Category Archives: Toronto Mental Health News

The mental health services in Toronto; Interviews with consumer-survivors and therapists.

Trauma, The Nervous System, and Digestion

Trauma, the Nervous System, and Digestion

By: Angela Englander      April 24, 2015

The Effects of Trauma

            Following a traumatic experience some people may continue to feel that they are in danger, anxious, suspicious, on edge, or startle easily. Over the long term the person may experience sleep disturbances, appetite changes, sexual troubles, and problems concentrating. These symptoms are linked to the autonomic nervous system staying in a fight or flight mode due to traumatic hyper-arousal. This traumatic hyperarousal is created in a part of the brain called the limbic system which is located between the brain stem and cerebral cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for the flight or fight response when someone is in a dangerous and threatening situation. When this part of the brain is on high alert and the autonomic nervous system is staying active the brain is continuing to give the person the message that they are in danger and need to be on guard and ready to protect themselves. People experiencing this highly aware state may also continue to have episodes of the same physical symptoms they experienced during the trauma, for example they may have a fast heart rate, cold sweats, rapid breathing, be wary, anxious, and jumpy.

A Delicate Balance

The autonomic nervous system has two channels which normally function in a balance with one another, when one is active, the other is quite. These two channels are called the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is generally on when the person is excited, scared, or in a state of acute stress. The parasympathetic nervous system is often on when a person is relaxed, resting, or sleeping. When a traumatic experience happens the brain may send a message telling the two systems to turn on at the same time, in most people the sympathetic nervous system will turn off once the threat has passed but for people who continue on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and other traumatic stress symptoms their brain never sends the signal that the threat has passed. The person may then continue to experience their trauma as if it continued to occur in the present moment instead of it having settled in their past as one might expect.


Here is where digestion comes in. Your body’s digestive system works best in ‘rest and digest’ mode; when the sympathetic nervous system is activated and the parasympathetic system is deactivated. People are often advised not to eat in front of the television, to sit down while they eat, and to be aware of what they are eating. This is important because when you are focusing on what you are eating the brain can begin to send more digestive enzymes to your mouth and stomach helping break down the food into nutrients. When the food is not properly broken down in the mouth and stomach the entire digestive system is affected. This can lead to a number of digestive problems and inflammatory reactions.

Moving Forward

By learning some mindfulness techniques and finding support for your traumatic stress symptoms you can gain skills to help yourself out of your trauma and begin to feel more calm and at ease. As you learn mindfulness skills and distress tolerance skills you will learn how to quiet your mind and gain a better understanding of your emotions, your mind, your body, and the way all of these things interact and the meaning behind the different messages they are sending you.

If you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me at or leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!    

Reference: Rothschild, B. (2000). The body remembers: The psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New York: Norton

Sanfilippo, D. (2012). Practical paleo: A customized approach to health and a whole-foods lifestyle. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing.

In The Face of Tragedy

In The Face of Tragedy

By: Angela Englander March 30, 2015

In our lives there are moments that change us forever, huge moments and small moments. Some of the events have very positive effects such as meeting someone you fall in love with or getting into college. Other events have a very negative influence over our lives such as break-ups, death of a loved one, or abuse. How we experience our tragedies and the supports that fall into place after (short term and long term) make all the difference.

A variety of short term feelings, thoughts, and experiences may happen following a tragedy including intense feelings of fear, anger, sadness, confusion, being disoriented, and feeling helpless. Many people also feel guilty or blame themselves, believing they could have stopped the tragedy from occurring or prevented the damage. What happens if you don’t get the support you need though and these feelings don’t go away?

For many people trauma becomes another aspect of their day to day experience, through flashbacks, nightmares, phobias, anxiety, panic attacks, and memories playing in their head. Unfortunately the more these thoughts and feelings are pushed away the stronger they get. Through working through and talking about the events and learning healthy coping mechanisms you can gain your life back. Healing does not erase the pain that was felt or bring back the loss but it gives validation to the experience. Healing allows us to accept the situation and forgive ourselves and be at peace. This internal peace is worth the temporary pain and suffering. You deserve to be happy and healthy and continue to live your life.

Every day we continue to heal and get stronger, we learn about ourselves and our journey in this life. Another way to heal is to focus your traumatic experiences into advocacy and making a difference. This change allows people to become more connected and make a huge difference in the lives of people who have experienced similar events. There are a variety of advocacy initiatives currently happening all over the world, if there isn’t one happening that helps you heal from your experience you can always create one. The power is in your hands!

As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please feel free to e-mail and I will get back to you. Today is a day of healing.

Partners for Mental Health Campaign to Reduce Stigma in the Workplace

Partners for Mental Health is a non-profit organization that is changing the way people see those struggling with mental health issues. They conduct campaigns to decrease stigma and encorage government funding for mental health services in Canada. And they do this with the help of volunteers from across the country.

Partners for Mental Health encourage everyone to take positive action and raise awareness about mental health and to support those in need. Continue reading Partners for Mental Health Campaign to Reduce Stigma in the Workplace