Today I want to write about Trauma and the healing process. As I grow in my healing, applying all the techniques and tools that I know work for me, one thing that remains the same is that this process is a life-long journey.
I am at a place where I am understanding that not only does traumatic experiences impact my mind, emotions and spirit; they impact my body. The reason I say this, is I have noticed that even though my healing has brought me to a place where I haven’t had a depressive episode in over two years (meaning it doesn’t last for days nor interferes with my daily responsibilities; this doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments of sadness or the physical pain that accompanies depression, it just means that my coping skills are such that the depression doesn’t prevent me from functioning. I am also at a place where I have anxiety free days, and this blows my mind. I never thought that could happen. Even so, I have noticed certain reactions with my body.
I know that stress affects the body. I learned this several years ago when several stressful situations were all happening at the same time. It was like every area in my life had drama or challenges, I was literally under stress every day all day for months, I would even say at least two years. During this time of unrelenting stress my body began to ache all the time, even my toes ached and all I could do was make it home just to lay down until my body would start to calm down. Now as my stress level decreased and healing increased the body aches lessened. Still, what I’ve noticed is that my body had been programmed to react to any stress in my life with these body aches. And it could be the smallest of things, or even positive things, it’s like my body doesn’t know the difference so it goes into this survival mode. Therefore, I wanted to understand so that I could apply new coping skills and techniques to re-program my body. (i.e. I needed my body to catch up with the rest and me and where I am in my healing process.
Currently there is so much research and studying around psychological trauma and the body that I wanted to share some of this information with you in hopes that it will encourage and empower you on your journey of healing.
As humans, we have what’s referred to as a natural defense system. Part of what keeps us alive is our ability to feel fear, in fact, we are made with a kind of built-in-alarm system that brings the full weight of our mental and physical prowess to bear in the face of danger; the “fight or flight” response. Anxiety is a normal part of this defense system, until the anxiety becomes overwhelming and unhealthy.
What do we know about trauma? Definitions of trauma continue to change over time as we learn more about it. Wikipedia defines traumas as direct personal experience of any event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury; threat to one’s physical integrity, witnessing an event that involves the above experience, learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death, or injury experienced by a family member or close associate. Memories associated with trauma are typically explicit, coherent and difficult to forget. The person’s response to aversive details of traumatic events involve intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of events, but there are a few common aspects. There is frequently a violation of the person’s core assumptions about the world and their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity.
According to the article, To Heal Trauma, Work with the Body, when something traumatic happens, the brain functions differently. Under normal circumstances, the brain encodes whatever it needs to encode, sends it down the pathway, it is processed, stored or disposed of, and life goes on and memories are intact.
Our bodies communicate consistently all day long with all kinds of electrical and chemical impulses. These impulses tell our brain and body what to do. “Process this, dump that, pay attention here; under normal circumstances the only messages are the ones that need attention-you are fully present and encoding the information and it’s no big deal. Under stress, all this goes haywire. Trauma can seriously adversely affect the nervous system.
Now stay with me for a moment. The Autonomic Nervous System operates below the level of conscious awareness in other words it functions involuntarily and consists of two sub-systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is “switched on” when we are faced with threat/danger/emergencies in order to mobilize extra energy that the body may require for fight/flight.
The parasympathetic nervous system is “switched on” when we are in a state of relaxation.
Trauma can cause the autonomic nervous system to become deregulated in two main ways. Simply put, a traumatized individual, whose traumatic experiences remain unprocessed, may become “locked into” one of the above two extremes or may oscillate back and forth between the two. There is a loss of healthy balance between the two systems.
Here’s the problem, your body cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional danger. This is the reason you have this fight or flight response to Stimuli whether It is emotional or physical. Your brain thinks that you are in physical danger which is why we have the physical symptoms.
So, while we are doing the work on the metal and emotional aspects of healing from a traumatic event, we must also bring the body’s response down, calm down the hormonal messengers who are telling you that you are in danger.
I have recently added two new tools to my personal toolkit to help me manage the physical aspect. I have included yoga and what’s called Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes.
Not only has this been helpful with decreasing my body aches whenever my fight/flight response is triggered, it has also been very helpful during my healing process when the physical pain of depression settles in. I am more able to process it, (i.e. allow myself to feel it) process, why am I feeling this and then let it go. Thus, allowing the degree of the depression to lessen, rendering it less debilitating to my life. If you are looking for a powerful new tool, I would suggest looking up Mindfulness for yourself.
Until next time.
Healing The Hidden Things! Healing Grows Your Faith!
Peace & Love
Jennifer Sweeton Psy.D. , To Heal Trauma, Work with the Body
www.mindful.org, Getting Started with Mindfulness
childhoodtraumarecovery.com, How Trauma Can Seriously Adversely Affect The Nervous System