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Bookshelf Therapy: The Link Between Mental Health and Physical Well-being



Hey there! Welcome to our cool new blog series called Bookshelf Therapy where we tackle mental health questions inspired by books we've read. Basically, we'll pick a book, chat about a mental health topic using it as a guide, and drop some wisdom from the author. Sounds interesting, right?


In this post we'll delve into insights from The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk.


The Body Keeps the Score

In a fast-paced world where stressors abound, it's crucial to understand the intricate connection between our mental and physical health. "


The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk sheds light on how unresolved trauma can manifest physically, impacting our overall well-being. Drawing on more than thirty years at the forefront of research and clinical practice, Bessel van der Kolk shows that the terror and isolation at the core of trauma literally reshape both brain and body. New insights into our survival instincts explain why traumatized people experience incomprehensible anxiety and numbing and intolerable rage, and how trauma affects their capacity to concentrate, to remember, to form trusting relationships, and even to feel at home in their own bodies. Having lost the sense of control of themselves and frustrated by failed therapies, they often fear that they are damaged beyond repair.


Let's delve into this important topic and explore how untreated mental health issues can affect our bodies.




Understanding the Mind-Body Connection


The title underscores the book’s central idea: Exposure the abuse and violence fosters the development of a hyperactive alarm system and molds a body that gets stuck in fight/flight, and freeze. Van der Kolk emphasizes that the brain and body are intricately connected, with trauma disrupting this connection. When we experience trauma, whether it's from childhood abuse, combat, or other sources, our brain's response mechanisms can become dysregulated.


This dysregulation can lead to a range of physical symptoms, including chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, and autoimmune disorders.


“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Trauma interferes with the brain circuits that involve focusing, flexibility, and being able to stay in emotional control. A constant sense of danger and helplessness promotes the continuous secretion of stress hormones, which wreaks havoc with the immune system and the functioning of the body’s organs. Only making it safe for trauma victims to inhabit their bodies, and to tolerate feeling what they feel, and knowing what they know, can lead to lasting healing. This may involve a range of therapeutic interventions (one size never fits all), including various forms of trauma processing, neurofeedback, theater, meditation, play, and yoga.






The Effects of Unprocessed Trauma

Trauma that remains unprocessed doesn't just stay in the mind—it manifests in our bodies as well. As Dr. Kane likes to say, "whatever we don't process emotionally, we will process physically."


“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)”

The book highlights how unaddressed trauma can lead to a heightened stress response, triggering the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, this chronic stress can contribute to inflammation, weakened immune function, and cardiovascular problems.


Exploring Physical Symptoms of Trauma


Van der Kolk discusses various physical ailments that can stem from unresolved trauma. These include but are not limited to headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. By understanding how trauma manifests physically, individuals can better recognize the signs and seek appropriate treatment.


The Role of Therapy in Healing


Therapy plays a crucial role in addressing both the psychological and physical effects of trauma. Through modalities such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and somatic experiencing, individuals can process traumatic experiences and reestablish a healthier mind-body connection. These therapeutic approaches aim to regulate the nervous system, reduce hyperarousal, and promote healing from the inside out.


Holistic Approaches to Wellness


In addition to traditional therapy, holistic approaches can complement mental health treatment and promote overall well-being. Practices such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and acupuncture have shown promise in reducing stress and alleviating physical symptoms associated with trauma. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and prioritizing self-care are also essential components of a holistic approach to wellness.


Prioritizing Mental and Physical Health


"The Body Keeps the Score" underscores the importance of recognizing the interconnectedness of mental and physical health. By addressing unresolved trauma and prioritizing self-care, individuals can take proactive steps toward healing and reclaiming their overall well-being. Whether through therapy, holistic practices, or a combination of both, it's never too late to begin the journey toward mental and physical wellness. Remember, healing is possible, and you deserve to live a life filled with vitality and resilience.


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