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Why Emotional Trauma May Be the Root Cause of Your Chronic Illness Symptoms

There is no doubt that emotional trauma can affect every aspect of our lives. But before we dive into how, let's first define what "trauma" is.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines trauma as "an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects".

All of us have experienced traumatizing events in our lives - it's part of our human experience.

You are probably familiar with the flight, fight or freeze response. Our bodies were designed to respond to danger by either fleeing the situation or choosing to fight for our lives. Both of these are healthy expressions of fear (or any emotion) as our mind recognizes danger, signals our body to "feel" the emotion, and our action (whether fleeing or fighting) allows for the full expression of that emotion. Nothing is suppressed, or held in the body.

Emotional trauma occurs when we experience danger and we are not able to have a full expression of the emotions which it causes. Here are two ways this can occur:

  • We experience danger, causing an emotional reaction, and we "freeze". When we are subject to physical or emotional abuse and don't have a way to protect ourselves (when fleeing or fighting are not available options - often the case in childhood trauma), we simply shut down. The emotional reaction that we feel from the abuse is not able to be acted on, so to say, and therefore not expressed fully. It gets trapped in the body.

  • If we are subjected to constant and continual physical and/or emotional abuse, even if one was able to flee or fight during some of these incidences, there will be emotional trauma stored in the body.

So how does this stored trauma (also known as stored "emotions") lead to chronic illness and associated symptoms?

Well, when we experience a traumatic event, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Our heart rate and blood pressure becomes elevated, digestion is halted, our pupils dilate and we start to sweat (among other bodily reactions).

All of this is taxing on our body, but in small doses our body is able to recover and we don't experience any long term effects.

However, when we have a large amount of emotional trauma stored in the body, we can experience chronic nervous system dysregulation.

Chronic nervous system dysregulation is when our sympathetic nervous system (flight or flight response) is chronically activated. Our parasympathetic nervous system does not have the ability to kick in and "calm" our body.

Long term effects of chronic nervous system dysregulation include: vitamin and mineral deficiencies, autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, digestive disorders, headaches, food sensitivities and inflammation based diseases such as fibromyalgia and Lupus.

As is often the case with many of the diseases and symptoms listed above, dietary and exercise modifications do not result in lasting changes to one's health. It's like changing the tire of your car but still driving your vehicle on a road filled with nails. You may notice a short term change but not lasting results. We need to clean up the road so you can drive your vehicle safely.

That is why it is so important to address the underlying emotional trauma to get to the root cause of the illness.

There are a number of ways to address and release underlying emotional trauma:

  • Somatic based therapies (a form of body-centered therapy that looks at the connection of the mind and body and uses both psychotherapy and physical therapies for holistic healing)

  • Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as EFT tapping - a type of somatic based therapy)

  • Root Cause Therapy

  • Traditional talk therapy can also be helpful, but is not necessarily focused on releasing trauma from the body


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