From the loss of a loved one to a breakup, or sometimes even worse, we have all experienced trauma in one way or the other. Trauma is part of the human experience, and our brain is actually well-equipped to deal with such situations.
The human brain has a tiny area, called the Amygdala, which has the sole purpose to detect threats and danger. When it is activated at the time of danger, it shuts down the other areas of the brain responsible for logic or rationality, as they may interfere with the survival process. When faced with a threat, the brain can potentially cause three subsequent reactions; fight, flight, or freeze.
According to clinical psychologist, neuroscientist, and trauma expert, Dr. Jennifer Sweeton, when someone faces trauma, there can be lasting effects on this “fear center” area of the brain. The amygdala often becomes hyperactivated long after the trauma-inducing threat is gone, raising guards even when nothing dangerous is happening. This results in the trauma sufferer feeling extra vigilant and jumpy.
Along with a chronically overactive amygdala, unresolved trauma can make other areas of the brain, like the insula, essentially go dormant. The insula is a brain structure that allows a person to feel internal emotions. When the amygdala becomes hyperactive after a trauma, the insula tends to switch off, making it hard to pay attention, keep track of emotions, and manage relationships.
Exposure to a traumatic event can also make the Prefrontal Cortex of the brain underactive, causing the trauma sufferer to lose focus and experience difficulty connecting to self and others. These are all physical brain changes that can occur after a traumatic experience which require a specialist’s attention to assist in healing and recovery.
Dr. Jennifer Sweeton is a clinical psychologist and world renowned trauma specialist. She owns a private practice in the Kansas City area where she helps therapy clients struggling with trauma symptoms and PTSD. She also coaches high-achieving professionals to help them optimize their brain functioning toward improving their work performance, relationships, and overall health profile. Currently pursuing a law degree, she plans to build on her expertise by expanding into an advocacy role where she can further decrease the impact of trauma on the communities she serves.