When we hear the word “trauma,” we often think of 9/11 or chronic child abuse. However, common and frequent major life transitions and crises that we all experience can also become traumas. Trauma is anything that triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” instincts that kick into action numerous bodily responses such as a flood of adrenaline release so someone has the needed energy to physically fight or run away from the danger. It’s a natural response, but unless the after-effects are dealt with, the initial traumatic event can have a lasting effect.
Animals in the wild are routinely exposed to situations where they must “fight or flee,” but rarely experience the effects of PTSD because they are often able to complete the process of responding to the trauma. In other words, they really do fight or flee. Humans often create the PTSD response when we attempt to override our “fight or flight” instinct, either because we were trained to, or because we have no other option. For example, even a minor car accident can create the PTSD response. That rush of adrenaline was not used to respond to the event and just leaves one feeling “shaken up” but okay. However, now you may still feel that rush when you pass that intersection.
The body doesn’t care how a situation “looks” from the outside, if the fight or flight response starts up and isn’t completed, a PTSD response will be created. That’s why big traumas such as combat, assault, sexual trauma, or other abuse, can cause major PTSD symptoms for years. However, smaller traumas also have an impact.
Long-term effects of PSTD and trauma include sleep disturbances, flash-backs, a state of near-constant stress, anger, depression, anxiety, irritability, chronic pain and fatigue, and other symptoms. Professional massage has been shown to support recovery. Massage sessions show positive biochemistry changes such as reduced cortisol and increased serotonin and dopamine. The effect of this is a reduction in anxiety and feelings of danger. Even when a client is not experiencing effects of PTSD, human touch stimulates positive-feeling hormones in the body and starts the relaxation response. For a client with PTSD, long-held stress patterns can begin to dissolve.
It is important to find a trauma informed massage therapist. Feeling comfortable while someone is working on your body is important. A good-experience massage can feel nurturing, which is another potential source of healing Massage therapy can be used to promote a new habit of calm.
Robert Zakreski, LMT, LMSW
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