Trauma, toxic stress and PTSD are not the same thing.

A traumatic event is time based, and often over time your body regulates itself back to homeostasis and you move on with your life.

Conversely, PTSD is a longer-term condition that results in flashbacks and the re-experiencing of an event as if it were still happening. Not everyone suffers from PTSD, but many of us have sustained smaller traumas, setting us up for being continually shoved out of the present moment into a frightening, helpless past. What makes a negative life event traumatizing isn’t the life-threatening nature of the event, but rather the degree of helplessness it engenders and one’s history of prior trauma. In inter-generational trauma, research has shown the link between highly-traumatised people and their children who can be subject to PTSD.

Toxic stress and chronic Trauma can often look and feel similar, but they are physiologically different. For instance, chronic neglect, economic hardship, unemployment etc are examples that create toxic stress, whereas Trauma is embodied, its an imprint of an event on our brain and body.

It’s when we can’t regulate a strong emotional response. Your amygdala is on alert when a threat is perceived, triggering the stress hormone system and floods you with cortisol and adrenaline. Trauma locks you into a past event, hijacks your present, and keeps you stuck in the past.

“Long-lasting responses to trauma result not simply from the experience of fear and helplessness, but from how our bodies interpret those experiences.” —Rachel Yehuda, Professor of Psychiatry & Neuroscience.

Bad things happen but they don’t necessarily create trauma. Trauma can happen to anyone as we go through life, in small or big ways that can leave a biological imprint. Trauma is also a highly effective tool of safety and survival, but it works against your wellbeing – trauma experiences take a lot of one’s precious energy so it needs to be metabolised to free one up. It’ll stay stuck in your body until you deal with it. It affects one’s ability to problem solve, have difficulty relating to other people or to resolve old conflicts, or even form new attachments. Only in the here and now can we directly experience more peace and move ahead with our lives.

This is where an effective therapist, or even an art practice, is helpful to soften our hard edges, and slow us down enough to inquire into our hurts or fear. So if you’ve often felt helpless, angry or scared, or anything else that keeps you stuck, its a sign to explore some healing processes to convince your amygdala to “down regulate”, and open Pandora’s box to begin the healing process.

For over 20 years I’ve been integrating Somatic Experiencing and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) in sessions. Clients appreciate these gentle and empowering interventions, and find them more effective than CBT, a narrative approach or traditional talk therapy.