Recovery from Trauma and the Mind-Body ConnectionReading Time: 5 minutes
The mind-body connection is a powerful force. The mind and body are designed to be allies, working in sync to maximize our physical and mental health. But sometimes they work against each other. Like most relationships, the mind-body connection can be complicated.
There is no doubt that our minds and bodies are deeply connected. Our memories, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. In other words, our state of mind is directly related to the health of our body, and vice versa: How we care for our bodies—what we eat, how much we exercise or sleep, whether we use drugs or alcohol—can positively or negatively impact our mental health.
“The traumatic events in childhood at the root of a young person’s anxiety, depression, addiction, or other behaviors can’t be resolved through the mind alone. The body also needs ways to release these memories.”
The mind-body connection is so strong that the Integrative Medicine and Health Research Program at the Mayo Clinic continuously studies the effectiveness of mind-body techniques to improve the quality of life for patients and their caregivers, help people manage stress, and reduce anxiety before and during medical procedures.
Mind-body techniques focus on strengthening the connection between a patient’s mind and body to maintain or improve their health. Effective treatment for young adult mental health includes these techniques as well. An integrated approach can help young adults heal from addiction or traumatic events in childhood and teach their minds and bodies to support each other.
Childhood Trauma and the Mind-Body Connection in Young Adults
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can affect an individual’s mind-body connection for years, even decades, after they occur. ACEs are defined as potentially traumatic events in childhood (age 17 or under) and can undermine a young adult’s sense of safety and stability. Examples of an Adverse Childhood Experience include:
- Sexual or emotional abuse
- Parental neglect
- Witnessing violence in one’s home or community
- Having a family member attempt or die by suicide
- Growing up with substance abuse or mental health problems in the household.
In a study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 percent of adults reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACE, and one in six reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs. The CDC predicts that 21 million cases of depression could have been potentially avoided by preventing ACEs, which are linked to chronic health problems and substance abuse in adulthood.
When the Mind-Body Connection Harms You
A disconnect between mind and body can sometimes feel like a random shock brought on by a physical experience, such as hearing or smelling something that triggers a painful memory. Or it can feel as if you’re watching yourself from someone else’s point of view. More often than not, this is a reaction to something the subconscious has deemed overwhelming or painful. Hence, the body’s “fight or flight” response is triggered, creating a rush of stress hormones that produce physiological changes to fight off the perceived threat to one’s safety. Muscles tense, and the heart and respiratory rate increase. Over time, repeated activation of this stress response takes a toll.
If a young adult has endured emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood or the teen years, they may try to forget what occurred, but their bodies will remember. Hence, the suppressed memories can lead to headaches, backaches, clenched jaws, flashbacks, bad dreams, anxious thoughts, and many other symptoms. This is why treating past trauma with healing mind-body techniques is so critical.
Body-Based Interventions to Build Mind-Body Connection
The traumatic events in childhood at the root of a young person’s anxiety, depression, addiction, or other behaviors can’t be resolved through the mind alone. The body also needs ways to release these memories. Otherwise, the nervous system remains stuck in “fight or flight” response mode.
As a result, multiple therapies have been developed that focus on connecting the mind and body for lasting recovery from trauma. These modalities are known as somatic, or body-based, therapies, and they include the following approaches to processing trauma.
Somatic Experiencing works by focusing on the client’s perceived body sensations in connection to emotions. This modality reprograms the body’s primitive survival instincts, allowing young adults to feel a greater sense of connection and security. Bringing the body directly into the therapeutic process by tracking sensation and movements ultimately teaches young adults how to move through the trauma experience and still feel safe. A 2017 study on Somatic Experiencing confirmed that it is an effective treatment for PTSD and other conditions.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another therapy for recovery from trauma and PTSD. While the tools and methods used vary, a common approach is having an individual follow a light across a screen with their eyes while engaging another sense simultaneously (for example, holding a buzzer that vibrates). The therapist asks about difficult events, feelings, or memories while the individual continues to visually follow the light.
If the person’s eyes stop being able to follow the light when reprocessing the difficult memory, the therapist will help them choose a counter thought, validation statement, or positive mantra to focus on. This process helps them identify when they are experiencing a flashback or dissociative episode and need to get back to a safe place. EMDR helps train the body to identify “real” threats more accurately, so young adults can begin to trust their instincts and feelings. In a review of 24 EMDR studies, researchers found that this modality was effective in treating emotional trauma as a result of Adverse Childhood Experiences. In some of the randomized controlled trials, EMDR was more rapid and effective in relieving trauma symptoms than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Know the Facts
If a young adult has endured emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood or the teen years, they may try to forget what occurred, but their bodies will remember.
Tapping, also referred to as psychological acupressure or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), is another alternative treatment for PTSD, and is also used for anxiety and other conditions. EFT is founded on the idea that tapping on parts of the body can help balance energy and reduce physical and emotional pain. While tapping on specific points on the head and face in a particular sequence, the client focuses on the issue they wish to treat. The tapping sequence can also be used prior to an event that may cause stress or anxiety. A 2016 review of 14 studies on EFT reported that tapping leads to a significant decrease in anxiety.
Yoga and Mindfulness
Yoga combines physical exercise, conscious use of the breath, and mindfulness—the practice of bringing awareness to what is happening and what you are feeling in the present moment. Proven to be as effective as medication in reducing anxiety and depression, mindfulness practices focus on self-observation and being present in the moment. Yoga and mindfulness both emphasize awareness without a need for reaction, which helps young adults get used to noticing uncomfortable feelings without needing to react to or escape from them. Mindfulness also encourages a compassionate, nonjudgmental attitude toward oneself and others—a mindset that helps promote healing and recovery from trauma.
The team at Newport Institute includes leading experts in clinical, medical, and experiential therapy. Our focus is not only on immediate recovery, but also on achieving sustainable results that prepare young adults for a thriving life. Call us today to learn more about our evidence-based treatment and our successful outcomes.