Coping with Trauma

Posted on Dec 2, 2014 in front page slider | 0 comments

Coping with Trauma

The Chinese character for crisis is a combination of two words: danger and opportunity.  People who fully engage in recovery from trauma discover unexpected benefits. As they gradually heal their wounds, survivors find that they are also developing inner strength, compassion for others, increasing self-awareness, and often the most surprising, a greater ability to experience joy and serenity than ever before.

 

What is trauma and how does it work?

The definition of trauma according to the American Psychological Association (APA):

“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”

A traumatic event may be any unexpected life event perceived as negative and threatening, leaving the individual feeling helpless or out of control. Often one traumatic event recalls past traumatic experiences, and a small or insignificant event may trigger emotional reactions seemingly out of proportion to the event.

Physical and emotional reactions to a traumatic event are normal; they are the body’s way of ensuring the person’s survival. The areas of the brain that are designed to activate during crises are part of the automatic system that are beyond the conscious control of the individual.  Although they produce necessary life-saving reactions, the individual who experiences these stressful reactions may feel increasingly helpless after trauma.

Understanding responses to distressing events can help you cope effectively with your feelings, thoughts and behaviours along the path to recovery.

A good article entitled Recovering emotionally from disaster by American Psychological Association (APA) spells out the various personal reactions to trauma:

http://apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx

 

How therapy can help after trauma:

“Central to the experience of trauma is helplessness, isolation and the loss of power and control. The guiding principles of trauma recovery are the restoration of safety and empowerment. Recovery does not necessarily mean complete freedom from post traumatic effects but generally it is the ability to live in the present without being overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of the past”  (http://trauma-recovery.ca).

Trauma Debriefing in Groups consists primarily of making individuals aware of the normal effect of trauma on their bodies, emotions and general functioning. Through psycho-education and personal awareness training they are encouraged to allow and accept the natural responses to trauma that will culminate in reintegration and healing over time. Knowing when the process is stuck and further professional help is needed, is empowering.

The group context creates mutual support and counters the feeling of being isolated and helpless.  The network of colleagues and co-workers serves an important purpose: relationships have been built over time and are a source of support in times of stress, when many people find it difficult to discuss their experiences and emotions with people close to them. During Trauma Debriefing in Groups the psychologist facilitates a safe and healing conversation during which she gives members information and the tools they need to deal with stress or trauma – both on personal and group level.

An interesting YouTube video about the effects of trauma on the body:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byQBP7fq5vQ

From David Baldwin’s Trauma Information Pages (http://www.trauma-pages.com/s/t-facts.php):

 

Helpful Coping Strategies

  • mobilize a support system — reach out and connect with others, especially those who may have shared the stressful event
  • talk about the traumatic experience with empathic listeners
  • cry
  • hard exercise like jogging, aerobics, bicycling, walking
  • relaxation exercise like yoga, stretching, massage
  • humor
  • prayer and/or meditation
  • hot baths
  • music and art
  • maintain balanced diet and sleep cycle as much as possible
  • avoid over-using stimulants like caffeine, sugar, or nicotine
  • commitment to something personally meaningful and important every day
  • hug those you love, pets included
  • eat warm turkey, boiled onions, baked potatoes, cream-based soups — these are tryptophane activators, which help you feel tired but good (like after Thanksgiving dinner)
  • make proactive responses toward personal and community safety — organize or do something socially active
  • write about your experience — in detail, just for yourself or to share with others.

Our natural instincts might be to cry, to shout, to lash out in anger after trauma – BUT we have been taught well and suppress these natural tendencies. We have been trained by our culture to stay calm and contained and we have lost the ability to react in healthy ways to adversity.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” (Charles Darwin).

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