The Impact of Trauma On the Body

When animals are faced with a life-threatening situation, their bodies experience a flood of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline that throw their bodies temporarily out of whack. Once the threat has passed, their bodies discharge the survival stress energy in the form of shaking or stretching, allowing them to move on with their lives as if nothing ever happened.

For us humans, it’s not so simple. After stressful events—whether it’s a single event or cumulative mini traumas—our bodies often do not have ways to effectively clear the arousal chemicals produced. This residual energy tends to be stored in our bodies and can result in PTSD, depression, anxiety, muscle aches and pains, insomnia, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues.

In his revolutionary book, The Body Keeps the Score, trauma therapist and researcher Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk draws on 30 years of experience to argue that trauma is one of the West’s most urgent public health issues. He explains how its stressful impact can predispose us to everything from diabetes to heart disease, and maybe even cancer.

Van Der Kolk and other innovative researchers say that while traditional “talk therapy” may be helpful to a degree, working with the body to locate the source of the trauma and having a way to release it safely is the key to lasting resolution of the psychological and physiological effects of trauma.

Shelly M. Smith is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, and life coach, specializing in body-centered approaches. She works with individuals and couples at Heaven On Earth Farm in Pickens, SC. Please visit her at or call 864-933-8000 for more information.