Psychological trauma and stress cause various changes in many organ systems of the body, such as the musculoskeletal system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, reproductive system, and the nervous system. Our immune system is also affected, and chronic inflammation may occur.
The physiologic changes that occur as a result of traumatic or highly stressful experiences allow us to survive and deal with the event. The trouble arises, however, when our body continues to respond as if it is still under threat, even after the experience has passed. Often people think their own “trauma” is not worthy of the label, but situations in which a person feels a lack of control, helpless, unsafe, or ashamed, earn the term.
People who have experienced trauma are more likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia. Somatization may also occur, which is when a person develops physical manifestations of their psychological distress. A person with these very real physical symptoms may end up with even more stress when they have encounters with providers who invalidate their experiences.
Psychological distress is mentally draining. When a person’s mental energy is trapped in their unprocessed trauma and stress, there is no room for remembering why they walked into that room, or what their friend just told them on the phone. This lack of mindfulness can create very frightening symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s disease.
A comprehensive evaluation of memory loss includes a review of a person’s mood, stress, and trauma, to help clarify if the symptoms are due to these conditions rather than a neurodegenerative disease. Cognitive symptoms due to a lack of mindfulness may be reversible with proper psychological therapy, mind-body practices, and mindfulness practices, such as meditation.
References and Resources
- Liu, YZ, Wang, YX, & Jiang, CL. (2017). Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Front Hum Neurosci, 11, 316. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316