First, What Do We Consider Trauma?
Most of us have experienced some type of trauma, or at least know someone who has at some point in our lives. When you first think of trauma, you may think of the veteran soldier struggling with PTSD symptoms, a child or domestic parter who has endured physical abuse, or possibly a college student whose working through the aftermath of a sexual assault. These events are definitely traumatic. BUT, have you considered these? An individual whose parents recently divorced, the teenager that was in a car wreck, the mother who had a miscarriage, or the sudden breakup with a loved one.
Here’s another thing to consider; not all trauma has to be major a event. Some events we may not consider traumatic at the time they occur. However, they happen so frequently that it creates a cumulative harmful effect on a person. These can be things such as chaotic environments, aggressive environments/relationships, receiving inconsistent parenting and/or having instability in the family. I see clients in my office everyday with all of the above!
What Does Our Body Do in Response?
When we experience a trauma, our body naturally responds through our Central Nervous System (CNS). This is referring to our Sympathetic (Hot) Nervous System and our ParaSympathetic (Cool) Nervous System. In our Sympathetic Nervous System, our heart rate increases, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises, muscles tense, etc. The ParaSympathetic Nervous System promotes digestion, increases blood flow to non-vital organs, releases endorphins, decreases blood pressure and body temperature, etc. Our “Hot” System turns on when we are activated by a trauma event.
You’ve heard of “Fight, Flight or Freeze”? Anger, aggression, being reactive, irrational, self-centered, having sleep disturbances, hyperactive, anxiety, irritability, impulsive behaviors, difficulty evaluating situations, dissociating, emotional numbing, sadness, withdrawing, easily distracted; These are not bad behaviors or reactions, they are just signs of what system is currently in use and what we do to “survive”.
The Power of Self-Regulation
When we recognize our body is becoming dysregulated, we have the amazing ability to help heal our own trauma! It is said that it is impossible to experience anxiety at the same time your are in a relaxed muscle body state. Go ahead, try it!
So, there are things we can do to help us self-regulate and get into this “relaxed muscle body”. First, becoming sensitive to the feedback your body gives you is very important. I start by having my clients do what we call a body-scan. You simply start at the top of your head and work your way down to your feet and just notice any tension you may be holding, and relaxing any muscles that may be tense. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, the teacher will often tell you to relax your mouth, including your tongue! I immediately realize I’ve been holding it to the roof of my mouth the whole time and how tight my jaw feels! I release it and notice the difference in my entire face! It’s the same concept…just notice and relax!
Then continue to work your way back up to your head. If any muscles still feel tense, tighten those for 5 seconds and release. If there is still remaining tension, tighten ALL the muscles in the body for 5 more seconds, then release. I also like to teach diaphragmatic breathing, pelvic floor exercises, progressive body relaxations, meditations, grounding and Trauma Sensitive Yoga.
How Trauma Can Be Transformed
For those of us that have experienced trauma, we walk around everyday arranging our lives around it like it is a living, breathing thing in our present day. It controls most of what we do and the decisions we make. Tons of energy is spent trying NOT to feel and think about how it is effecting us. We definitely do not pay attention to how our bodies are experiencing it. So we walk around re-enforcing this traumatic state of being without even realizing it.
In a relaxed muscle body, we are able to process some of this “junk” we are carrying around. Our body and brain start to get a different message, processing the trauma in an entirely different way. EMDR is a wonderful way in which we are able to process our trauma in a relaxed state, giving us a new opportunity to heal!
If you’re interested in learning more about this process and how it might look for you, contact me and let’s talk!