This is known as dysregulated arousal




In trauma-sensitive mindfulness, the variable we’re interested in here is arousal—defined as our basic readiness for life. Arousal originates in the brain stem, activates our ANS, and helps us respond to the demands of the world.



If we need energy to do something, such as get out of bed or pick up our child, arousal increases; when we rest, it decreases.



Trauma, meanwhile, creates acute arousal.



With fight or flight, our bodies hit the accelerator. We experience a burst of exceedingly high arousal.


If we then freeze, our bodies slam on the brakes.



With posttraumatic stress, arousal can end up fluctuating wildly between these two extremes.


Both pedals effectively remain slammed to the floor.



This is known as dysregulated arousal—a state where our ability to self-regulate becomes seriously compromised.


Overly sensitized to traumatic reminders, we end up experiencing too much arousal (hyperarousal) or too little arousal (hypoarousal), or swing uncontrollably between the two.


It is a precarious state, and one of the brutal costs of trauma.


When we’re hyperaroused, there’s too much energy in the system: we can be plagued by intrusive thoughts, are anxious and easily overwhelmed, and can find it hard to relax or focus.


This is the upper riverbank in Siegel’s model.


When hypoaroused, we experience a lack of energy that leads to an absence of sensation, a lack of concentration, and a sense of immobility—the lower bank.



There, people report feeling passive, disinterested, unmotivated, and numb.

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