We hope life can be an idyllic bed of roses but reality is that a traumatic experience can happen to anyone at any time and shake our most basic sense of security. Indeed, as many as 75% of us will experience a traumatic experience at some point in our lives. When this happens, we can feel like our world is crumbling. However, with the right approach, we can rebuild our lives and move on.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is anything that wounds you psychologically, inducing a sense of fear. Traumatic events can entail a range of experiences. These include physical or sexual abuse, a violent assault, the death of a loved one, or financial, professional, or personal losses.
What are the Effects of Trauma?
Traumatic experiences can take a serious toll on us, both psychologically and physically. Psychologically, we may experience:
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Anxiety and fear
- Difficulty concentrating
- A sense of guilt or shame
- Feelings of hopelessness and grief
- Feelings of disconnectedness
Physically, we may experience:
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Muscle tension
- Insomnia or nightmare
Types of Trauma
Trauma comes in various forms. These include:
- Acute Trauma or Shock Trauma: This is trauma that one experiences from a single event. Often, the event is sudden and unexpected, with a clear-cut beginning and end. This trauma can make you feel like your world has come to an end. Examples of events that lead to acute trauma include accidents, natural disasters, and invasive medical procedures.
- Chronic Trauma: This is trauma that occurs from continual exposure to highly stressful events. This includes domestic violence, bullying, and child abuse.
- Complex Trauma: This is trauma that is due to exposure to several traumatic events.
- Secondary Trauma: This is trauma due to exposure to someone who has had a traumatic event. One form of this is generational trauma, which is trauma that passes through generations. Indeed, research has shown that women who have suffered childhood trauma can pass this memory down to their offspring.
Trauma and the Nervous System
Research has shown that trauma can alter the central nervous system. How trauma affects the brain can vary between individuals. However, these are the major areas of the brain that are impacted by traumatic experiences:
- Hippocampus: This is the area of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning. Under the stress of trauma, the hippocampus may actually shrink. This shrinkage decreases the amount of information and memories one can process. Indeed, impairments in learning and memory have been observed in people who have had traumatic experiences.
- Amygdala: This is the brain area responsible for detecting and reacting to places, people, and things in our environment that could be dangerous. After trauma, this region of the brain can be even more attuned to potential environmental threats. This hyper-attention can make it hard to pay attention, socialize with new people, or even go to novel places.
- Prefrontal cortex: This area of the brain controls the amygdala and is responsible for learning that previously threatening people or places in our environment are now safe. After trauma, connections between the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex can be weakened. This results in the medial prefrontal cortex not being as effective at lowering amygdala activity to places, people, and things in our environment that are indeed safe.
Thankfully, our brains are pretty plastic. With the proper healing modalities, changes in the brain that occur after traumatic experiences can improve with time.
There are various modalities that you can utilize to heal from traumatic experiences. These include:
- Somatic Experiencing: This approach is used to heal shock trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is an approach that is built on the study of stress physiology, biology, neuroscience, medical biophysics, psychology, and indigenous healing practices. With this approach, a therapist helps the client relieve traumatic memories in a safe environment.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): With this approach, a therapist encourages the client to briefly focus on the trauma memory as the therapist directs their eye movements. This helps the client process and integrate traumatic memories. In turn, this leads to a reduction in the emotion and vividness that are associated with traumatic memories.
- Emotional Freedom Technique: This is an alternative treatment to alleviate emotional distress. With this approach, the client taps on meridians within the body, creating balance in the energy system, bringing a sense of calm.
- Brainspotting: This approach locates points in the client’s visual field, which aid in accessing unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain.
Self Care Steps You Can Take to Heal from Trauma
In addition to some of the healing modalities above, there are self-care steps you can take to propel you on the path to healing. These include:
Exercise: Traumatic experiences can initiate your body’s fight-or-flight response, putting your body in a constant state of alertness. This, in turn, wears down your nervous system. Exercise can help alleviate some of these effects.
In fact, research demonstrates that aerobic exercise can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder. When exercising, aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. To make it even easier, you can break up your activity into three 10 minutes sessions during the day.
Mindfulness: Mindful breathing, mindful framing, and other mindfulness-based practices help ground yourself in the present. This, in turn, prevents you from relieving the traumatic experience.
In fact, research also demonstrates that mindfulness-based practices on their own or in addition to other treatments may help treat post traumatic stress disorder. To practice mindful breathing, take deep breaths, paying attention to your breath. Notice how your diaphragm moves up and down. Also, pay attention to your senses in the present moment.
Connection with others: After experiencing trauma, the natural tendency is to withdraw from others. However, staying in contact with friends and families is essential.
In fact, staying in contact with others can prevent trauma from developing into post-traumatic stress disorder. Staying in touch with others does not have to entail talking about your traumatic experience. Just being around other people can improve your psychological well-being. To stay connected with others, consider participating in recreational, community, and religious activities.
Journaling: Write about your trauma. Research also demonstrates that writing about your traumatic experiences can help you process them. Journaling can also help reduce stress and boost your immune system.
Traumatic experiences can be life-changing. It can feel like you’re walking around with a gaping wound that will never heal. However, with the right help and support, you can feel whole again.