After a traumatic experience, everything can seem pretty disorienting. If it was a recent traumatic event, it can make a life that once made sense feel unsettled and unfamiliar. If the trauma occurred during childhood or adolescence, triggers can cease for some time and then suddenly appear when least expected, bringing up a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. According to renowned psychiatrist and author, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, “we have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.”
Adults survivors of trauma tend to adapt to traumatic experiences by using any number of learned coping behaviors that have supported them while the trauma was occurring. Such tools range from disconnecting from themselves when provoked to burying their feelings when feeling overwhelmed or flooded by a triggering interaction. And while these coping tools can be very useful for some time, they are not sustainable in the long run and can leave you feeling emotionally drained.
Fortunately, many of the tools needed to repair these wounds are within our reach. One such tool is our brain or more specifically, the neurons making connections in our brain. According to neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay, neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to re-organize the brain under the right circumstances. When the brain is engaged and ready for change, neurochemicals are released, allowing the brain to make significant repairs.
So what does this mean for survivors of trauma? It means that there is hope. Given the right guidance, motivation, and support, a survivor of trauma can thrive and recalibrate a system that has been working overtime to protect itself.
So, here are a few things you can do now to help facilitate this change and start the healing process:
· Understand that trauma reactions can vary from person to person. Some of my clients note that post trauma, they are noticeably more irritable or depressed, while others feel the effects of trauma as a pain in their chest or chronic fatigue. I also recommend that clients rule out any physical concern by consulting with a medical doctor.
· Practice mindfulness. While this term may have been trending for the last few years, there is something to it. Taking a moment and google belly breathing. It’s also called diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing can be helpful when experiencing panic attacks and has been shown to slow down the heart beat and lower the effects of cortisol on your body.
· Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Support systems are so critical in one’s ability to heal. If it is too difficult to reach out to a loved one, reach out to a local hotline, clinician, or to your local mental health communities. Most clinicians are more than happy to research and offer resources that fit your needs.
If you feel like your symptoms are interfering with your ability to deal with day to day activities, it may be time to seek professional help. Treatments such as EMDR and TR-CBT can quickly alleviate some symptoms, giving clients a better understanding of the healing process and allow clients to reclaim their ability to be present and at peace in their own lives. As a certified EMDR provider, I’m happy to talk with you more about these options and what may be the best fit for you.