Individuals exposed to traumatic events may experience shock, guilt, anger, anxiety, feelings of disconnection, difficulty concentrating, and a range of other effects. These can come with physical symptoms like increased heart rate, fatigue, aches, and muscle tension.
These symptoms may be part of an immediate reaction to a traumatic event, and they can also have lasting effects
on how our brains develop, which can impact our physical and mental health for the rest of our lives.
This is due to the fact that our brains are always creating new neural pathways to retain and use new information—a concept called neuroplasticity
. Trauma can alter our brains, and those living with it are susceptible to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and addiction.
However, neuroplasticity works both ways. Our brains are also capable of changing for the better when provided with effective therapy and treatment.
Today, researchers and psychologists are exploring how our brains’ physiology can be studied to diagnose and create treatment plans for mental conditions and disorders in an emerging field called neurocounseling.
One particular focus of counselors in this field is to train clients on self-regulation of their emotional and physiological states—a particularly valuable skill set for those coping with trauma.
While neurocounseling techniques like neurofeedback
can train clients to self-regulate, there are plenty of accessible strategies for helping clients gain coping skills, including:
Recognize maladaptive responses
When faced with trauma and its effects, it’s natural for individuals to direct their attention in ways that inadvertently exacerbate their emotions. Worrying over a traumatic event, mentally replaying an incident, and being physically or emotionally provoked by triggers, stressors, memories, and new traumas are all associated with depression, anxiety disorders, and behavioral problems. Additionally, attempting to suppress thoughts can be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. One way to help someone redirect the effects of trauma is to help them build skills in emotional acceptance
Those who experience trauma sometimes have difficulty identifying their emotions, and even more difficulty controlling them when intense emotions do arise. Some healthy coping mechanisms include self-soothing, seeking support in social settings, and expressive writing. A person living with trauma can also benefit by seeking positive emotions through scheduling enjoyable activities daily instead of withdrawing from others to avoid emotion. Read more about these coping strategies in this guide
by Dr. Matthew Tull, an expert on PTSD.
Try mindfulness meditation
In mindfulness meditation, participants enter a relaxed state by focusing on their breathing
while training their minds to avoid distraction. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation has helped those with PTSD in particular, resulting in the practice by the US Marine Corps
. After 8 weeks of meditating for just 15 minutes a day, soldiers reported reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
Additionally, mindfulness meditation can help children who live with trauma and who have emotional and behavioral issues. Initial data from the Five Acres School in Altadena, CA shows 45% fewer behavioral problems
for students who participate in a mindfulness program at the school.
While trauma can leave a lasting impression, it can be comforting to know that self-regulation and treatment can produce change for the better. While overcoming trauma can be painful, treatment may become easier as fields such as neurocounseling grow.
For more on neurocounseling and how it’s being used to help people with trauma and other conditions, check out this infographic from Bradley University
Tim Wayne is a contributor to healthcare and education blogs. With an interest in health and psychology, Tim writes on behalf of organizations including Bradley University Online, whose in-house and online counseling programs specialize in neurocounseling and brain-based intervention courses.