Trauma gets trapped in the tissues, cells, and nervous system – leading to ongoing pain, dysregulation, disease, and often post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The hopeful truth is that with care, courage, and commitment to your whole self, you can break free from the grip of traumatic stress.
In this guide, we’ll explore how trauma imprints itself on mental and physical processes and why symptoms persist if you don’t take action.
Then, you’ll learn integrative techniques to actively release stored trauma and retrain your body toward vibrant health, including emotional freedom practices, somatic movement, and more. While an ongoing journey, these modalities applied with dedication gently unwind old trauma so you can rediscover inner freedom.
By exploring trauma’s mental and physiological impacts, then lifestyle and therapies that target root causes – not just coping – you’ll gather tangible tools for your own transformation and reclamation of joy where shadow once lurked.
This will require effort, yet liberation awaits those who seek it wholeheartedly. Renewal lives inside you. Read on to learn how to release trauma from the body.
Disclaimer: I am a certified holistic health and wellness coach, not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. The information in this article is intended for general education purposes only. Please consult a qualified practitioner for personalized treatment of trauma or PTSD.
- Trauma can imprint long-lasting changes on the nervous system and body
- Unresolved trauma manifests in physical responses like pain, fatigue, PTSD
- Daily holistic practices can safely release stored tensions
- Retraining the nervous system restores regulation
- Somatic therapy, yoga, and lifestyle changes reconnect us to inner resilience and harmony
- With commitment to self-care, liberating the body and emotions from past trauma is possible
Understanding Trauma in the Body
When overwhelming events happen – whether due to emotional trauma, childhood trauma, or distressing life events – biological survival mechanisms activate in our bodies. Muscles tense, the heart races and our nervous system enters fight-flight-freeze response mode momentarily. This reaction aims to ensure immediate safety.
Yet prolonged activation of these processes disrupts healthy functioning long-term. The residual effects become lodged in the body – compromised immunity, inflammation, and rigid postures. This leads to issues like fatigue, pain, and disease arising later.
Now that we’ve introduced trauma’s bodily imprints let’s dig a bit deeper.
How Trauma Impacts the Nervous System
When we endure something traumatic, our bodies react in an instant. The nervous system floods us with cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones so we can fight, flee, or freeze to survive. For some, a fawn response kicks in instead – people-pleasing to avoid harm. In these charged moments, the primitive parts of our brain take over while logic and speech get drowned out.
The nervous system contains two branches that work together to maintain health: the sympathetic nervous system (activating) and the parasympathetic nervous system(calming).
The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Systems
The sympathetic branch prepares us for danger by:
- Releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and stress hormones
- Increasing blood pressure and heart rate
- Boosting energy flow to muscles
The parasympathetic system calms us down after threats by:
- Lowering heart rate
- Aiding digestion
- Supporting immune function
|Parasympathetic Nervous System
|Sympathetic Nervous System
|‘Rest and Digest’
|‘Fight or Flight’
|Effect on Heart Rate
|Decreases Heart Rate
|Increases Heart Rate
|Effect on Digestion
|Effect on Energy Storage
|Stimulates Energy Storage
|Stimulates Energy Release
|Effect on Pupils
|Effect on Blood Vessels
|No significant effect
|Constricts Blood Vessels
|Effect on Bronchial Tubes
|Constricts Bronchial Tubes
|Dilates Bronchial Tubes
|Effect on Bladder
|Stimulates Bladder Contraction
|Inhibits Bladder Contraction
Trauma Disrupts Optimal Regulation
Prolonged trauma activation can lead to a chronic imbalance between sympathetic fight-or-flight and parasympathetic rest-and-digest responses.
Key effects include:
- Hyperarousal and panic from overactive sympathetic
- Numbness and lethargy from overactive parasympathetic
This manifests in numerous symptoms – insomnia, back pain, depression. Restoring equilibrium allows us to healthfully integrate stressors.
Survival Mode Backfires Long-Term
Although vital in emergencies, staying ramped up in crisis mode backfires over time. We burn out as constant scanning for non-existent threats persists. Sleep suffers, digestion falters, and relationships deteriorate. Immune health may plummet alongside depression.
Trauma Trapped in the Body and Brain
Prolonged stress response also alters genes, tissues, and even brain structure – programming habits of anxiety, dissociation, and panic. Past trauma stored physically can manifest as tensed shoulders, knotted necks, acidic digestion, adrenal fatigue, or chronic pain. Sufferers may endure these somatic symptoms for years without linking root causes to emotional injuries embedded within skin, organs, nervous system.
Somatically Releasing Trauma
When we endure a traumatic event, it creates a physical response – flooding hormones, tightened nervous system regulation, and symptoms throughout the body. Somatic (body-based) modalities help safely discharge past trauma stored in tissues and cells so we can heal from residual imprints holistically, honoring the mind body connection.
Somatic Experiencing, trauma-informed yoga, meditation, and other practices work directly with the physiology to:
- Reduce anxiety, depression, PTSD symptoms
- Relieve physical symptoms, such as body pain and inflammation
- Restore healthy nervous system regulation
- Reconnect us with the body after dissociation
In my guide “12 Effective Somatic Healing Exercises,” I offer in-depth guidance on specific movement and body awareness practices that release trapped traumatic energy and promote nervous system regulation.
By incorporating physical and emotional aspects together to release trauma, we can gently reprogram past patterns. Over time we unwind survival programming stored in the body and trapped in the nervous system. Safety and inner peace emerge as we process traumatic memories.
Integrative Approaches to Trauma Healing
I’ve found the most profound healing of past trauma by taking an integrative approach – one that works with the whole self through multiple modalities. Treatments that acknowledge just symptoms or behavior fall short of complete recovery. We must address the mind, body, and spirit together.
Over a decade ago, I began practicing yoga. At first, I thought of it mainly as physical exercise – just stretching various parts of the body in new ways. I had never heard about trauma-sensitive yoga or knew that it can release trapped emotions. But several months into my exploration of yoga, something surprising happened. Certain poses would unexpectedly bring up tears or intense emotions. Without realizing it, these postures had surfaced remnants of old injuries and painful memories that were living silently within my tissues.
This experience revealed to me how much of our trauma stories and emotional histories can get trapped in the body, not just the mind. I began to understand yoga as a more holistic somatic practice – one that accesses truths stored in the somatic memories triggers emotional release, and reintegrates splits within oneself. I discovered many other practices with similar holistic mechanisms of action – acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, various forms of expressive arts therapy, mindfulness meditation, and visualization.
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Over the years, I also explored different schools of psychology and what some terms “psycho-spiritual” work. Approaches that embrace the paradox of the many “parts” that exist within us. Beyond just pain or positivity, victim or hero, we contain multitudes in our rich inner landscape.
And in acknowledging and giving voice to wounded parts that often appear shameful, we can begin to welcome them back home into the fold of self-love. This requires brave vulnerability but unties many knots in our system bit by bit. We unwind core beliefs of unworthiness and unpack the ways we learned to betray vitality to stay safe.
Supportive Lifestyle Choices for Recovery
Our daily self-care habits have an immense influence on healing trauma’s imprint from the inside out. Simple nurturing choices help rebuild our body’s innate wisdom, cultivate a sense of safety, and renew belief in a brighter future.
I believe lifestyle medicine holds far greater power than most realize when addressing root causes. Let’s explore foundational elements for nourishing ourselves back to wholeness: real, clean food, gentle movement, and time immersed in nature. When woven into daily rhythms, these practices impact resilience on a cellular level beyond what medicine alone can achieve.
Nutrition to Support Healing
What we consume every day provides the cells rebuilding our bodies and spirits – for better or worse. Based on my own experience healing from trauma, as well as extensive training as a holistic nutritionist, I’ve seen eating a mostly plant-forward whole-food diet do wonders. Filling up on organic vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds provides the essential compounds for self-repair.
Committing to primarily unprocessed plant foods delivers vital inflammation-quelling, hormone-harmonizing nutrients while avoiding gut-disrupting additives. If choosing to incorporate animal products, select high-quality, ethically sourced options.
Filling up on vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, gives cells the tools for self-repair. These foods brim with phytonutrients that help inflammation subside, providing the body optimum fuel and balance hormones. Ditching packaged foods ensures beneficial fiber while avoiding immune-provoking additives.
When we choose real, fresh nourishment daily, our biochemistry lightens– easing symptoms of nutritional deficiency and toxicity. With clearer minds and healthier emotions, we gain the bandwidth to release old wounds, retrain natural relaxation responses, and unlock long-buried joy and creativity.
Gut Health and Trauma
There is also an important gut-brain connection. Since much of our serotonin (stabilizing neurotransmitter) lives in the digestive tract, intestinal health powerfully influences feelings of safety and calm. Those with trauma often struggle with GI symptoms like bloating, cramping, constipation, and leaky gut. Healing the gut lining with restorative foods returns us to equilibrium.
With clearer minds and healthier emotions achieved through diet upgrades, we gain the bandwidth to release old wounds, retrain natural relaxation responses, and unlock long-buried joy and creativity.
The Healing Power of Movement
It saddens me that for many, appearance is the only motivator for exercise, while the immense mental and emotional benefits get overlooked. Movement helps release stored trauma and trapped emotions in the body, cultivate embodiment and self-trust, elevate mood, and reduce anxiety and depression.
As a holistic health coach, I always recommend finding enjoyable forms of motion that reconnect us with the body’s innate wisdom – whether that’s yoga, gentle stretching, walking in nature, ecstatic dance, or qigong. No need to “power through pain” with aggressive workouts. Instead, notice what brings you vitality and peace and helps regulate the nervous system.
I know it’s not easy. Trauma survivors often feel disconnected from their bodies, channeling past injuries into relentless performance. Meet any challenges with compassion. Note what old stories surface, communicate with your inner world, and then offer yourself the same gentleness you’d give a dear friend. Keep returning to nourishing movement. From small, consistent actions, incredible healing unfolds.
Integrative Movement Methods
Many body-focused practices effectively address both mental and physical aspects to heal trauma in an integrated way. Trauma-informed yoga provides emotional release alongside physical exercise. Somatic therapy carefully accesses bodily sensations like tension to guide the healing process. Dance therapy helps free trapped emotions through nonverbal expression. Rather than overriding signals from within, these modalities meet us where we’re at.
Time in Nature Enhances Embodiment
Spending time outdoors enhances the benefits of body-centered modalities. Just 20 minutes in natural settings shift nervous system activation from fight-or-flight to grounded presence by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension from chronic stress.
Whether walking outdoors, gardening, or sitting under a tree, regular nature time releases stress hormones, easing anxiety, depressive thoughts, and trauma symptoms. Here we remember our unbreakable belonging.
Therapeutic Approaches for Healing Trauma
When it comes to healing the lingering impacts of trauma, we are fortunate to have more options than ever. Beyond coping with symptoms, many therapies now help us target the root causes imprinted on the nervous system and unlock our innate capacity for joy, trust, and inner peace.
While some medication plays an important role in managing anxiety, depression, and sleep issues post-trauma, talk therapy by itself comes up short of rewiring the brain and body. Integrative approaches address this.
Somatic Experiencing works directly with uncomfortable sensations – tightness, pain, numbness – using mindfulness techniques to bring awareness to stored tension. By gently helping people “befriend” these places, nerve pathways open to release and reprocess old trauma. Sufferers reconnect with inner strength instead of just reliving fear-based memories.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
A few years ago, I learned about EMDR when a licensed clinical therapist friend shared her incredible success rates in helping patients overcome severe PTSD using this method. Many suffering intensely from past war trauma, assaults, and accidents reported great relief from symptoms after EMDR.
EMDR employs bilateral stimulation through eye movement, taps, or sounds to activate frozen traumatic memories from a detached state. Guiding our focus away from reliving distress, these dual attentions enable the brain to finally process and reintegrate memories healthfully so triggers lose their sting.
Controlled studies confirm that EMDR rapidly reduces distress linked to vivid memories without requiring exhaustive emotional processing. This allows patients to remember without re-traumatization. Lasting symptom relief often continues well beyond EMDR sessions as traumatic flashbacks decrease in frequency and intensity.
After learning about evidence showing how powerfully EMDR can terminate a traumatic memory stronghold through neural rewiring, I better understood my friend’s high recovery rates even among those enduring PTSD for years.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive therapy works by carefully analyzing thought patterns that have emerged from trauma exposure. When we experience something overwhelming or violating, it often plants irrational beliefs deep in our minds, like, “This happened because I’m worthless” or “I’ll never feel safe in the world again.” A skilled therapist asks probing yet gentle questions to help bring these troubling assumed truths to light.
Together, we then dismantle the harsh judgments we’ve unconsciously placed on ourselves over the years. This allows us to truly acknowledge the ways we endured harm without the distortion of self-blame or feeling forever broken. We can grieve losses mindfully while shedding the cloak of victimhood. Unfair burdens lift as we better understand how trauma shapes beliefs about who we are at our core. While difficult, befriending our minds through this compassionate investigation allows much more spacious perspectives to take root so we can again trust in our strength and intrinsic value.
Family & Community Systems Therapy
By treating family groups together, therapists identify relationship dynamics unconsciously rooted in one member’s trauma responses. All participate in treatment plans that strengthen communication, attachment, and boundary-setting. Especially helpful for child survivors, this empowers the unit to become part of the healing process.
Interacting with wilderness and animals activates self-soothing neural pathways impaired by trauma. Activities like equine therapy, horticulture, forest bathing, and animal-assisted interventions boost oxytocin, endorphins, and confidence through metaphorical lessons that trauma recovery is possible. Most can complement clinical approaches.
Therapies for Complex Trauma
Those with prolonged abuse require phase-based therapies to gradually build coping resources, desensitize them to triggers, and process pieces of their past one digestible step at a time. This prevents feeling overwhelmed when painful memories get unearthed. Therapists first stabilize functioning day-to-day before carefully addressing trauma itself.
Breaking Free From Traumatic Experiences
With empathy, skill, and resilience flowing through so many trauma healing modalities, survivors can feel hopeful. In time we can all access our birthright of safety, joy, and trust once more.
As we’ve explored, trauma leaves its residual mark not just emotionally but physically throughout the nervous system and body. Its symptoms manifest as chronic issues when imprints get trapped internally over the years.
Yet, as science reveals trauma’s tangible roots woven through physiology, equally hopeful research shows our bodies’ innate capacity for releasing and unwinding old patterns. Through somatic practices and holistic lifestyle medicine, we rediscover well-being waiting underneath long-held burdens.
While reconnecting with wholeness requires a commitment to courageously face ingrained beliefs, blockade defensive walls, and unearth repressed pains – we must remember our spirit’s profound longing for freedom equally matches trauma’s tenacious grip.
With compassionate support, intention, and patience rooted in self-love, liberation from the past gives way to renewed vitality in the present. Our birthright lives inside, ready for reclaiming once we choose healing whole.