Entering The Age Of A More Trauma-Informed World
Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen.
In our 2021 Wellness Trends, we predicted that mental fitness would take priority this year—and that phenomenon took off even more than we anticipated.
Over the last 18 months, not only has mental health care taken precedence, but we've observed more and more buzz around this topic on public platforms.
Between people sharing experiences on social media, doctors providing resources via podcasts, and a society that's slowly becoming more conscious—the conversation has grown and evolved more than ever before, chipping away at the stigma, little by little.
There's one subtopic, in particular, that's now taking a front-row seat: trauma.
What are we talking about when we talk about trauma?
While "trauma" isn't exactly a new topic in the well-being world, there's no doubt it's become an even more buzzy word over the last year and continues to gain momentum. But what exactly does it encapsulate?
As renowned speaker and author Gabor Maté, M.D., once elegantly shared, "Trauma is not what happens to you, it's what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you."
"Trauma is going to come to all of us sooner or later," James S. Gordon, M.D., author of Transforming Trauma: The Path to Hope and Healing and founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, previously told mbg. "It's true that some experiences are most obviously traumatic, like rape or war, but things like dealing with a serious illness in yourself or a family member, the death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, or even losing a job or leaving a community that's very important to you can be traumatic."
Experts will often group trauma into two separate categories, "Big T" and "little t." The first generally refers to a life-threatening event, such as physical abuse or sexual assault. Whereas "little t" events, sometimes called micro-traumas, might be more subtle, such as childhood neglect, a challenging breakup, or emotional abuse. "There's much more appreciation these days for micro-traumas," Ellen Vora, M.D., holistic psychiatrist, previously shared, "like chronic, more mildly traumatic things—that cumulatively over many years can amount to the same as one macro trauma."
What's more, the buildup of those traumas can have an impact on overall well-being. As Lissa Rankin, M.D., and Kelly Turner, Ph.D., shared at mindbodygreen's revitalize event in 2019, the "Big T" and "little t" traumas people experience can increase the risk of disease and significantly affect longevity.
Trauma may also be considered: "acute trauma" to refer to a specific traumatic event, "chronic trauma" to describe repeated and prolonged trauma, or "complex trauma" to discuss varied and multiple events.
"In the wake of the pandemic, we've all been traumatized to some extent," says renowned clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. In fact, a study published in Plos One earlier this year linked PTSD symptoms to the pandemic experience. "This has led to skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Addressing that trauma, rather than hiding it or pretending it isn't there, is the first step to healing."
Fortunately, that's exactly how many individuals responded amid the pandemic wake-up call, observed Brittany Piper, a trauma-informed coach and creator of The Healing Hub. "I think people started to do a lot of deep inner work, they sat in the uncomfortability, they got curious about their past, and they got compassionate," she says. "Then they started to recognize, now that I've moved inward, how can I move forward?"
One big driver of this call to action? Social media.
Turning the spotlight on trauma.
Depending on your personal algorithm, you may or may not have noticed an influx of trauma-centric content on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. At the time of writing this article, hashtags such as #traumarecovery span over half a million posts on Instagram, and videos on TikTok tagged #traumahealing have 338 million views.
Plenty of those posts come from renowned doctors and experts. Amen, for example, is very candid about trauma information and resources on his own Instagram and TikTok accounts (with 590,000 and 1 million followers, respectively). Among other mental health topics, it's also been a recurring theme on his popular "Scan My Brain" video series, where Amen discusses brain scan results with high-profile clients (more on that later).
Piper, who only started translating her trauma coaching work to TikTok a couple of months ago, says it's been "hard to fathom" just how quickly her page has grown.
"I think that speaks to the fact it's a lot of younger people who are pushing this dialogue forward," she said. In other words, she believes Gen Z is the driving force behind this evolving culture—which isn't entirely surprising when you consider this is the generation said to have the highest rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, and other mental health challenges. They were even dubbed the "loneliest generation" in a nationwide survey by health insurer Cigna. And the throughline of all these glaring issues, according to Piper, is trauma.
"I think they're looking around and thinking: What happened to us? How did we end up here? How has society failed us?" says Piper. "I think they're going deeper. They're recognizing it's happening, and they're not ashamed to talk about it."
Still, Amen points out, social media can be a bit of a double-edged sword (as we've witnessed time and time again): "There is always a possibility of negative or hateful comments that can be distressing when you're already in pain," he says. But on the other end, it can also be a powerful catalyst for change and growth. "There is so much stigma attached to mental health issues, including trauma. However, the more people open up about past trauma, the more it encourages others to share their own stories."
In fact, while observing the trauma space on Instagram and TikTok this year, Piper noticed "People got really comfortable sharing their stories and struggles on these platforms, and it was a space for people to come together in community in a way I've never seen before outside of survivor support groups and working in trauma centers. So it's just been really beautiful to witness."
New ways we're tackling trauma.
As the conversations around trauma are progressing, so are the research and treatment modalities.
Amen, for example, is using SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography), a brain-imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain, as a valuable tool for observing the neurological impacts of trauma. "Our brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that trauma causes physical changes in the brain," says Amen.
In fact, two studies published by their research team—one in Plos One1 and another in Brain Imaging and Behavior2—found that brain SPECT imaging is able to differentiate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from traumatic brain injury (TBI) with a 94% accuracy rate. "Helping people see that emotional trauma has physical consequences on brain function helps alleviate the stigma, increases understanding, and promotes forgiveness."
Another exciting rising intervention for trauma treatment made an appearance in our 2021 Wellness Trends: psychedelic-assisted therapies. The collection of public companies in the psychedelic therapy space are currently valued at $2 billion and only expect to see more growth. This includes a new era of therapist offices, such as Mindbloom and Field Trip Health, which are utilizing ketamine to assist trauma-informed therapy—particularly for addressing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What's more, a paper published in 3Frontiers in Psychiatry3 details how psilocybin and MDMA could also hold promise for treating trauma-related disorders, particularly following the pandemic. At the same time, psychedelic retreats in countries where they're currently allowed (such as Costa Rica and Jamaica) are seeing an uptick, reports the New York Times.
Earlier this year, Prince Harry made headlines when he opened up about using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) for his own trauma. While it's hardly a new form of treatment (EMDR has been around since 1987), Harry's openness not only brought this valuable treatment into the spotlight but also helped chip away at the stigmas surrounding trauma and mental health.
Just last month, Wave Neuro—a company that specializes in clinical and at-home brain stimulation technology—announced a program in collaboration with the Wounded Warrior Project. Dubbed "Operation Synchrony," this outpatient program aims to help restore and optimize brain function and will specifically work with post-9/11 service members and veterans, according to a news release.
While there are many exciting advancements in understanding and addressing trauma, Piper also points out that for many individuals, there are options for progress at home—and she's seeing a lot of experts share those tips on public platforms. "People are understanding that regardless of their access or resources, they can heal on their own," she says, adding that's part of her mission with Healing Hub, to provide a diverse array of accessible modalities and options for people to explore.
She adds, "That mindset, in many ways, is pioneering this new movement."
How we're moving forward into 2022.
Ultimately, the train of traumatic truth left the station in 2021, and there's (thankfully) no stopping it now.
"The younger generation is pushing this forward because they have the new information, they're recognizing there's a problem, they're deeply impacted by this problem, they want a solution, and they're more open to talking about it," says Piper.
In addition to youth on social media, "In 2022, I expect more celebrities to use their platforms to open up about their traumatic experiences and the mental health consequences that followed," says Amen. "I see this as a way for them to empower themselves, by taking control of their narrative and reshaping their lives in a more positive way. It will also be an inspiration to others in all walks of life to take control of their own lives and seek help for past trauma."
If you're eager to start your own path to post-traumatic thriving, in addition to the treatment options above, Amen recommends trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, and even trying supplements with calming, anti-anxiousness properties (magnesium, theanine, GABA, and ashwagandha). Rinkin and Turner also suggest looking into Internal Family Systems (IFS), Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or "tapping."
You can find further resources through the National Institute of Mental Health, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), among others.
As communities on social media continue to grow, more individuals and celebrities speak out, experts share more resources, and research continues to speed forward—we anticipate (and hope) that 2022 will hold an even more healing, trauma-informed future.
This is just one of the trends mbg is predicting for 2022. Check out our full list of the latest health & wellness trends.
Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.