Saturday, 13 June 2015

When trauma symptoms take over as sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve go into chaos (Trauma education V)

If you suffer from trauma symptoms like migraines, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, crohn's disease, pain syndromes etc. my last posting of my trauma education series might shine a bit of a light into an often misunderstood area in terms of nervous systems.

I have talked about the play between sympathetic (activating) and parasympathetic (calming)nerve. It’s a wavelength-like reciprocal homeostatic up and down when things are in balance. When we sleep the sympathetic nerve takes a break while parasympathetic nerve and a low dorsal nerve let us rest peacefully.

When we wake up our sympathetic nerve lets us become active (increased heart rate, getting ready for action) and the parasympathetic nerve comes in to keep us in balance (while maintaining functioning of  gut, kidney, liver etc.), so we can stay relaxed. If something upsetting happens, our sympathetic nerve goes higher than normal and the parasympathetic nerve has to work harder to balance things out, but after a while both nerves settle back to where they used to be before the unsettling event and return to normal functioning, a happy reciprocity.

When the stressor is bigger and becomes chronic though, the parasympathetic nerve can’t balance things out and the high energy from the sympathetic nerve doesn’t completely discharge. The failure to return to normal baseline results in the nervous system not functioning properly and a person will notice this in their life by being unbalanced and things being “not quite right”.
When severe trauma happens though the play between the two nerves becomes completely out of whack – they fall into an unpredictable chaos. With this nervous system background trauma symptoms are being created: migraines, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, crohn's disease, pain syndromes....

Does a client present with these patterns, it will take a longer time to teach the nervous system to return to equilibrium. Patience and going slow are crucial for healing to occur here while pushing, rushing and overriding are the biggest hindrances for the nervous system returning to homeostasisSmall shifts will occur along the way when the right trauma treatment is administered. These changes need to be noticed and celebrated so the nervous system then can identify that a new way of being is possible. In the end, once the nervous system is functioning properly again, the trauma symptoms will leave and a person can return to full health. This is a very delicate process impossible to explain in this article and it is something I only learnt in an intense 3 year Somatic Experiencing training – it will take me many more years to refine this. Learning to read Nervous systems is not something you can learn from a book!

In my personal experience counselling alone won’t  be the solution if your nervous system is in chaos. I find it is imperative to support the nervous system with the right food (minerals, pre- and probiotics, amino acids), exercise, rest and loving support. I myself find the right constitutional homeopathic and bush flower remedies very supportive and powerful as well. Trauma specialized psychiatrist Basel Van der Kolk emphasizes that all areas need to be treated equally in trauma treatment:  Social, Emotional, Physical, Cognitive, Spiritual.... So I encourage you to take a honest look and see which of these areas you might tend to neglect. Most of us have our favorites, but to achieve balance, all 5 areas of our life need equal attention.

If you fall into the last category of nervous system behaviour it is more than likely that your digestive system (our reptilian brain looks after the gut) is out of balance and needs a lot of support restoring. Inflammation and leaky gut syndrome are at the heart of (mental health) issues. I suggest you find a good naturopath or functional doctor who specializes in this area to find out how to support your digestive system differently. I cannot emphasize enough how important a good diet (and some healthy foods might not be tolerated by you until your gut is healed!) is to support your mental health!

Life is so much easier with a well functioning nervous system. Pleasure, joy, relaxation, connection increase naturally when it’s coherent and in homeostasis.
This is my last post in my trauma education series! Thanks for your encouraging  feedback - I might write more in the future.

If you like these posts, please share them. Information on trauma is something that needs to go viral. Everything I have written is copy righted and I am requesting to give me credit for information passed on and copied. Thanks.
Should you miss a post, just check out my Facebook page “Barbara Schmidt Counselling Somatic” or have a look under the blog section on my web site where you can subscribe to my newsletters so you won’t miss any future ones.

So far I covered “What is trauma?” ,“Freeze state that follows fight flight survival mechanis”, Reptilian, mammal and rational brain “speak” different languages” ,“How the self soothing Parasympathetic Nerve develops and how patterns of worrying and over-thinking can be set up in childhood” and “Corrective experience creates a new imprint in cells of our body”

This is the last post in my trauma education series. Your questions will inspire me to write a new series. If you are looking for good trauma counselling, look for someone who is offering therapies like Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Hakomi, MATES or Brain spotting.

Have a great day,
Counselling Somatic
Barbara Schmidt Mental Health Social Worker, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner

 art by Meera Jacka

Barbara Schmidt
Mental Health Social Worker
EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner
144 Stirling Terrace, Albany &
3/55 Strickland Street, Denmark
m: 0458 234 410


  1. I would like to say thanks for your sharing this useful information. Nice post keep it up. Hope to see you next post again soon.
    With Regards,
    Trauma Counseling in Sydney

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Much appreciated, means a lot to me. Am so happy that this information is getting out there. I will write some more when inspiration urges me on. Have a great day!

  2. Fibromyalgia’s core characteristic is a widespread pain that can occur in a variety of flavors. Some of the terms used to describe the various kinds of pain encountered include burning, stabbing, throbbing and aching. Allodynia – when touch becomes painful – and nerve associated pain such as numbness, tingling and burning are coommonly found. The pain is often worse in the morning and can be severe enough to significantly limit a person’s ability to work and socialize. Fibromyalgia treatment