Have you ever wondered, after an anxiety attack, why it’s hard to remember what happened? Especially the details of the situation? The reasoning behind poor memory after anxiety, trauma, pain, or suffering is due to biological reactions within our brains. Disassociate episodes are common in people with personality disorders, bipolar, and anxiety because of the repeated alarm of a threat going off within the brain.
The Science of Trauma
When the Amygdala detects a threat, the primitive parts of the brain such as the limbic system which produces motivation and emotion overrides the conscious parts of the brain such as the neocortex which produces logic. In simple terms, this means that when we experience fear, our logic system gets shut down and we run on adrenaline, cortisol, and primitive emotions.Oxygen and blood are sent to different parts of the body to envoke the reaction of fight, flight, or freeze. The hippocampus which is part of the limbic system has the duty of filing memories, but when the amygdala is activated (a threat is detected) it stops and pumps cortisol throughout the body which stops us from feeling pain.
When trauma is experienced regularly the amygdala becomes overactive and it’s easy to lose touch with reality. After repeated trauma, the brain creates patterns from scent, sight, taste, etc. and when these senses are experienced, even if you’re not in danger the brain detects a threat. Click here to watch a video giving a deeper explanation of trauma responses in the brain.
Developing a Mental Illness from Trauma
Many people think that the only factor in developing a mental illness is found in the chemicals in the brain but this is false, traumatic events are just as likely to cause a mental illness as genetic chemicals. When someone goes through trauma they develop anxiety which ends up decreasing dopamine levels for a significant amount of time. Throughout this amount of time, we create patterns, habits, and lifestyles that can be an unhealthy way to cope with this trauma. This then develops into a mental illness known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or a co-occurant disorder such as substance abuse, eating disorders, or a gambling addiction.
Even though traumatic events are sometimes impossible to avoid, recovery is possible from an event-based mental illness. Dopamine levels can be raised back to proper consistency through medication, learning different types of therapy such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help build skills to assist with coping, distress tolerance, interpersonal relationships, mindfulness, and self-care. After treatment has taken full effect, it is often possible to decrease or end the need for medication because the brain chemistry levels have been improved and maintained by external therapy. *never go off your medication without first talking to a professional*
If someone who has just gone through a traumatic event can’t easily remember the details right away, give them some time. Asking someone for every detail of a traumatic event is like asking to eat from your nose…it’s not programmed into our brain. However, giving that person time and support will help build the confidence to remember. Psychotherapy is a great way to help the memory of a traumatic event, sometimes it takes years but it’s worth recovering from. We have to re-train the brain from these formed patterns of the senses from a traumatic event to create a healthy memory, body, and mind. People with a mental illness often take several years to remember certain parts of their lives and deal with the detection of a threat in their daily lives even if there isn’t one. Recovery from traumatic events is possible and you deserve to be happy.
Amount of memory disabilities due to mental health
Between 45% and 70% of disabilities result from mental health problems in people aged 15 and older. The majority of memory problems come from learning disabilities, developmental problems, dementia, and trauma. However, memory problems can develop from a magnitude of things. The simple truth about brain chemistry and trauma is the fact that it is built within our biology to protect ourselves and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you are looking for treatment for PTSD or any other trauma, contact your home physician to get connected to a psychiatrist or psychologist.