The Body, the Brain, and EMDR 

By Melena Stevens 

Have you ever experienced a very stressful day and felt a tension headache coming on? Or you were worried about going to a social event, and your stomach started to rebel? Or when we’re feeling depressed and not wanting to get out of bed, and our body feels like it has the flu (achy and heavy)? These are common ways our bodies can react when our brain is under stress. Our bodies and our brains are interconnected. So much so, that 70% of our serotonin (feel good chemical) is produced in the colon! No wonder our stomachs act up when we’re feeling anxious or depressed. 

These body responses don’t just happen in the moment. The body remembers everything it goes through, even if your brain doesn’t want to remember. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) are a list of traumatic events that can happen when a person is under the age of 18. This includes parents divorcing, any form of abuse, substance use in the home, neglect, etc that may impact a person’s ability to use positive coping skills when faced with negative emotions. Research has shown that if one experiences any number of these adverse childhood experiences, it is more likely to have chronic pain and chronic illness as an adult. Adults who have chronic illnesses, especially autoimmune diseases (ie Crohns, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac, etc) are more likely to have had trauma earlier in their life. While much still needs to be learned about autoimmune diseases, they are often triggered by stress, or a traumatic event. 

So, we can see that our physical health is tied to our mental health. If we can address our mental health, in many cases, it will help us improve our physical health as well! But how do we work through traumas we may or may not remember? That’s where EMDR comes in. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a type of therapy designed to help the brain and the body work together. When you dream, we have REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, where our eyes move back and forth, which is how our brain processes information throughout the day. EMDR takes that movement and processing and applies it while you are awake. It’s called Bilateral Stimulation, which is just movement on both sides of the body, usually through moving your eyes back and forth, or through tapping. 

EMDR can be super helpful for someone who experienced trauma, especially if more traditional talk therapy wasn’t helpful. Sometimes, we can talk about our trauma all day long and not feel a thing. Sometimes, we can’t talk about it at all because it’s too painful. EMDR helps us connect our mind with our body to help us process our past and feel it in a safe way. When we work through our emotional trauma, it can help us heal not only our past, but can start to heal our bodies as well. If you would like to learn more, there is a book called “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. You can also call and schedule an appointment!