Post-Traumatic Stress

What is Trauma?

Trauma can be described as a psychosomatic response to extraordinary events that threaten your sense of security and make you feel out of control in the world. As a result, you may find it difficult to regulate your emotions and/or struggle with unprocessed physiological reactions such as muscle tightness or migraines.


Current research has further broken trauma into five basic categories:

  1. Acute Trauma is characterized by the intense distress immediately following a one-time event. The reaction is typically short lived and may subside with limited intervention. Typical acute traumas include motor vehicle accidents, sudden passing of a loved one or an assault.

  2. Chronic Trauma typically arises from multiple repeated or prolonged events over an extended period of time. Common events include abuse, domestic violence, bullying, serious long-term illness and exposure to extreme situations, such as war or a pandemic.

  3. Complex Trauma is seen when an individual experiences repeated multiple traumatic events from which they are unable to run away from. A key characteristic of complex trauma is the feeling of being trapped. As a result, this compromises the individual’s sense of safety and results in hypervigilance and continuous monitoring of the external environment for possible threats. This is typically seen with individuals who have experienced physical, psychological, and sexual abuse as a result of domestic violence.

  4. Vicarious Trauma (Secondary Trauma) can occur when we are exposed to another’s suffering. This is typically experienced by individuals whose professions are in the human service field where they may respond to the conflicts of others. This includes first responders, physicians and Canadian Armed Forces as well as therapists, teachers, and social workers. Vicarious trauma is a common factor that puts these individuals at risk for developing compassion fatigue, where emotional investment in others becomes limited as they attempt to protect from toxic stress.

    If you feel like you are experiencing compassion fatigue it is important to take some time for yourself to process the events that are weighing you down. At Ikigai Integrative we are able to help you process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that you can find a new way to move with the events that life throws at you.

  5. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are characterized by the non-nurturing events that were experienced throughout your childhood. As a result, your development becomes disrupted and sometimes becomes dysfunctional if not addressed. Due to the unstable foundation, you can experience both physical and psychological consequences well into adulthood. ACEs can include neglect, abuse, the loss of a parent through death or divorce.

What does Post-Traumatic Stress look like?

Psychologically you may experience:

  • Perception that people and the environment around you may be unsafe or dangerous. 
  • Feelings of anxiety, anger, intense fear or paranoia as a result of not feeling safe in your environment. 
  • Re-traumatization through memories, flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Difficulty sleeping, concentrating or finding yourself becoming easily irritated and angered in situations you would otherwise be calm.
  • Feeling of not being able to move forward or feelings of not being able to be present in the moment. 

Physically you may experience:

  • Muscle tightness around back, neck, shoulders and hips as a result of physical trauma or the storage of emotional trauma. 
  • Digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, cramping, gas or irregular bowel movements as a result of the nervous system remaining unregulated. 
  • Physical exhaustion or burnout, as a result of your nervous system being on guard for perceived threats.
  • Development of secondary illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive degeneration and mental illness such as substance abuse or suicidality.

How do we help?

There is a saying that “it is not the cards that we are dealt but how we play them”. This rings true when it comes to experiencing the consequences of trauma as it is impossible to fully control our external environment. However, we can learn to limit how our trauma controls us by processing the events that traumatized us as well as developing strategies to learn how to increase our distress tolerance.

Counseling can help by:

  • Become more aware of how trauma impacts you and develop an understanding of how you can recover.
  • Process past traumas in a safe space where you won’t get stuck.
  • Be more present, as the pulls from past trauma will begin to fade away.
  • Live more optimally, as your nervous system begins to heal, thus reducing physical symptoms such as muscle tension or digestive issues.
  • Develop effective coping mechanisms to limit the negative impact of future adversities, thus protecting you from becoming traumatized.

Acupuncture can help by:

  • Regulating the autonomic nervous system to reduce muscle tension, digestive disturbances and overall activation.
  • Optimize the parasympathetic nervous system to help calm the mind and allow the body to rest and revitalize. 
  • Harmonizing the mind-body connection, allowing you to become more present and attuned to your body.
  • Address muscle imbalances that were created as a result of traumatic injury or storage of emotions.