How Exercise Helps Your Brain Heal after Trauma

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Traumatic experiences change you for the rest of your life. While a common notion is that these changes are only negative, this is not true.

Trauma can be painful, leaving you feeling hopeless and out of control. In the midst of a traumatic experience, your body’s senses heighten. If left unresolved, they get “stuck” in this heightened state.

Like a broken record, your body and mind attempt to move forward in life while your general senses remain stuck within the trauma memory. This creates tremendous imbalance and can produce significant friction in your life.

The trauma may have occurred during a motor vehicle accident, a surgery procedure, or even because of an illness. In searching for a reprieve from the scars of trauma, your body and mind must make a connection. In short, each of your senses must interact and work in unison to get you “unstuck.”

Getting to know yourself as a multidimensional and interactive being is a valuable life affirming healing process in of itself. As you come to know yourself, what follows is a deeper understanding of the interaction between your body, mind and spirit. Thus, increasing the quality and richness of your life.

Furthermore, this subtle form of communication and integration of your body, mind and spirit can lead to significant improvement in your personal well-being and resilience.

Understanding Your Body

Trauma is often referred to as the brain and body’s normal response to an abnormal event. Your body and brain respond with muscle tension, pain, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating.

Your emotions react to these events with extreme fear, anger, anxiety, or disbelief.Connecting your bodily responses to your emotional responses can prove difficult, but it is an essential step in the healing process. A professional can help you make the necessary connection.

How Exercise Can Help:

Exercise is a fundamental way to open the lines of communication between body and mind. It’s imperative to understand that we humans hold and experience the effects of trauma in our bodies. No matter the details of the trauma, your body will unabashedly display your traumatic experience.

It has been well documented that regular exercise is associated with a host of health benefits. Regular exercise has positive effects on all bodily functions including blood flow and blood vessels. Capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in the human body, are responsible for transporting nutrients and wastes to and from your body's tissues.

Creates More Blood Vessels In The Brain

Exercise stimulates the growth and diameter of blood vessels in all parts of the body, including the brain.

This is done through the process of angiogenesis, the sprouting of new capillaries from preexisting blood vessels and arteriogenesis the increasing in diameter of collateral (neighboring) vessels.  This is especially important after an injury to the brain.

New blood vessels support growth and improvement in the brain including both physical and cognitive functions. Not only does this aid in the healing process to your brain, but it’s good for your entire body, as well.

Boosts Neuroplasticity

Cardiovascular exercise causes significant biochemical changes in the brain. It enhances neuroplasticity with the development of synaptic connections and neuronal networks. This is because your brain thrives with a steady stream of blood flow. It is an important part of brain recovery following a traumatic brain injury.

Burns Adrenaline and Releases Endorphins

When you experience a traumatic event or injury, your brain and body get “stuck” in a heightened sensory state or hyper-arousal. After the event has passed and you’ve entered a recovery period, your body may still remain in this disturbed state.

Exercise helps your nervous system restore balance by burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins through movement. Endorphins help combat situational depression that may develop as a result of the traumatic event.

In other words, lowering your adrenaline levels helps balance and clarify communications to your body and endorphins boost energy, stamina, and a “feel good” mood so that you’re no longer feeling and acting like you are in a life-threatening situation.

Serves As A Distraction

After a traumatic experience, healing can often be the watched pot that never seems to boil. Feeling frustrated about the speed of healing is common enough. If you’re experiencing this uneasiness, take comfort in the distraction of exercise.

While it may seem too simple an idea, exercise is undoubtedly successful in terms of a healing aid. The art of distraction is woven into mindful awareness of your body.

Pay special attention to the way exercise feels. Listen to your breathing as you focus on the inhale and exhale or your muscles as they glide and stretch.

As you attend to the interaction between your mind and body, you will begin to experience healing. While exercise is undeniably good for the body, it’s also beneficial to your brain recovery and sense of well-being.

Restoring Resilience to your Nervous System

After trauma, your nervous system is completely out of whack and your sense of resilience is compromised. Exercise can help you and your nervous system restore or develop for the first time a sense of “I can”.

An “I can” attitude is one in which you know you can manage situations that may have felt overwhelming, or triggering, immediately following the traumatic incident.  Regular exercise teaches your nervous system how to be more flexible and rebound from activation sooner.

What kind and how much exercise is the right amount?

A good rule of thumb is to start out slow, with low intensity and gradually build up to your full capacity. Aerobic exercise is especially good for restoring health. Low impact activities are preferable to high impact, unless you were engaged in regular high impact activities prior to the incident.

Strength training, balance training, flexibility exercises, and mindfulness activities are all important for different reasons. Starting out 2-3 times a week is a good place to start, with the intention to slowly work up to 5 times a week.

Reach out for the support of a professional who can help you with all of the exercise you need to recovery from trauma.