Sunday, May 15, 2022

How Does Trauma Affect The Brain

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New Research Points To Neurobiological Sex Differences In Youth With Ptsd

How Does Betrayal Trauma Affect the Brain?

Traumaticstress impacts the developing brains of males and females differently, according to a recent study from the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Early Life Stress and Pediatric Anxiety Program.

In youth with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, there is variation in the volume and surface area of the insula between males and females who have experienced traumatic stress versus those who have not, the study found. The insula is a region buried deep within the cerebral cortex that plays a key role in interoceptive processing , emotion regulation, and self-awareness. The study was published online in the journal Depression and Anxiety. It is the first study to date that has examined sex differences in subdivisions of the insula in youth with trauma histories.

While many individuals experience trauma, curiously, not all of them develop post-traumatic stress disorder . People who are diagnosed with PTSD or have had a traumatic stressor in their lives endure exposure to actual or threatened death and intrusive thoughts afterward, which are associated with the traumatic event. These intrusive symptoms are coined such because they are unwanted and unwelcome by the individual who experiences them, and can include repeated, involuntary distressing memories, dreams, flashbacks, and intense, prolonged psychological and physiological reactions, as if the traumatic event were still occurring .

Advice To Counselors: Using Information About Biology And Trauma

  • Educate your clients:

    Frame reexperiencing the event, hyperarousal, sleep disturbances, and other physical symptoms as physiological reactions to extreme stress.

    Communicate that treatment and other wellness activities can improve both psychological and physiological symptoms . You may need to refer certain clients to a psychiatrist who can evaluate them and, if warranted, prescribe psycho-tropic medication to address severe symptoms.

  • Increased charitable giving and volunteerism.

How Does Trauma Affect Womens Brains

Through clinical practice and neuroimaging studies, McLean Hospitals Milissa Kaufman, MD, PhD, and Lauren A.M. Lebois, PhD, are revealing the clinical, cognitive, and neurobiological underpinnings of the effect of trauma on the brain, specifically in women, including long-misunderstood forms of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD dissociative subtype and dissociative identity disorder . In so doing, they are not only helping to destigmatize the disorders, which often develop as a defense against early abuse and neglect, but are also identifying risk factors for them. They are also opening the door to more targeted treatments in the future.

These women are often marginalized because of their diagnosis, said Kaufman, who is director of McLeans Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Research Program and medical director of the hospitals Hill Center for Women. By understanding the neurobiology of dissociation we can help destigmatize people with dissociative disorders and PTSD and also destigmatize child abuse and women who have been abused.

There is no better way to understand just what trauma means to a person than to listen deeply to his or her own words, said Kaufman.

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How Trauma Affects The Brain

Psychological trauma occurs when it is not possible to process a situation with ones usual, everyday coping mechanisms, leaving the individual in fear for his life or sanity. Trauma can be due to violence, helplessness, physical pain, illness, grief, or physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.

While we recover from setbacks every day, the effects of trauma linger long after the traumatic event has passed. The memory of the trauma instigates physical and emotional symptoms like aftershocks that can baffle and frustrate the individual, sometimes re-traumatizing them all over again. Moreover, stressors that were easily managed in the past may now seem far more challenging. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress might include nightmares, flashbacks, and changes in mood or affections.

Smaller frustrations and challenges resolve naturally, but trauma can lead to despair.

The Problems Trauma Causes

Scientists have long known that trauma has a lasting effect on the brain, including the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex, three adjacent areas of the brain that govern memory and the panic response, and sometimes referred to collectively as the limbic system. Trauma can even have epigenetic effects that is, turn genes on and off especially in cases of early childhood trauma.

A 2015 study found that repeated exposure to a predator created an increase in activity as well as an increased sensitivity for adrenaline in the amygdala .

Evidence For The Effects Of Trauma On The Brain

Your Brain on Trauma

Studies that address the relationship between trauma and cognitive development generally take the form of either neuroimaging studies or neuropsychological studies. Neuroimaging studies focus on the growth of important brain structures, and on how efficiently the brain responds to emotional stimuli . Studies in the field of neuropsychology use performance on well-established tasks to infer brain functioning, for example by measuring memory and attention span during defined tasks and make inferences about functioning and behaviour from these results .

Collectively, this research suggests that the brain development of children in care is likely to be affected in some way by their early experiences. The neuropsychological impact of adversity can vary widely, however, and not all children that experience adversity go on to develop difficulties related to learning, memory and attention. The impact of adversity on brain development may depend on whether children primarily have experienced deprivation or threat during their pre-care life: resulting in either delayed cognitive development or dis-integration of cognitive skills, respectively .

This field of research is not well developed and is conceptually and methodologically underdeveloped. For instance, antenatal alcohol exposure frequently affects later cognitive functioning , but studies of children in care rarely report on history of antenatal alcohol exposure.

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The Effects Of Trauma On Cognitive Function

Now lets look at how trauma affects the frontal lobe of the brain. In short, both trauma and alcohol exposure stunt, shut down, and impair all cognitive functions.

Remember, the prefrontal cortex is the thinking center of the brain thats normally slow to develop anyway. When trauma happens, that process slows down even more and then shoots holes through it. Because of the circumstances that our kids were once in, it is also quite common for them to also have missed developmental steps and milestones that are necessary for correct progress and processing.

Heres What Happens To Your Brain When You Experience Trauma

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So many of you must have experienced some or the other form of trauma during your lifetime. When we experience a traumatic event, be it a car accident, a loved ones demise, or the end of a relationship, our brain goes into a fight or flight mode. The brains default response in any traumatic event changes to protect us from any danger, shutting down non-essential body and brain functions until the threat ceases.

These changes to the brain function are not just neurological in nature, but also physical as the volume and size of various parts of the brain get impacted, such as the memory gland after a traumatic event.

This is particularly seen in patients diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder . There are 3 parts of the brain that get affected:

  • Hippocampus: It is the centre that takes care of emotion and memory but it shrinks in the event of a traumatic event
  • Amygdala: It is the part of the brain that looks after creativity and due to trauma, its function increases
  • Anterior Cingulate: It is the centre for functions like planning and self-development but its function decreases due to trauma
Heres how the brain gets impacted after a traumatic event

The intensely emotional impact of a traumatic event can cause a long term impact on brain function:

1. Stressful memories
2. Reduced sense of control on emotions

3. Distinguish past from the present

Heres what you can do to manage the aftermath of a traumatic event
Thought control
Grace Bains

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A Brief Recap Of Post

Our body cascades many chemical reactions during a frightening event that set off the fight/flight/freeze response readying us to react quickly to the danger. Most peoples chemical responses will return to baseline, but others will maintain the chemical reactions long enough to cause damage.

Although most people believe PTSD to be a diagnosis that only forms in adults, t this is not true. Children also suffer incredibly traumatic events and will form the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to Amen Clinics, the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder are too numerous and varied to list in this piece however, they may include:

  • Military combat
  • Witnessing someone getting hurt or killed
  • Witnessing the death of a loved one
  • Kidnapping
  • Pandemic

You may have noticed that pandemic made the list. With the onslaught of COVID-19, it is predicted the number of people affected by complex post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder will increase dramatically.

Traumas Impact On Brain Development

How Does Trauma Effect the Brain?

Exposure to chronic, prolonged traumatic experiences alters childrens brains:

Attachment & relationshipsTrouble controlling and expressing emotions trouble with relationships, boundaries , lack of empathy, and social isolation violent reactions to situations problems with authority figures, such as teachers or police officers.

Physical HealthThe immune system and bodys stress response systems may not have developed normally, resulting in anxiety and high-stress response to situations not requiring these responses risky behaviors , impaired sensorimotor development, hypersensitivity of senses or lack of sensitivity anesthesia and analgesia, coordination problems, increased medical problems , and somatic symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches.

Emotional Regulation & ResponseDifficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions difficulty identifying or labeling feelings and communicating needs. Internalize and/or externalize stress reactions and as a result may experience significant depression, anxiety, or anger emotional responses may be unpredictable or explosive with the child in hyper-vigilance or extreme opposite of tuning out emotional numbing easily upset and unable to control the upset overwhelmed easily.

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What Is A Traumatic Event

Getting stressed out is one thing, but traumatic events are an entirely different beast. How do we know the difference?

Both stress and trauma are types of responses to events happening inside or outside of the body.

Stress is usually a response to something that happens on a day-to-day basis. Stress factors can include getting laid off at work, overbooking your schedule, or cooking a large meal. These are things that are not out-of-the-ordinary but seem daunting.

Trauma is anything that causes immense distress. Most often, these are situations where things are not happening how they would in a normal situation.

Traumatic events can range as far as a car accident to the death of a friend. These events are notable by the effect they have on the person. Trauma can change how someone views the world around them.

While stress and trauma both upset daily life, it is important to know the difference between the two. Both stress and trauma can cause mood and attitude changes and increase your chances of experiencing poor mental health.

These changes affect not only the trauma victim, but also those around them. Family and friends may notice the victim being distant or pulling away from the things they enjoyed before.

The Effects Of Trauma On Brain Function

The effects of trauma on brain function are not insignificant. Developmental trauma, or trauma that happens during early childhood, can significantly impact a persons ability regulate emotion and behavior. It also alters memory and cognitive functions and delays frontal lobe development that is responsible for logical thinking, problem-solving, and cause and effect thinking. The effects of trauma on the brain are even greater if a child was also prenatally exposed to alcohol. Trauma and alcohol cause permanent long-term brain damage and injury.

In order to truly understand the effects of trauma on brain function, we first need to understand how the brain is supposed to work.

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Now Lets Talk About How Childhood Trauma Affects The Brain And Development Of A Child

Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis.

The human brain is designed to sense, process, store, perceive, and act on information from the external and the internal environment. All of these complex systems and activities work together for one overarching purpose survivalGoldstein, D.S. . Stress, Catecholamines and Cardiovascular Disease.

Accordingly, trauma is the result of any life threatening event or event that threatens physical harm such as:

  • Sexual abuse or violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Terrorism

Read the fact sheet from The US Department of Veterans Affairs here

Trauma negatively impacts the brain, and traumatic experiences in childhood have relatively a greater negative impact on the developing child than experiences later in life.

How does trauma affect the brain and development?

Neurons are the building blocks of the brain which create networks that link to create systems, which in turn, regulate all functions. Each event impacts the future development of the neurons and pathways, and there are critical developmental times when neural pathways are being formed that are significantly altered by traumatic events.

Almost 80% of the adult brain size is formed in the first 3 years, and 90% in the first years. Thus, trauma in these formative years can truly impair a child for life.

Young Brains Are Susceptible To Damage

Hurricane Harvey  How the Brain Processes Trauma ...

Because kids brains grow so quickly, they are particularly susceptible to damage, especially from trauma and alcohol exposure. Children are especially sensitive and vulnerable to the negative and traumatic experiences that happen to them. The younger they are when those things occur, the greater the risk there is for long-term damage.

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My Boss Wants Me To Go Back Into The Tank To Weld But Im Still Trying To Get Out


Joes brain has been hijacked by trauma. He feels out of control because he cant make his mind do what he wants it to do, which is to forget the trauma.

But despite what reason says, Joes body still holds on to the distress of the accident and is desperately trying to get out of the tank. The hijacking results in posttraumatic stress disorder . Some common symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, startle response, and preoccupation with the traumatic event.

How exactly are Joes brain and body being hijacked by the trauma? Simply put, when a person experiences something traumatic, adrenalin and other neurochemicals rush to the brain and print a picture there. The traumatic memory loops in the emotional side of the brain, disconnecting from the part of the brain that conducts reasoning and cognitive processing. The reasonable part of the brain is unable to help the emotionally loaded part of the brain get away from the trauma.

It is estimated that of 100 people who have experienced trauma, 25%, or 1 in 4, will experience PTSD, which includes 1 of every 4 burn survivors. With statistics this high, we can conclude that this is a normal response to an extreme situation and not a pathology.


Can A Brain Scan Show Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

There is currently no brain scan that can detect and diagnose post traumatic stress on its own. Instead, doctors and clinicians use tools like brain mapping and other brain scanning technology to inform their diagnoses and plan out appropriate treatments. This typically takes place as a part of a comprehensive assessment process that includes a medical evaluation and a series of questions designed to help diagnose post-traumatic stress.

Brain scanning technology can help doctors and therapists see the physical impact of trauma on the brain and can help confirm a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. Researchers often use brain scanning technology like magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to see how an individuals brain has been altered by stress.

For example, in one 2011 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers conducted MRI scans on Iraq War veterans who had been diagnosed with PTSD. They found changes present within the amygdala region of their brains that were not present in a group of veterans who had not been diagnosed with PTSD. These changes may have led to an exaggerated, pervasive state of arousal that exists outside the presence of an overt actual threat, as the researchers wrote.

Together with insights from brain scans and other tools, a medical provider can then provide an accurate diagnosis of post-traumatic stress and help individuals access the help they need to recover.

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Can The Brain Heal Itself After Trauma

When evaluating the damage that emotional trauma and PTSD have caused, scientists have found that the brain is unable to heal itself. While the brain is unable to fully recover itself, Highland Springs is able to offer treatments to help prevent further damage and encourage healing for emotional trauma. With the experts that Highland Springs is able to offer, patients will be able to identify the cause of their trauma/triggers and eventually be able to overcome it.

Why Do You Feel Like You Are Reliving Traumatic Moments Over And Over Again

How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?

In response to trauma, another stress hormone called adrenalin gets released into the bloodstream. Adrenalin fires up the amygdala and triggers it. The amygdala is responsible for establishing emotional memory it is an essential component in detecting emotions like fear. The overactive amygdala can ‘burn’ emotionally charged events into our brain. And as a result, the details surrounding the experience can be ‘fuzzy’ due to the under-active hippocampus.

So you may feel as though you are reliving traumatic moments over and over again your past pushes into the present.

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