The Nervous System On Trauma


According to Merck Manuals the autonomic nervous system regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing that work without conscious effort.


Fear, Anxiety, Flashback, Guilt, and Sadness are often common reactions when one has experienced a traumatic event.  These emotions are normal and mean one thing your nervous system is working perfectly fine. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a significant role in our emotional and physiological responses to stress and trauma. On a regular day, the nervous system regulates a stress and calming response. When stress arises we begin to operate in fight or flight response mode. The fight or flight response describes our instinct to protect ourselves or run until we reach safety.

Daily incidents when these functions may be exhibited:

Fight Mode:

  • Being stuck in traffic while running late for work
  • Forgetting to study for a test
  • An argument with a loved one or friend

Flight Response Mode:

  • Arriving to work 10 minutes early
  • Being told it’s going to be an open-notes test.
  • When the argument is resolved

When a traumatic event happens it pushes the nervous system past its ability to self-regulate. When the system is pushed past its limit the nervous system can get stuck in fight (on) or flight mode (off). When the nervous system has un-discharged stress and is stuck in “Off Mode” this is where individuals experience things such as exhaustion, depression, and withdrawal. When the system is stuck in “On Mode” individuals experience things such as anxiety, panic, hyperactivity, and anger.

Trauma is something that can affect us internally, physically, and psychologically. Understanding it’s affect on our nervous system can help others recognize signs, as well as seek the proper assistance when a traumatic incident is taking place.

If you have experienced a traumatic event seeking professional help to assist with discharging the traumatic stress is strongly advised.

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