Stored Trauma: Is Your Body Keeping Score

Key Takeaways:

  • Unresolved trauma can manifest physically through chronic tension, headaches, feeling on edge, memory issues, etc. Trauma gets “trapped” in the body due to how the brain processes threatening events.
  • Trauma can negatively impact relationships by causing emotional unavailability, lack of trust, avoidance of intimacy, withdrawal, and poor communication.
  • Key areas of the brain, like the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, are affected by trauma. The body also stores trauma through muscle tension, pain, fatigue, numbness, etc.
  • Therapies like EMDR, somatic therapy, CPT, and Lifespan Integration Therapy are effective for releasing stored trauma, as are practices like yoga, meditation, and intentional movement.
  • Daily self-care, like identifying triggers, calming the nervous system, and regulating sleep/nutrition, can help manage lingering trauma. Time, patience and the right tools allow healing.

Trauma has a way of sticking with us—both mentally and physically. Those tense muscles, chronic headaches, and feeling “on edge” all the time? They could be signs of unresolved trauma still hanging around.

Our brains and bodies remember trauma, even when we consciously try to move past it. The good news? There are proven ways to release stored trauma from your mind and body through therapy like EMDR, somatic experiencing, and intentional practices like yoga.

With the right tools, you can loosen trauma’s grip, drop that extra baggage, and reclaim your health and happiness. This article will explore:

  • Where trauma gets “trapped” in the body
  • Therapies that can help heal and process traumatic experiences
  • Daily tips for managing triggers

Get matched with a counsellor

video therapy appointments

Want online therapy? Start sessions instantly— Stress-free and easy to use.

What Is Stored Trauma?

Trauma has a sneaky way of sticking with us long after the event occurs. You may think you’ve moved on, but your brain and body tell a different story.

Unresolved trauma can leave its imprint through:

  • Chronic tension or pain
  • Feeling “on edge” all the time
  • Headaches and other unexplained symptoms
  • Changes to your memory and concentration

These are signs of past trauma still hanging around in your nervous system and unprocessed emotional baggage weighing you down.

Trauma gets “trapped” in the first place because of how our brains are wired. Our rational thought processes shut down when something truly threatening or terrifying happens. The more primitive part of our brain triggers the fight-or-flight response.

While this helps us react quickly in the moment, it also prevents us from properly processing and storing the event.

Instead, the traumatic memory gets:

  • Encoded as vivid sensory fragments – sounds, images, physical sensations
  • Stored in the amygdala and other emotional centers rather than the hippocampus, where factual memories go

As a result, the traumatic experience is not integrated into your life story like other memories. It gets stuck in your nervous system, continually activating your body’s stress responses.

Over time, this leads to:

  • A smaller hippocampus
  • Impaired ability to regulate emotions
  • A hair-trigger fight-or-flight response

The good news? There are proven techniques to release stored trauma from your body and mind. Therapies like EMDR, somatic experiencing, and body-based practices can help your nervous system discharge old trauma and return to balance.

the cycle of unresolved stored trauma

Trauma and Relationships

Trauma doesn’t just impact you individually – it can also spill over into your closest relationships. Partners, family members, friends – no relationship is immune.

Here are some of the common ways unresolved trauma can sabotage connections:

Emotional unavailability

  • Numbing out
  • Avoiding intimacy and vulnerability
  • Difficulty expressing feelings

Trouble with trust

  • Hypervigilance about threats
  • Suspiciousness
  • Difficulty relying on others

Need for control

  • Rigidity about plans and routines
  • micromanaging
  • Resistance to change or spontaneity

Avoidance of conflict

  • Conflict avoidance
  • People pleasing
  • Repressing one’s own needs

Withdrawal and isolation

  • Pulling away from social activities
  • Losing interest in relationships
  • Feeling disconnected


  • Snapping at loved ones
  • Small things trigger big reactions
  • Taking things personally

Difficulty communicating

  • Conversations quickly escalate
  • Talking feels unsafe
  • Resorting to silence or outbursts

The common thread? Trauma creates a sense of threat even in “normal” situations. Our brains and bodies sound the alarm, making it hard to feel safe or connected.

The good news is that relationships can also heal trauma with patience. Here are some tips:

  • Explain how trauma impacts you and set boundaries as needed.
  • Don’t take reactions personally. The trauma response is instinctual.
  • Provide reassurance and consistency.
  • Allow space as needed. Don’t force intimacy.
  • Encourage openness and communication at a comfortable pace.
  • Validate feelings and experiences.
  • Celebrate wins and progress in the relationship.

With understanding and time, relationships can become a source of strength and healing rather than struggle.

Where Trauma Is Stored in the Body

While trauma lives rent-free in our minds, it also takes a toll on the body in very real ways. Let’s look at the main ways unresolved trauma can imprint itself physically.

Brain regions affected by trauma

Several key areas of the brain are impacted by traumatic experiences:

  • Amygdala – The emotional center that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Becomes overactive with trauma.

  • Hippocampus – Responsible for learning and memory. Trauma impairs its functioning, leading to:

    • Poorer episodic memory

    • Difficulty recalling details

  • The prefrontal cortex – Manages executive functions like decision-making, concentration, and rational thinking. Trauma reduces connectivity to this area.

How the body remembers

Even after time has passed, the body remembers the trauma. Physical and emotional triggers easily activate the fight-or-flight response again.

Common bodily manifestations include:

  • Muscle tension – Shoulders, neck, jaw, hips, and tense or injured areas during the event.

  • Headaches – Especially migraines. Chronic headache issues are common with post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Nausea – The gut remembers, too. Nausea can be triggered with reminders of the trauma.

  • Chest tightness – Makes it feel hard to breathe. Linked to anxiety and panic responses.

  • Chronic pain – Unexplained back pain and joint pain. The brain generates real pain signals, though no injury exists.

  • Fatigue – Dealing with trauma responses is exhausting. Adrenaline ups and downs drain energy.

  • Numbness – Emotional numbness can manifest physically, like numb or tingly hands and feet.

Bodily maps of emotion

Emotions create distinct maps of activation in the body:

  • Fear – Neck, hands, stomach

  • Anger – Face, chest

  • Happiness – Mouth, cheeks

  • Sadness – Chest, eyes

  • Disgust – Nose, mouth

Ever feel knots in your stomach when nervous? Or tension in your jaw when angry? This mind-body connection is why.

The posture of trauma

Stance and body language also reflect trauma’s imprint:

  • Slumped, defeated posture

  • Crossed arms protecting the chest

  • Collapsed chest, trouble breathing fully

  • Poor eye contact, scanning for threats

The next time you notice pain or tension, consider: Is my body remembering past trauma? Meeting these signals with care and compassion is the first step to release.

Healing & Releasing Trauma

The good news is there are proven techniques to resolve trauma that continues to live in your body and mind. With the right tools and therapist, you can process old pain, drop that extra baggage, and reclaim your health and happiness.

Therapy Options for Healing Trauma

Several therapeutic approaches are strongly supported for treating trauma and PTSD:

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

  • Uses bilateral stimulation like eye movements or taps.

  • Helps memory processing and makes traumatic memories less distressing.

  • Clinically proven to reduce PTSD symptoms like flashbacks and anxiety.

Lifespan Integration

  • Lifespan Integration© (LI), a gentle, body-based therapy method, helps people in treatment access their inner child by using memory recall and imagery to resolve repressed trauma and promote healing.
  • Clients watch their lives unfold from many angles.

  • LI works well even with people who have trouble remembering their pasts.

Somatic therapy

  • Focuses on releasing trauma stored in the body through touch and movement.

  • Helps discharge chronic muscle tension to regulate the nervous system.

  • Especially effective for trauma patients who don’t respond to talk therapy.

CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy)

  • Identifies unhelpful thoughts/beliefs related to trauma.

  • Challenges negative thought patterns.

  • Builds skills for managing trauma symptoms and regulating emotions.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

  • Gradually faces trauma-related memories and stimuli in a safe setting.

  • Over time, this decreases distress and dismantles learned fear associations.

  • One of the most effective treatments for reducing PTSD avoidance symptoms.

Additional Healing Modalities

Other practices can complement therapy to address trauma holistically:

  • Yoga – Gentle movement paired with deep breathing. releases stored tension.

  • Meditation – Builds distress tolerance and resilience.

  • Art or music therapy – Alternative processing pathways for trauma.

  • Acupuncture – Stimulates areas like ears or hands to restore nervous system balance.

  • Neurofeedback – Trains the brain’s wave patterns to improve regulation.

Releasing Trapped Emotions

Adding practices to acknowledge and move through painful emotions can accelerate healing:

  • Identify and name your feelings – This emotional fluency builds awareness.

  • Shadow work – Uncover repressed emotions you hide from yourself.

  • Intentional movement – Dance, shake, or stretch to energize your body.

  • Talk to a friend – Verbal catharsis in a safe relationship.

  • Journal – Pour emotions onto paper.

Relieving long-stored trauma takes persistence, courage, and the right tools.

Living With and Managing Trauma

  • While healing trauma takes time and work, you can take daily steps to manage symptoms and improve your resilience. Be gentle with yourself through the process.

    Mindset Shifts

    Adjusting your mindset helps you feel less overwhelmed:

    • You are not broken – There’s nothing wrong with you. Your nervous system got stuck defending against a threat that no longer exists.

    • It’s not your fault – Trauma is never the survivor’s fault, though it can feel that way. Self-blame will hold you back from healing.

    • Progress over perfection – Small steps forward matter. You don’t have to “get over it” all at once.

    • Allow feelings to flow – By welcoming emotions instead of resisting them, they can move through you more quickly.

    Identify Triggers

    Pinpointing your unique triggers helps you avoid or manage them. Common examples:

    • Specific people

    • Locations, driving routes

    • Times of day, seasons, anniversaries

    • Sights, sounds, smells

    • Headlines, movies, images

    Calm the Nervous System

    Daily rituals that engage the parasympathetic nervous system quiet the body’s stress responses:

    • Breathwork – Long exhales, belly breathing

    • Yoga, meditation, mindfulness – Still the racing mind.

    • Spending time in nature – Nature’s peace helps calm trauma signals.

    • Mindful movement – Gentle exercise like walking, stretching

    • Listening to music – Especially classical, ambient

    Support Your Body

    Strengthen your physical health with good daily habits:

    • Balanced nutrition – Avoid energy crashes from sugar and caffeine.

    • High-quality sleep – Ensure you get 7-9 hours per night.

    • Supplements – Fish oil, magnesium, and vitamin D aid nervous system health.

    • Bodywork – Massage, acupuncture

    • Limit alcohol – While it may numb temporarily, alcohol increases anxiety long-term.

    Connect With Community

    Don’t go it alone. Support and understanding from others help more than you know:

    • Talk to trusted friends and family – They can listen even if they can’t relate.

    • Consider a therapy pet – Animal companions provide comfort and soothing oxytocin.

    • Volunteer to help others – This builds meaning and purpose.

    Healing from trauma takes time, community, and self-care. But you are stronger than your trauma and don’t have to carry it forever.

In Summary

Trauma’s imprints on the mind and body can feel permanent, like a stain that won’t wash out no matter how hard you try. However, you now know that releasing stored trauma is possible through proven therapies, daily practices, and community support.

We all experience painful chapters that write themselves onto our hearts, bodies and mental health. But your story does not end there. You can edit and revise the narrative – reframing trauma not as something that broke you but something that made you stronger, wiser and more compassionate with a deeper appreciation for life.

Get a free 15-minute consult with our intake team and start working with a licensed trauma-informed BC counsellor and a certified psychotherapist in ON. In-person and online sessions are available. Find a therapist near you!

Take the first step and book your free consultation today. Our team is ready to listen, guide you to the right therapy options, and walk this healing journey with you.

You deserve to feel safe, understood, and hopeful. Reach out now, and let’s talk.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Explicit memory records factual events we can consciously recall. Implicit memory stores emotional, sensory impressions of trauma outside our awareness that get triggered involuntarily.

The intense flood of stress chemicals during fight/flight impairs memory processing so the event can't be properly digested. The amygdala keeps over-responding like the danger is still there.

The amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex undergo changes with trauma. This impairs memory, executive functioning, and the ability to regulate emotions.

Muscle tension, headaches, chest tightness, numbness or tingling, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, chronic unexplained pains. The body remembers.

Sights, sounds, smells, sensations, locations, emotions, or situations reminiscent of the original trauma can activate the body's stress responses, even decades later.

Potentially - some studies suggest trauma memories can create changes in gene expression. More research is emerging on intergenerational trauma.

Psychedelics may help "reset" neural pathways etched by trauma and allow the integration of memories. Research is limited, but initial studies show promise.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

Table of Contents