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How To Cope With Body Memories In PTSD Recovery

Knowing how to cope with body memories is essential for PTSD recovery. What is a body memory? How do you know if you experience body memories? Read this.

Dealing with body memories in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery is one of the most difficult symptoms. Body memories differ from flashbacks. A flashback is a sudden, vivid memory that makes you feel like you are experiencing your trauma all over again. It’s a physical feeling of being there, not just a normal memory where you are recalling what has happened. However, body memories are another type of way we relive trauma that, while far less intense, are still upsetting. Body memories are not so easily identified; they can cause mental problems for years before you recognize them as a body memory.

Cause of Body Memories in PTSD Recovery: The Body Remembers

Around this time each year, my PTSD symptoms seem to worsen. Depression often sets in, and despair is right around the corner. I have a general feeling that something bad is goingKnowing how to cope with body memories is essential for PTSD recovery. What is a body memory? How do you know if you experience body memories? Read this.
to happen and that I am just waiting for some sort of disaster. I realized a number of years ago, that these feelings come up at about the same time the seasons change from summer to fall. It’s when the hot days start to cool off, that I find myself anxious, sad, and kind of paranoid. But this isn’t your normal seasonal affective disorder.

While I recognized the timing of my change in mood quite a while ago, it wasn’t until just recently that I realized why it was happening every October. The reason is that my body is remembering a traumatic time in my life, even when my mind is not.

The brain isn’t the only part of our bodies that remembers trauma. Every cell of our bodies has the capacity to remember trauma, even when our brain is not consciously thinking about it.1 So, while I am not specifically recalling the trauma that I suffered in autumns past, my body is. For me, that means my depression and anxiety come to the forefront, I want to sleep more, and I feel like isolating myself from the rest of the world.

Dealing With Body Memories in PTSD Recovery

There are things that I can do to deal with what my body is feeling (Relieve Symptoms of PTSD: Allow Your Body To Shake). These are the things that help me get through the tough times with body memories in PTSD recovery:

  • Allow myself to feel the feeling. This isn’t easy. My first inclination when I am feeling a negative emotion is to shut it down, or stuff it away. I’ve learned that denying the emotion isn’t a healthy way to deal with unwanted feelings. Ignoring or avoiding the feelings is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb, it won’t work. The feelings will fester and bubble up until they are properly dealt with. 
  • Pay special attention to self-care. When I am dealing with any PTSD symptom, I have to remember to take care of myself. This means eating when I’m hungry, sleeping when I’m tired, and doing things that make me feel better. Sometimes just allowing myself to relax and do nothing is what is best for me — the laundry can wait.
  • Talk to someone about it. While my tendency is to isolate, I know that if I express how I am feeling to someone else, it lessens the power that the negative feelings have over me.
  • Tell myself the truth. Telling myself the truth is vital. Whether I am having a flashback, body memory, or just thinking about my traumas, I have to remind myself that I have survived and I’m no longer in that situation. It sounds simple, but it is profound in healing from PTSD to remember that no matter how devastating the trauma was, it’s over, and I survived.

Body memories, like every other PTSD symptom, can be healed. It takes a lot of self-awareness, a little bit of willingness and being honest with yourself, but it can be done.


1 Van Der Kolk, B. (2009, July 3). The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the Evolving Psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress. Retrieved October 11, 2015.

Read more about Jami and her recovery on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, and on her blog.

Author: Jami DeLoe

Jami DeLoe is a freelance writer and addiction blogger. She is an advocate for mental health awareness and addiction recovery and is a recovering alcoholic herself. Find Jami DeLoe on her blog, Sober Grace, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

8 thoughts on “How To Cope With Body Memories In PTSD Recovery”

  1. I am having a severe body memory. I can not swallow. I have been through all the gastrointestinal testing. I can not stop feeling raped, as though it were an hour ago.

  2. My son is dealing with severe PTSD from a deployment to Haiti. He has started his healing process by sharing his journey in a blog. He wants to help the mental health system provide better care. Please check out his blog and share. 8yearssite.wordpress.com

  3. I had a severe accident while driving a bus in October 2010. I have suffered years of physical and mental pain and trauma. I have had to endure 2 awful knee operations and the resulting allergic reactions to the pre meds. My mental health has suffered horribly and I have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I will be seeing another psychiatrist on the 6th November. It has been 6 years since my accident this month and I am experiencing much worse ptsd symptoms and especially bad dreams and nightmares. I think my body does remember my accident and my knee pain has also been very troubling as well.

    1. Garry,
      First of all, I am so sorry to hear about your accident. I know it must be a difficult thing to deal with, especially with the lingering effects. My trauma wasn’t the same as yours, but I do completely understand what you’re going through now. I had the horrible nightmares for a long time, but now they are pretty infrequent, thank God. I am happy to know that you are getting help. PTSD can be devastating, but you are taking the right steps in dealing with it – seeking treatment, talking about it, and reaching out to others who understand. You are on the right path! Let me know how things go for you.


  4. Hi Jami,
    Great article! I completely get it. I have certain times of the year when I’ll start feeling body memories. One that I didn’t get for years was my birthday – I had a lot of sensations of being in the middle of a trauma, and never wanted anyone to acknowledge my birthday or treat it as special. Then I remembered a violent trauma that took place on my 17th birthday.

    Thanks for your thoughts on dealing with those body memories – I completely agree – it’s super important to put self-care at the top of the list during these times. Staying grounded, feeling the feelings, and talking with someone who understands can really help balance out the body memory experience.


    1. Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your comment. I have the same type of issues with my birthday too. As a matter of fact, my birthday is usually what kicks off my season of discontent, so I know how that goes. I am working on just taking care of myself, doing the things I have to, but not worrying about the things that I don’t, and talking about it with others who know what this PTSD stuff is like. This too, shall pass. 🙂


      1. Really? This is the first I’ve heard of another person who had issues around their birthday. Must be some kind of dysfunctional family dynamic in that. I agree – it will pass! 🙂

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