It’s always easy to see how physical trauma is the cause of so many injuries, disabilities, and health problems.
There’s no question how you broke your arm when you fell, sprained your ankle when playing sports, strained your back when lifting weights, or experienced intestinal discomfort as a result of some serious infection.
Physical trauma affects all of us in many ways, some visible, some invisible.
But so does emotional trauma! Unfortunately, this type of trauma, though it affects a significant number of people, often gets overlooked and thus goes unrecognized as a major cause behind physical ailments, chronic conditions, and mental health problems.
It’s time to change that! Times we understand just how closely emotional trauma is linked to your physical health, and how the traumatic events in your past can affect you well into your later years.
According to experts , it’s estimated that roughly 50% of Americans will experience “at least one traumatic event” in their lifetime. Losing a key person in your life (parent, caregiver, spouse, child, etc.), witnessing violence, fighting in or being exposed to war, being victim of physical or sexual assault, suffering abuse (physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual)—these are just a few of the traumatic events that can cause real, long-lasting emotional scars.
So many of us try to “move on”, to “put it behind us so we can get on with our lives”. This means of trying to suppress and ignore rather than directly deal with the trauma may feel like the easiest choice at the time, but in the long run, it can lead to far more noticeable consequences—not just in your mental and emotional health, but even in your physical health.
There is a wealth of evidence linking emotional trauma (and emotional stress in general) to poor health.
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According to one paper , “negative emotional states are thought to be associated with unhealthy patterns of physiological functioning”, meaning people who are negatively affected (consciously or not) by their emotional trauma are likely to experience effects both physical and mental.
Another paper from 2009  stated that, “People who have experienced traumatic events have higher rates than the general population of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer.”
There is some evidence to suggest that “traumatic events dysregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system”. The sympathetic nervous system controls your body’s natural response to stressors or dangerous situations. The dysregulation caused by traumatic events can actually heighten your body’s response—triggering visceral reactions, such as sweating, shaking, headaches, upset stomach, and more. It may also switch your sympathetic nervous system perpetually “on”, meaning a heightened and exaggerated response to even minor stressors.
Recent research has also linked traumatic life events to dysregulation of the inflammatory response. According to the data, “Prior trauma “primes” the inflammatory response system so that it reacts more rapidly to subsequent life stressors.” Your body overreacts to any stressor and elevates inflammation to a higher level than normal. This can lead to serious consequences for your long-term health because, as we well know, inflammation is one of the primary contributing factors behind a lot of chronic conditions—everything from diabetes to arthritis to cardiovascular conditions to cognitive problems.
The key to dealing with emotional trauma is exactly the same as dealing with physical trauma: seeking healing from professionals trained to treat the condition.
Just like you’d see an orthopedic doctor about a broken arm or a cardiologist about an arterial clot, you need to seek out doctors who are trained to deal with emotional trauma. Psychologists, therapists, and counsellors who specialize in emotional trauma are the best resource to help you come to terms with and work through whatever past events are causing current health problems.
Because, as every expert will tell you, the only way out is through. Bottling up or trying to ignore past traumas will only keep you right where you are today: suffering from health problems directly resulting from or worsened by those traumas. The link between your emotional scars and current health issues is real—you saw it above for yourself—so it’s time to take action to deal with your past traumas in order to enjoy a healthier future.
There is no “quick fix” for healing these deep emotional wounds. It will take time, regular therapy or counseling, and a great deal of patience. But putting in that effort is the best way to heal yourself and take back control of your wellbeing.
You can enjoy a healthy life without suffering from inflammation, stress, and disease caused by past emotional traumas. It’s up to you to reach out and take the first step to seek help!
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