How to reverse the effects of trauma on your brain


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Trauma can disrupt the cohesion between the three parts of your brain. Reflect on how each of your three brains responds in different situations and use that information to help identify interventions that can help reduce the impact of these traumas.

Have you ever wondered how trauma might be impacting your brain?

Today, I’m going to introduce the concept of the triune brain, and how each part of your brain may process your traumatic experiences. Triune means, literally, “three in one.” The triune brain model describes three areas within the brain that have a unique way of understanding and processing information; however, they are meant to function as a cohesive whole.

However, trauma and attachment issues can disrupt this cohesion and lead to things operating out of sync.

The triune brain model

The reptilian brain

In the triune brain model, the oldest part is the reptilian brain. It’s fully developed at birth and includes the brain stem and cerebellum. It operates on instinct and is responsible for the survival-related functions of the body.

The reptilian brain is most closely linked to sensorimotor or body processing. Examples of reptilian brain functions include: reflexes or instinctive trauma responses such as fight, flight, or freeze, startle responses, crying for help, aggression and urges to hoard resources. It also controls autonomic responses that we experience as body sensations and basic life-sustaining processes like digestion, heart rate, body temperature and respiration.

The reptilian brain is active whether we are asleep or awake to make sure that these vital functions are working properly. Because the reptilian brain governs basic instinctive actions, it acts very quickly, much more quickly than the neocortex, which we’ll get to later. If a baseball is flying at your head, you don’t typically have to think about your response: Your reptilian brain will make you duck instinctively.

The mammalian brain

The mammalian brain, a.k.a. the emotional or limbic brain, is responsible for our emotional and relational experiences. The mammalian brain includes the thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus. It is also available to us at birth and connects the reptilian and neocortex parts of our brains.

Emotions lend another dimension to our experience by letting us know of our likes and dislikes, helping to identify what is emotionally important or meaningful to us. It also colors how we perceive pain and pleasure, and adds emotional richness to our lives and relationships.

In regards to our relationships, it allows us to be aware of our impact on others and of their impact on us, and it allows us to socially engage with others and attach. It’s also responsible for us feeling drawn towards or away from things and to hold emotional memories of our experiences.

How do these parts of the mammalian brain work? The thalamus receives information from our five senses. When that information includes threat or danger cues, the amygdala signals us to protect and defend ourselves. The amygdala also alerts us to stimuli associated with good feelings. The hippocampus remembers important information and consolidates it into long-term memory. These experiences of shared pleasure or pain are also encoded as nonverbal memories of attachment experiences, laying down templates for expectations of future relationships.

The neocortex

The neocortex, a.k.a. cerebral cortex, frontal cortex or the neomammalian brain, is the front structure of our brain and is split across the left and right hemispheres.

The right hemisphere is fully present at birth and is associated with creativity and intuition. It processes information in a more symbolic, implicit, and nonlinear fashion.

The more rational left hemisphere is undeveloped at birth. This part of the brain matures and develops beginning in childhood through early adulthood. It houses most of our language abilities. This hemisphere of the brain processes information in an explicit, logical, analytical, and linear fashion. The corpus callosum is a bridge between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It aids in the communication, coordination, and consolidation of information between the hemispheres. It’s important for our functioning that everything is integrated and linked.

How trauma impacts brain development

The development and functioning of the three brains rely on our early experiences. This includes early attachment figures like caregivers, conditions in our environment and traumas. These experiences affect how our brain grows connections, as its goal is to help us to adapt as best we can to both positive and negative life experiences.

With the information I’ve given you, you may be able to start imagining what the landscape of our brains may look like if we have many traumatic experiences throughout our lives, especially early childhood as our brain is growing.

Our mammalian brain and reptilian brain, which are related to emotions and the body, are typically primed to deal with stress and threat as a precaution to ensure our survival. Consequently, if you have ongoing or repeated threats in life, our brains become hypersensitive to cues that remind us of those traumatic experiences. We can then have intense emotional reactions to cues and our reptilian brain will activate our flight, fight, freeze, or fawn survival responses.

For example, if you grew up with a hypercritical mother who engaged in verbal abuse, you may have intense anxiety anytime someone is upset with you. You may have a fawning response, such as people-pleasing to your own detriment. Another example might be if you ran into a man who had a similar build and face as a person who sexually assaulted you in college. You might feel emotionally numb, disassociate or freeze.

When we are triggered and in a threat mode, our neocortex is temporarily less active. When we are in danger, we don’t have time to think, so our mammalian and reptilian brain take over and prompt us to act quickly in order to stay alive.

While this is good in the case of ducking a baseball, it can make it incredibly difficult to think clearly, analyze, plan or learn new information.

Because of how each of our three brains processes trauma, these experiences can make it so they don’t work in unison. For instance, our neocortex might tell us that we are safe, but our emotions and our body will tell us that we are not. If one part of your brain is more dominant it can override the others.

For example, if your thinking brain is dominant, you might feel like you are “stuck in your head” all the time and feel disconnected from your emotions. If your mammalian and reptilian brain are dominant, you might feel like you are emotionally hijacked by triggers frequently. Most of us, at least to some degree, have had at least one experience where we were so overwhelmed that our thinking brain stopped functioning.

I sometimes think of it as the “blue screen of death” that computers used to get when there was a malfunction. There was only one way out: you had to reboot the system.

Rebooting the system

Working through trauma is highly personal and specialized, but I wanted to offer a few tips to get you started.

First up, if you want the computer to work well, you have to read the manual.

You can start by reflecting on how each of your three brains responds in various situations. Remember that your neocortex is cognitive processing, mammalian brain is emotional processing, and reptilian brain is body processing. Try to identify situations in which each is most active. These can be situations that are both positive and negative.

This information can be used later when you are identifying interventions that can help. Pay attention to what works at different levels.

I tell my patients all the time that a skill that works when we are at a 4 out of 10 might be different from a skill that works at a 9 out of 10. When you’re lower on the scale, you might notice that cognitive interventions like positive self-talk are more helpful; however, when you’re at a 9, you might need to do body-focused activities, like breathing exercises, to help calm you down.

The most important thing is you give yourself what you need without judgment. The great thing about our brains is that they are malleable. The more you intervene with the trauma responses, the more you can teach your brain to respond more effectively and significantly reduce or eliminate the impact of these traumas.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.


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15 surprising ways money can affect your mental health

15 surprising ways that money can affect your mental health

Whether we like it or not, money is part of our lives. We need money to pay for our everyday essentials — like food, shelter, and clothing — but it covers other important things as well, including cars, electronics, and entertainment. As such, we think and stress about money a lot, which can affect our mental health.

According to the American Psychological Association, 60% of American adults consider money to be a significant source of stress. Also, the Money and Mental Health charity finds that people with mental health issues are 3 1/2 times as likely to have problems with debt.

So what’s the solution?

You can learn how to manage your money and find ways to thrive between paychecks to help decrease your stress levels. You can also work on pinpointing the financial habits that are stressing you out in the first place and then take action to reduce the amount of stress they cause.

In this guide, we’ll go over 15 ways money can affect your mental health and give you actionable tips you can take to reduce your overall stress levels. This will help you identify pain points in your financial situation and push you to take action to decrease your stress and improve your mental health.

Related: 8 clever moves when you have $1,000 in the bank

Overspending can be a vicious cycle. You may spend money to alleviate stress in the moment, but then end up creating more stress in the long run because you spend too much money. Overspending can easily lead to debt, which is a huge stress inducer.

The answer for overspending is simple enough: don’t spend money you don’t have. However, that’s not always the easiest solution to implement. Still, you can start with one small step to counteract this habit.

Consider creating a budget so you know exactly how much you’re spending and where the money’s going. This can help you be more focused and present when it comes to your finances. Once you know how much money you need for essentials, including savings and emergency funds, you can budget what’s left over for leisurely activities and purchases.

It might also help to learn how to make extra cash on the side, apart from your main source of income. This can help offset your spending habits by giving you some extra money to move around in your budget.

Seeing a bill in your email or mailbox is stressful because you know it’s something you have to pay unless you want a collections agency coming after you. Some bills are essential, like utilities, but many bills and subscriptions may be unused or not worth paying for.

To reduce your stress over bills, get rid of the subscriptions and other monthly or yearly bills you don’t need. There are plenty of subscription services available to us these days, so their recurring costs can add up quickly. The $10 per month for one subscription becomes a lot more when you multiply it by the three or more subscriptions you have.

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Sometimes you may just be overpaying on your bills. Have you ever seen your cable or internet bill increase from one month to another even though you didn’t change your services? It’s not uncommon to see an increase in your monthly bills, which can also increase your stress levels if the payments are getting out of hand.

Did you know renegotiating your bills is an option? Talking to your cable or phone provider might sound stressful in itself, but feeling a small amount of stress for a short phone call can help reduce your stress for months and years to come.

Or you can just use a service like Truebill to go through the negotiating process for you. Truebill, which is free to sign up for, can help identify your unnecessary bills and negotiate the cost of some utilities on your behalf.

For one reason or another, you may be in debt. It’s not uncommon for people to have debt, but it’s also not the best feeling to be in debt. You feel like your financial freedom is taken away and it stresses you out thinking about how you owe money to someone else.

The best way to reduce that stress is to get rid of the debt. If it were that easy, though, everyone would immediately pay off their debt and feel happier.

If you feel like your debt is out of control, consider debt consolidation or debt settlement. Otherwise, stick to a firm budget and pay off your debt as quickly as you can. As you see your debt start to shrink and eventually disappear, your stress levels will go down dramatically.

You know you should be setting aside money as savings, just in case you need it in the future. But it’s not always easy to get to a point financially where you have enough savings to feel comfortable. Knowing you don’t have much in your savings can be stressful, especially if you’re unsure how to remedy the situation.

To feel better about your savings, try starting small. Even putting a few dollars away at a time can start to add up, and it gets you in the habit of always thinking about increasing your savings. Once you build your savings up a bit, consider a high-yield savings account or other financial tools to maximize your deposits.

One possible way to get your savings started is by using Digit. Digit is a finance app that analyzes your spending habits and automatically takes extra money from your existing funds and puts it into an FDIC-insured account. Whenever you need it, you can withdraw your money from your Digit account. Digit takes the stress out of savings because the process is automatic and there’s very little for you to think about.


Credit cards can be an excellent financial tool when used correctly, but they can cause a lot of stress if you don’t understand them. People often think they have more money than they actually do because of the amount of credit they have available. Or they pay only the minimum amount on their monthly bill, not realizing the interest they’re accruing is costing them a lot every month.

Unfortunately, these are only some of the many common money mistakes that people make. In general, you shouldn’t get into any debt unless you have a solid plan to get out of it. And if you’re going to carry debt, make sure you’re doing it on one of the best 0% APR credit cards.

With any credit card, review its terms and conditions before you apply and find out about any fees it may have. Then make sure you pay off your balance as much as possible each month. This will help you stay out of crippling debt and reduce your stress levels.

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It can often be disheartening to see how much of your monthly payments are going toward the interest charges instead of the actual debt. This can lead to a lot of stress because you see how long it will take to pay off debt when high interest rates are taking most of your payments.

To help reduce your stress levels, look into negotiating lower interest rates on your debt. Depending on how long you’ve been a customer of a financial institution and your customer history, you may be able to call and get a lower interest rate. Depending on your debt, you might also consider refinancing a loan to get better terms.

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It’s not a bad thing to frequently check your credit score because having good credit provides you with loads of financial opportunities you might not otherwise have. But if you obsess over your credit score, you might be doing more harm than good. Your finances are important, but so is living a happy and fulfilled life.

Credit scores fluctuate, so it’s normal to see a score go up or down a few points every now and then. To avoid spending too much time obsessing over your credit score, learn the basics of good credit scores and how to achieve them. This will help you form habits to keep your credit score high so you don’t have to think about it all the time.


Missing a payment on a bill or credit card can be extremely frustrating and stressful because of the consequences. If you miss multiple payments, your credit may take a hit or you could have to deal with a collections agency. You may also pay hefty late fees or incur a higher penalty interest rate. But this stressful situation can generally be avoided.

After you’ve already missed a payment, there’s usually nothing to do but accept the consequences and move on. To avoid missing payments in the future while also keeping your stress levels in check, be sure to set reminders for yourself.

Most major financial institutions have alerts you can set up in your online accounts about when payments are due. You may also be able to set up automatic payments on certain bills and completely negate the chance you could miss a payment. Reminders and notes on your phone work, too. So does a note on the fridge or in your daily planner. Whatever works for you is the best way to avoid missed payments and the stress they can bring.

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Have you ever been hit with a surprise late fee or minimum balance fee? Most credit products and bank accounts have their conditions and fees available for anyone to see, but it can still be confusing. When you get hit with a fee, you might not understand why it happened and it stresses you out. You might even feel financially inept or foolish that you let it happen.

The best way to avoid any fees in the future is to carefully read over any contracts or agreements before getting a credit card, loan, or other financial tools. If you’re a new customer with a financial institution, you can call to request an explanation and see about getting the fee removed. This would also be a good opportunity to get further information about how the fees work so you’re better prepared in the future.

If you haven’t received a raise at work, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t good at your job. It can come off that way, though, because it may seem like the effort you’re putting in isn’t deserving of more money. This can impact your self-esteem and increase stress.

To combat this, it’s best to make everything perfectly clear with your boss or supervisor. If you were expecting a raise and didn’t get one, try to find out why. There’s no easy way to go about this other than getting it out in the open.

Even if you don’t end up getting a raise, you’ll have cleared the air and you won’t be wondering anymore, which can do wonders for your stress levels. It also allows you to decide on your next steps.

Your money woes might literally be keeping you up at night, which poses a significant health risk to you both physically and mentally. If this is the case, you’re clearly stressed out enough that some action is needed so you can stop losing sleep over money worries.

Your best bet is to identify the issue at the root of your stress. If it’s debt, what’s causing the debt? Are you overspending? Did you lose your job? Are interest rates too high? Whatever the issue is, it needs to be identified.

Then, you need to create a plan to work on your issue. For instance, you could be in debt because you buy too many things. You may have to make some serious lifestyle changes. With a plan, you can put everything out in the open and consistently work toward goals to overcome whatever it is that’s stressing you out.

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Whether you needed a career change or were laid off, looking for a new job can bring on a lot of stress and anxiety. Staying at a job for a while gets you into a certain routine. You’re familiar with your tasks and you know the people you work with. Looking for a new job involves going through job boards, going to interviews, possibly learning new skills, and much more. There’s the potential for failure or not finding the right fit. You also may not have an income while you’re on the job hunt.

To make it easier on yourself, create a list of things you’d like from a new position. Maybe a certain salary, the type of work you’d be doing, the size of the company, and anything else you can think of. This can help take some of the uncertainty out of your job search.

Also, be sure to do your best when researching potential employers, especially before interviewing with them. The more prepared you are to have a good interview, the better the chances you’ll have one. Preparation can also decrease your stress in a meaningful way by helping you focus and be ready.


It can be stressful to look over a statement that you don’t understand when you’re trying to manage your finances. There’s a lot of information, and you know it’s important, but you’re not positive what it all means, so it’s frustrating.

You can always call your bank and get some clarification about items on your bank statement. You don’t need to feel embarrassed about it because you’re trying to understand the information you’re being handed so you can better manage your finances.

In the end, a quick and informative call or chat with a helpful representative can grant you some extra knowledge and diminish your levels of stress.

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It may sound unusual, but being too thrifty with your purchases and other expenses can cause some stress in your life. It makes sense to look for deals and keep your costs low, but that doesn’t mean you have to always find the best deal on everything. At a certain point, the time you’re putting into being thrifty ends up having its own cost.

It makes sense to lower your costs to reduce your financial stress, but always worrying about being thrifty can also raise your stress levels. It can help to find a middle ground where you’re not worrying about every little expense, but you’re also not overspending. Find something you like and splurge on it every now and then. It’ll help boost your mood without breaking the bank.

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If you haven’t noticed the different ways money can affect your mental health, be sure to take a step back every once in a while to assess your situation. Money is important, but not as important as your mental health. Look through the ways we’ve listed to find ways you can take action and work on creating a better balance between your own finances and mental health.

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