Is Trauma Stored in the Body?

(Based on the work of Dr. Peter Levine & Dr. Stephen Porges)

According to Dr. Peter Levine, trauma expert and developer of Somatic Experiencing therapy, “traumatic symptoms are not caused by the event itself, but arise when residual energy from our experience is not discharged from the body”, and as a result, this energy becomes trapped in our nervous system. Our nervous system is comprised of two main systems: the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. 


The Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for the fight and flight response, and speeding things up, acting as an accelerator. In this system, we can experience increased heart rate and respiration, as well as increased blood pressure which quickly moves blood to our muscles to allow for quicker movement. In addition, our pupils can become more dilated to aid in visual focus. When this surge of energy is not properly discharged from our bodies following a threat/stress, we can experience an over-activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System. This may look like rapid or shallow breathing, muscle tension, or chronic pain. Mentally, the trapped energy can lead to anxiety/panic attacks, mania, angry outbursts, racing thoughts, or hypervigilance.


On the other hand, the Parasympathetic Nervous system is responsible for the freeze response, and slowing things down. This system can help release muscle tension, lower blood pressure and heart rate, slow our breathing, or aid in immune system functioning. However, when the parasympathetic system becomes over-activated, physically we may experience low energy, exhaustion, feeling numb, poor digestion, and low blood pressure. The trapped energy of the freeze response can also cause us to become depressed, dissociated, or disconnected from our relationships. 

If you experience any of the following to a degree that it is interfering with daily functioning, your goals in life, or relationships, you may have trapped energy within your Sympathetic or Parasympathetic System:

Fight Response Activation (sympathetic system)







Flight Response Activation (sympathetic system)

Running away

Difficulty focusing




Avoidance/Substance Use



Freeze Response Activation (parasympathetic system)

Mind going blank


Difficulty concentrating

Verbally unresponsive

Zoned out

Feeling stuck



Do you identify with living in these over-activation responses, even vacillating between them throughout your day or week? Our therapists and resiliency coaches at Mindful Path specialize in helping the nervous system recalibrate and heal. Please reach out for more information or to schedule a free phone consultation.

To learn more about the work of Dr. Peter Levine and Dr. Stephen Porges:

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