Practical Tips For Recovering From Trauma
Trauma can be defined as an emotional response one has to an awful event that has occurred in his or her life. After undergoing a traumatic experience, it is common for one to experience a stage of shock and denial. In the long run, unresolved trauma can invoke physical discomforts such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue the experience is “relived.”
Those living with trauma can be prone to shut down emotionally and withdraw themselves from the world in their present life. Because of this, those haunted by trauma may find difficulty in making progress in their lives. This is particularly the case when such trauma goes unrecognized by the individual.
If you are someone trying to overcome your trauma, this article will provide you with information on the three phases of trauma along with science-based methods that can aid with your healing process.
What happens in your body when you’ve been traumatized?
When you experience trauma, the stress hormone cortisol is overproduced in your body. The things that remind you of your trauma are called “triggers,” and these triggers physiologically signal the body into a “fight or flight” state, leaving the body into a perpetual frozen state of high stress and alert.
Understand that trauma affects three areas of the brain: the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala. The effect trauma has on these areas can be everlasting. A study done on animals revealed that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can disrupt normal brain activity as well as lead to significant changes in brain size. The overproduction of cortisol can rewire the circuity of the brain; thus, leading to chronic emotional and psychological distress.
Trauma is linked to future health problems
Below is a list of the long-term health effects that chronic stress (developed from a traumatic experience) can have on a person:
• Heart and liver disease
• Addictive behaviors such as alcoholism and smoking
• Chronic pain conditions
• Gastrointestinal illness
• Anxiety and depression
• Feelings of despair, guilt, and shame
• Emotional numbness
• Cognitive impairment that can include lapses in memory, difficulty in making decisions, higher distractibility, an imbalanced routine, and even a misplaced sense of time.
The 3 Phases of Trauma Recovery
The three phases outlined below are intended to help one move forward from their traumatic experience.
1. Safety and stabilization
It is normal for those who have experienced trauma often feel unsafe in their bodies and on edge around others. Hence, the goal of this first stage is to help you regain a sense of security in the world.
The first step you must take is to identify which emotions are linked to the trauma, so you can learn how to manage such emotions. It may help to confide in a therapist or a loved one to help you work out the emotions. If doing so verbally is not something you are comfortable with, there are other non-verbal approaches that can be taken to help confront and regulate the emotions linked with the trauma. More on that to follow.
2. Remembrance and Mourning
The second phase has to do with processing the trauma—even putting a name to it. You can start doing this by talking about the trauma in the context of your life. Being open to any form of professional help—whether it be an individual or in a group setting—will only serve to aid the processing progress. Be patient with yourself and allow things to unravel naturally to avoid triggering a traumatic response.
The key here is to understand that you are not escaping your trauma nor are you reliving it. Rather, you should look at it as coming to a healthful resolve. In the case of a traumatic experience involving a significant loss, allow yourself to mourn. Processing trauma may be difficult, but it will allow your emotions to be expressed in a healthy, proper manner that can aid in you moving forward.
3. Reconnection and Integration
The third phase is reclaiming your personal power. This can be done by finding something you are passionate about. Many of those who are recovering from trauma have found healing in devoting themselves to helping others. Whatever it is for you, it is important to reconnect with the world and others now that you are no longer controlled or defined by your traumatic experience.
Ways to Work Through Trauma
As previously mentioned, professional help is a crucial component to help heal trauma. However, there are other methods that can be beneficial as well.
Heart Rate Variability Training (HRV)
Recall that trauma triggers your body into a fight or flight mode, leading to an increase in heart rate. HRV utilized technology that allows you to see when your heart rate has spiked; thus, allowing you to be aware of your physiological reaction to then choose the best way to respond.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR assists the brain and nervous system to better respond to specific triggers by recalibrating the brain’s circuitry through eye movement. During a session, you are asked to track a light moving left to right on an EMDR device. As your eye moves back and forth at specific speeds, the brain circuitry resets, which can then be examined by an EMDR specialist to assess your trauma.
Neurofeedback functions similarly to HRV in that it allows you to bring conscious awareness of your emotional and physical state by wearing a device around your head. This technique is especially useful in cases of PTSD but can aid anyone looking to move away from their trauma.
Holotropic breathwork merges rapid breathing practice with sensory music. Using this technique can alter your state of consciousness and has been shown to help with cases of trauma.
Depending on what country you live in, this technique might not be legal. However, psychedelic therapy, which can include drugs such as MDMA and LSD, can help to recalibrate your brain if properly administered by a practitioner. This one is best done in a medically supervised setting.
Special note about birth trauma
Birth trauma can be an entirely somatic experience one undergoes at the earliest stages of life. An example of trauma at birth can be an umbilical cord wrapped around the neck of the newborn. In cases such as these, non-verbal treatment such as holotropic breathwork or psychedelic therapy may be more effective due to the nature of the trauma.