The Connections Between Trauma and Adult Anxiety

A woman suffering from trauma leading to the connection of her anxiety disorder.

The experiences of trauma can trigger anxiety and depression.  Everyone responds to trauma differently, and anxiety is likely to develop from a complex set of risk factors including personality, brain chemistry, and life events, especially trauma.  The neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are believed to be connected to anxiety disorders and mood. These neurotransmitters regulate various body functions and emotions, and are highly impacted by cortisol, which is the stress hormone produced in reaction to trauma.  

Physical, emotional, or psychological trauma can be sorted into Little t and Big T trauma, depending on the severity and length of time of trauma.  A one time event like an accident, natural disaster, mugging, being chewed out by a boss or influential person, or a significant one time health problem can be classified as Little t trauma.  Repetitive traumatic events like childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, or ongoing trauma experienced by first responders or ER personnel, can be classified as Big T trauma, and can lead to actual changes in the structure of the brain and in neurotransmitter communication.

Dysregulation of this system caused by physical or psychological trauma can lead to symptoms like:

  • Persistent anxiety or worrying that is out of proportion to the events
  • Perceiving events and situations as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Inability to relax, feeling keyed up or on edge, or feeling restless
  • Feeling constantly on guard
  • Repetitive dreams or memories of traumatic events, leading to distress
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol to try to manage negative emotions
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling like your mind goes blank, numbness  
  • Overthinking solutions and plans for all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Difficulty managing uncertainty, or fear of making the wrong decision
  • Extreme sadness and crying, negativity, disinterest, or irritability  
  • Inability to let go or set aside a worry

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension leading to muscle aches
  • Feeling shaky or twitchy
  • Being easily startled or nervous
  • Nausea, diarrhea or ongoing irritable bowel syndrome

Even when your worries don’t completely consume you, you may still feel anxious even when there’s no obvious reason. For example, you may have a general sense that something bad is about to happen, or you may feel intense worry about your safety or that of your loved ones.  Your worry, anxiety, or physical symptoms can cause you significant distress in areas of your life like work, family, and social interactions. Worries can move from one concern to another, and time and age can lead to changes.

The neurobiological reactions to ongoing trauma, based on MRI exams in a study done by Liao, et. al., revealed an increased gray matter of a pathological nature.  The study indicated that abnormalities in cortical/subcortical interactions can lead to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This pathological involvement and increase of gray matter in the brain are thought to be directly connected to GAD. The amygdala and thalamus play an important role in the transmitting, interpretation and coding of fear, emotions, and filtering of emotional regulation.

Healing from trauma is possible, and the symptoms of GAD can be reduced by effective intervention. “The amygdala can learn to relax; the hippocampus can resume proper memory consolidation; the nervous system can recommence its easy flow between reactive and restorative modes. The key to achieving a state of neutrality and then healing lies in helping to reprogram the body and mind” (Rosenthal, 2019).

Effective intervention can be accomplished in the intensive, impactful treatment settings found in licensed, innovative, and qualified Residential Treatment Centers.  Highly trained and experienced staff who are empathetic and respectful can use many different modalities to decrease physiological and psychological reactions to trauma and help heal the brain.

How Do You Overcome Anxiety And Trauma? Modalities To Reduce Anxiety And Trauma Reactions

Healing the brain from trauma is more possible now than ever before due to rapidly advancing technology and clinical expertise.  Relieve your trauma symptoms quickly and effectively by seeking treatment at a facility that can help you with this process.

Corner Canyon Recovery specializes in scientific-based methods to help you overcome past traumatic experiences and help you deal with anxiety. Talk to one of our specialists for help and information on admission into our treatment center!