The Physical Effects of PTSD—What You Need to Know
After going through a traumatic experience, you might struggle with your mental health. But you may also notice that you’re feeling physically under the weather.
Someone who suffers from PTSD might deal with anxiety, depression, painful flashbacks, and mood swings, and navigating the recovery process becomes even more challenging when you’re also dealing with headaches, sleep disruptions, and frequent illnesses.
PTSD leads to these physical symptoms because undergoing trauma shrinks your “window of tolerance.” When you feel you can easily cope with the stressors in your life, you’re within your window of tolerance.
But after living through a traumatic event, any given stressor is more likely to disrupt your emotional wellbeing. Encountering stress or pressure can send you into a state of hyperarousal, leaving you anxious and angry, or a state of hypoarousal—causing you to feel numb and disconnected from your surroundings. You can readd more about this here.
Here are a few physical symptoms you might encounter, why they occur, and how to manage them.
Hyperarousal can completely throw off your sleep schedule. If you experience flashbacks or nightmares related to the trauma you’ve experienced, your brain reacts as if you were reliving the events.
And if you’re in fight-or-flight mode, it’s practically impossible to sleep soundly. Avoiding any potential triggers and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help you fall asleep.
When you’re in a state of hypoarousal, you might experience headaches regularly. You feel you can’t concentrate, and you might feel overwhelmed by your surroundings.
Furthermore, a lack of sleep can contribute to these headaches. Some simple lifestyle changes can help you reduce these headaches. For instance, screen time can exacerbate headaches, so you could try powering down your devices for a period of time each day and going for a relaxing walk instead.
By making efforts to eliminate various sources of stress, you might notice fewer headaches.
Gastrointestinal issues can result from either hyperarousal or hypoarousal. When your body enters the fight-or-flight state, your appetite might be suppressed. Or, you might struggle with nausea and heartburn because the muscles of your digestive system are responding to stress.
To avoid irritating your digestive system, try choosing simple, healthy foods that require little prep. Remember, alcohol, caffeine, and foods with high sugar or fat content can irritate your system.
Minor inflammation is a protective response from your body. When you’re hyperaroused, your body releases cortisol to give you the energy and motivation to respond to the stressor, which leads to temporary inflammation.
But when you’re reliving your trauma, your body is stuck in a state of chronic stress. Then, this protective mechanism can become harmful. The continuous presence of cortisol leads to chronic inflammation, which can raise your risk of common diseases.
For relief, find healthy ways to relax, from writing in a journal to reading a book you can get lost in.
If you think that you’re getting sick more often than you used to, you’re not imagining things. Stress hormones can suppress the effectiveness of your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses like the common cold or the flu. Inflammation in the body lowers your immunity. And it can be difficult to break out of this cycle.
A lack of sleep due to PTSD can make you more likely to get sick and getting sick makes it harder to stick with healthy habits that might boost your immune system. You may want to reach out to your doctor for advice while making small lifestyle changes, like incorporating more Vitamin C into your diet.
Is your mental and physical health suffering because of PTSD? EMDR therapy can help you heal after a traumatic event. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.