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6 Holistic Ways Proven To Help Heal Trauma DamageTrauma can leave a deep imprint on your mind and body and affect literally every aspect of your life.

While certain therapies are proven to help heal trauma, like cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, and neurofeedback, holistic approaches are gaining scientific validation for their effectiveness in promoting recovery as well. Holistic methods consider the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — to foster healing from multiple angles integrating all systems.

What Exactly Is Trauma?

You don’t have to be a war veteran or the victim of physical abuse to experience trauma. Unfortunately, many common events in “normal” life can be traumatizing. For example, trauma can result from being in a car accident, having an illness, injury, or even surgery, losing a loved one or pet, experiencing poverty, bullying, or rejection, going through or being the child of a divorce, and so much more. The list goes on and on.

The article, “The Science of Bouncing Back From Trauma,” states:

…trauma needn’t threaten life or health, nor cause post-traumatic stress disorder. But it must make you question your bedrock assumptions, such as that the world is fair, that terrible things do not befall good people, that there are limits to humans’ capacity for inhumanity, that things will always work out, or that the old die before the young. By that definition, few of us make it through this life without experiencing trauma.”

As far as I’m concerned, the only question that matters is, “Was it traumatic for you?” What’s traumatic for one person may not be for another and vice versa. It depends on your brain and your ability to cope.

Trauma Changes Your Brain

Trauma can actually alter the function of your brain during a stressful event and result in lasting changes in certain brain regions. These changes can impair cognitive function and memory encoding and recall in the traumaatic moment and the future. Trauma primarily affects three areas of the brain — the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.

Specifically:

Your Thinking Brain Function Decreases

In states of extreme stress, fear, or terror, your prefrontal cortex (PFC) becomes impaired. The PFC is the part of your brain that performs complex, intelligent thinking. A surge of stress chemicals basically shuts it down. Chronic stress or trauma can decrease the overall functioning of this area. The result can be problems with attention, awareness, decision-making, reasoning, impulsivity, controlling emotions, and the ability to regulate the stress response and your behavior.

Your Brain’s Fear Center Becomes Hypersensitive

Your amygdala acts as your brain’s threat radar. When the amygdala sounds the alarm, your body responds with an almost instantaneous sequence of hormonal and physiological changes preparing you to fight for your life or flee.  After trauma, as in the case of PTSD, the amygdala can become hypersensitive, reacting to every little thing it sees as a potential threat and continually flooding your system with stress hormones. Over time, this has serious negative effects on your brain and body.

Trauma Impairs Your Memory

Activation of your brain’s fear circuitry also impairs the functioning of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. The hippocampus encodes experiences into short-term memory and later processes them as long-term memories. Fear interferes with the ability of the hippocampus to encode and store “contextual information,” like the specific details of an experience. So, trauma can diminish your memory.

6 Holistic Ways Proven To Help Heal Trauma Damage

Six Holistic Methods Proven to Heal Trauma

Healing a traumatized brain takes effort, repetition, and time, but it most definitely is possible. Just as human brains are biologically equipped with mechanisms to deal with threatening situations, they are also capable of re-establishing normal operations and sustaining a state of calm, security, and contentment. Research has confirmed many ways to help your brain process and heal trauma, from formal therapies to holistic practices.

In the book, HEAL! How to Heal and Become the True You, Randall S. Hansen, PH.D. introduces what he calls “The Healing Wheel: Six Elements of Healing.” He promotes holistic and wholeistic healing — meaning natural ways to heal the whole person, including mental, physical, and spiritual. Hansen writes:

This concept is not new…  This approach is also similar to the Ayurveda, a medical science that dates back to more than 5000 years… [I]t stresses a holistic perspective of treating people as ONE system — that emotional health is not separate from physical health; that these two systems are one.”

Below are six elements of healing trauma according to Hansen:

1. Psychedelics

Recent research confirms the success of psychedelics for trauma recovery. Substances like psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDMA, and ayahuasca show real promise in treating conditions, such as PTSD. Psychedelics can facilitate deep introspection, emotional release, and a sense of connection to a larger reality, which can be pivotal in processing and integrating traumatic experiences. Using psychadelics in clinical settings under professional guidance can ensure safe and beneficial experiences, help individuals unlock suppressed memories and emotions, and pave the way for significant healing.

Hansen points out that all psychadelics are still legally classified as Schedule I controlled substances. This is the strictest level — the same as heroine. This classification defines a substance as having no medical use and being highly addictive. The science overwhelmingly says otherwise.

Hansen tells us that:

By 1965, there were more than 2,000 published articles involving more than 40,000 patients that noted positive effects with various psychadelics. Much was lost due to the War on Drugs and the scheduling of these medicines as illegal.”

2. Spirituality: Prayer/Meditation/Mindfulness

Spiritual practices can offer solace and a sense of purpose and be essential components in an individual’s healing journey. Whether through organized religion, meditation, or personal spiritual practices, connecting with a higher power or inner self can provide comfort and meaning. Practices such as mindfulness meditation, prayer, and rituals can help trauma survivors find inner peace, acceptance, and a renewed sense of  wellness. Spirituality often offers a framework for understanding suffering, which can be transformative for people who have experienced trauma.

Hansen writes:

Spirituality and its related practices can be quite a positive force for healing, especially at a time when so many of us feel disconnected from the people and world around us… Spirituality is one part of the mind-body connection, and it may be the most foundational part of who we are… According to researchers Matt Snapp and Lisa Hare, there is substantial evidence that spiritual well-being is an important determinant of overall health, longevity, and quality of life.”

6 Holistic Ways Proven To Help Heal Trauma Damage

3. Somatic/Body Work

In addition to traumatic memories, trauma is also stored in the body. Somatic therapies focus on releasing physical tension and trauma held in the body. Techniques such as somatic experiencing, massage therapy, yoga, and Tai Chi encourage people to become aware of their bodily sensations and to release tension and trauma through movement and touch. These practices help to restore a sense of safety, grounding, and bodily autonomy, making them powerful tools to heal trauma.

Hansen tells us:

There are two key elements within this healing modality — specific body movements to help promote healing and the daily exercise that is important to maintain good health and stimulate healing.”

4. Breathwork

Breathwork is a powerful tool to heal trauma. It involves utilizing controlled breathing techniques to influence the body’s stress response and promote relaxation. Your breath is literally a remote control for your nervous system. When you change your breathing, you instantly alter your nervous system. Practices such as deep diaphragmatic breathing, holotropic breathwork, and pranayama (yogic breathing) can:

  • regulate the nervous system,
  • reduce anxiety and stress,
  • lower the heart rate and blood pressure
  • increase brain growth,
  • alter gene expression, and
  • release pent-up emotions.

Breathwork sessions often lead to profound emotional releases and insights, helping individuals process and integrate traumatic experiences in a safe and controlled manner. Hansen says,

Breathwork is probably the most undervalued and underutilized tool for dealing with trauma. More and more people are using this technique for improving physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.” 

6 Holistic Ways Proven To Help Heal Trauma Damage

5. Nature

The healing power of nature is profound and scientifically proven. Nature therapy, or ecotherapy, involves spending time in natural settings to promote healing and well-being. Activities like hiking, forest bathing, gardening, and spending time near water bodies can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Nature provides a calming environment that can help regulate emotions, reduce hyperarousal, and promote a sense of peace and connectedness. The simplicity and beauty of the natural world can offer a respite from the complexities of trauma residue.

In his book, Hansen shares a “Fun Fact”:

Phytonicides are substances released by trees (and other plants) … [They] play an important role in plant immunity… The theory is that as people walk in the forest, they inhale phytoncides from trees which increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells… NK cells are a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is associated with a lower risk of cancer.” 

6. Nutrition

Proper nutrition plays an important role in mental health and trauma recovery. A nutrient-rich diet supports brain function and emotional well-being. Nutrients supporting brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants are particularly beneficial for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eating a diet full of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, can help stabilize mood and energy levels, encourage overall mental health. Additionally, avoiding processed foods and sugar can reduce inflammation and improve cognitive function, further aiding the healing process.

Hansen is correct when he writes, “Many of us are literally eating ourselves to death!” The standard American diet and the “foods” we consume today contribute to obesity, Type II diabetes, cardiovascular and coronorary artery disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and much more. Hansen shares a sobering quote by Dr. David Katz:

Today’s children are MORE at risk from poor nutrition than they are from drugs, alcohol, and tobocco COMBINED.”

For your brain to heal trauma and function optimally, you have to support and nourish it with the right foods. Food can literally be medicine.

Conclusion

Integrating healthy, holistic approaches into your life can provide a comprehensive path to heal trauma. And you will improve almost every other aspect of your health while you are at it too. Each element listed above addresses a different facet of mental health, offering a multi-dimensional approach to heal trauma.

While it’s essential to seek professional guidance when necessary, incorporating these practices will significantly contribute to and help sustain your journey towards well-being and wholeness. By nurturing your mind, body, and spirit, you can pave the way for lasting recovery from trauma.

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1 Comment

  1. I am happy that Randall S. Hansen has addressed the human experience as a wholistic system that needs to heal….not just brain or just body. In my practice over the years I’ve seen that only one way to heal trauma does not work. The need to address every aspect of the human expereince in neccessary for true healing to take place.

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