is that this response interferes with the brain’s ability to process the experience fully and, later, the memories of it.

photo of a woman who is smiling looking up at orange and red leaves falling around herLong-Term Impact

The Amygdala

The amygdala is part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions. It is also the part of the brain that links those emotions to specific memories and your senses.

The amygdala is activated and sent into overdrive when someone is experiencing trauma. But it doesn’t just return to normal afterward. It stays activated and overstimulated.

This causes flashbacks, avoiding similar situations to the trauma, and a prolonged hypervigilant state.

The Hippocampus

Two of the primary roles of the hippocampus are to store memories and help with emotional regulation. When the amygdala is activated, it increases in size. The opposite is true for the hippocampus. It actually shrinks. This results in a distortion of the memory associated with the traumatic experience. And it prevents someone from being able to control and understand their emotions.

The Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functioning. Executive functioning refers to the brain’s ability to have flexible thinking, memory recall, and overall self-control.

The prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until adulthood. Even when it is fully developed, it can still be altered. Trauma alters the prefrontal cortex by suppressing it. This leads to problems such as impulsive behaviors and the inability to make sound and healthy decisions.

Are The Effects Of Trauma Reversible?

As you can see, trauma can impact the brain in profound ways. That likely leads you to your next question — is this permanent?

The good news is that the impact of trauma is not permanent. It doesn’t matter if it happened last year or over a decade ago. Someone can still find long-lasting relief from trauma.

If something was distressing to you, the first step is to accept that you were changed by this event. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else about why you were impacted so deeply. All that matters is that you acknowledge that something happened to you.

Second, know that you don’t have to continue to go through this alone. Trauma can make someone isolate and withdraw from other people. However, no matter what we are going through in life, it can be extremely beneficial to talk to someone about it.

One of the best ways to begin healing from the effects of trauma is to talk to a licensed professional. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn more about trauma treatment and how it can help you move forward.

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