Every experience we have in life is laid down within our body as a somatic marker it helps us respond to everyday situations without having to really “think” about things
Gut level emotional reactions to stimuli are known as ‘somatic markers’.
Somatic markers are often responsible for instant and automatic decision-making.
An example of a somatic marker is despite her parents’ warnings to look before she crossed the road, Jenny didn’t and then had a near escape which provoked a physical reaction (chemical, electrical or hormonal) – her heart beat fast and she broke out in a sweat. Now, every time Jenny hears the screech of brakes, her palms become sweaty and her heart races.
What happens during a traumatic incidence?
Two important parts of the limbic system:
Amygdala – assesses the situation and directs somatic response via stress hormones
Hippocampus – remembers the facts which it passes to the Cortex (thinking brain)
During a trauma the amygdala directs the release of high stress hormones (fight, flight, freeze) which disturbs the functioning of the hippocampus and it doesn’t register the trauma has ended thus it doesn’t send the correct messages to the cortex
This is why we can continue to have flashbacks long after the trauma – our body doesn’t know it has ended – if you become even slightly stressed the release of this stress hormone may wake up the somatic marker from the trauma and the reaction will be exactly the same as if it was happening now but it is important to remember that it is a MEMORY it is not real.
After Trauma You may routinely evaluate external reality with what you’re feeling inside i.e higher heart rate Eg: you may decide a situation is dangerous based on feeling anxious rather than evidence of what can be seen or heard. Consider this possibility – you can feel very afraid at the same time that you are in a situation that bears no danger.
So we need to help the hippocampus to work properly again and allow it to tell the “thinking” brain that the trauma has ended.
We do this by – the practice of Mindfulness: