Experiencing a trauma occurs when any event has overloaded your system so much that you cannot process the event and go into a state of temporary shock, excruciating fear, intense grief, or feel immensely overwhelmed and unable to function. This can occur from witnessing a murder, the death of a loved one, experiencing a natural disaster, domestic abuse, a devastating divorce, or any event where your life or wellbeing felt threatened in any way. You may also have felt helpless, hopeless, unable to escape, terrorized, or panicked.
In order for PTSD to occur, in which the body-mind goes into a state that seems frozen at that traumatic experience, the trauma doesn’t have to be severe from an outsider’s perspective. Anything can be traumatic if you experience it as such, especially for children who are particularly sensitive to horrific experiences. Consequently, sometimes other people may not understand what you are going through. That is alright. Some may think that it is not a “big deal” or the event didn’t seem traumatic enough to elicit such intense results. But rest assured, traumatic overload and its effects are subjective. Your own appraisal of your response to the traumatic is what’s significant.
Physiological Effects of Trauma
During a traumatic event, the natural “fight-or-flight” response occurs, which releases a rush of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This activates the sympathetic nervous system into a state of alert readiness and increased arousal. Normally, after the potentially life-threatening situation disappears, the parasympathetic nervous system helps restore the body to a state of relaxation. However, for PTSD suffers, this is not the case and the effects of the original trauma are felt and experienced long after the event has passed.
The uncomfortable psychological debris resulting from the trauma remains stagnant as fragments of unprocessed data become frozen in the timelessness of the unconscious. This results in the body’s suspended and perpetual state of sympathetic nervous system arousal and persistent fear. It is as if the body is continually reacting to the original trauma with no ability to escape the traumatic remains trapped below the surface of conscious awareness. At times, when triggers that remind the individual of the original trauma are presented, that stimuli activates the partially processed material in the unconscious for its rise to the surface.
Symptoms of Trauma
At triggered moments, or even spontaneously, you may feel as if you are experiencing the trauma all over again. Even though cognitively you may think, “hey, I am in a safe place with safe people…what is wrong?” Just know that these symptoms result from your body on a deep cellular level and your unconscious mind—they often don’t make sense and they don’t need to in order to heal from it.
At these times you may feel symptoms of intense panic, feeling like you are in a dream-world (called derealization) or that you are outside of your body and have lost your identity (depersonalization). You may also experience insomnia, extreme fear or anxiety, anger, intense mood swings, depression, terror, flashbacks, a heightened startle response, constant stress, feelings of being unsafe, in danger, feeling a lack of protection or support, or feeling disconnected from God. These symptoms are a defense mechanism set in place to protect your psyche from overload, and although they are scary, they are necessary for survival (at least until the trauma is resolved and released).
What is Needed After the Trauma
Trauma is stored on a deep physiological level, and also deep within the psyche, as the traumatic event was too powerful and overwhelming for the conscious mind to comprehend and process. As we heal, unconscious material that carries aspects of the traumatic experience will be presented in intervals for processing and releasing. At all times, but especially at these times, it is essential to incorporate the following 6 effective methods for trauma recovery.
The first method is one of returning to safety. For recovery, it is crucial to get back in touch with our bodies and with reality. We need to feel protected, safe, secure, and loved in our physical bodies again. We need to feel that it is safe to be alive, that we are comforted by this world. One of the ways to reestablish a sense of peace, safety, and comfort is to self-soothe.
This includes stating words of affirmation each morning such as, “I am safe in my physical body,” “I am nourished by the earth,” “I am protected no matter where I am at.” Get in touch with yourself and affirm what you need most. Then write these words down and place them on your wall or another visible place. Repeat these words every day, perhaps multiple times a day.
We can also self-soothe by going to get a nice, relaxing massage weekly from a trusted person, bathing with calming essential oils such as lavender, and having a foot bath where we can massage our own feet and soothe them with essential oils like frankincense. It could even be as simple as giving yourself a long hug, holding yourself, placing lots of blankets around you as you fall asleep, or being held by loved ones.
Meditating is also very beneficial, as it activates the calming and healing effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. Sometimes during deep meditation after a trauma, intense, vivid, or painful emotions arise to the surface. If this happens, stay present with them and feel them completely. Through meditation we connect with our unconscious mind, where traumatic material is stored and may be released if you’re ready to consciously process some of the content. Repeat to yourself that you are safe and protected and feel yourself enveloped in a warm, loving, protective embrace during this process. Know that you are always safe, protected, and deeply loved.
2. Regular Routine
Part of feeling safe again in the world comes from establishing a firm foundation of a regular routine. Start small. When recovering from a trauma, even small daily maintenance tasks like brushing your teeth, bathing, and running to the grocery store seem like insurmountable feats. Take a piece of paper each night and write down a to-do list of all the little things to get done in the morning. Eventually, get a planner and keep a schedule of weekly and monthly tasks and goals. Remember not to overwhelm yourself. Keep it simple and manageable.
Having a routine of going to school, work, or volunteering some place regularly helps to establish a feeling of security in the world. A regular exercise routine might also be of great benefit—not just because of its structure, but also because of the lovely cocktail of “feel-good” chemicals that are produced. Ultimately, anything that gets you out of bed and establishes some sort of functional regularity encourages the body-mind to begin to feel safe and secure again.
3. Creative Catharsis
Cathartic creations involve anything like journaling, painting, writing poetry, singing, dancing, drawing, song-writing, playing an instrument, acting, pottery, or anything that you might like (or even love!) to do. All of the arts are inherently cathartic, but they are especially so when consciously associated with the traumatic event. For instance, writing a poem or a song pertaining to your experience, journaling about what occurred and how it impacted your life and emotional state, painting a picture about how you feel or drawing can also be of great benefit. The point is to help process the traumatic experience and release it. So listening to music or any activity that may assist that process is valuable.
Also, get in touch with the earth. The physical reality will help to heal you. Gardening, hiking, or anything where you are feeling the earth may be especially advantageous. One of the drawbacks of persistent feelings of trauma includes a detachment from physical reality. By connecting with the earth you can ground yourself back into bodily awareness. Find whatever activities work for you and practice them. You can do it!
Make you are you eating enough! Also, make sure you are not eating too much. Every person has a diet that is unique to their own bodily needs, so make sure you have a healthy diet filled with foods that help you feel good. For me, I’m a pescatarian which means I eat seafood but no other meat. So I aim to eat lots of dark leafy greens, vegetables, salmon, brown rice, shrimp, scallops, oysters, bananas, goji berries, etc. Through lots of experimentation, I know what works for my body and what has helped me in recovering from trauma.
Trauma can wreak havoc on our body’s balance of neurotransmitters and hormones. A healthy diet uniquely suited to your body is one amazing way to restore vitality, heal the impact of trauma by nourishing the body, and increase your sense of wellbeing. Our bodies supply neurotransmitters such as serotonin to our brains from the food we eat. For instance, in the case of serotonin we can eat protein which contains amino acids such as tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted (with the help of certain B vitamins) into 5-HTP where it is then converted into serotonin.
Serotonin helps with regulating our moods, appetites, and sleep. By eating foods high in tryptophan such as shrimp, salmon, halibut, squash, bananas, etc, you can boost your mood, regulate your appetite, and improve your sleep! I highly recommend a book called, “The Mood Cure,” by Julia Ross. In her extremely intelligent book, she lists categories of neurotransmitters and their corresponding amino acids with dietary recommendations/supplements for improving your mood and recovering from biochemical imbalance (often brought on by trauma). We can use food as medicine! It’s amazing!
5. E.F.T. – Emotional Freedom Technique
For over 5,000 years Chinese medicine has recognized the complex energy circuits that travel through the body (called meridians). In EFT, the same meridian points used in acupuncture and acupressure are applied via “tapping” with your fingers throughout different meridian points along your body. In this way, applying this tapping technique stimulates and breaks up stagnant energy where the trauma is held. And because trauma is stored in the body, this is a great way to provide relief.
In my own personal experience after multiple traumas, I would experience severe panic attack-like symptoms which would last for hours at a time. The fear was so excruciating that I couldn’t sleep, would have extremely painful physiological/emotional symptoms, and would stay awake for hours experiencing what I called “terror.” Then one night during a terror episode I decided to try EFT. I proceeded to tap on the prescribed tapping points while voicing affirmations such as, “I am safe in my body” over and over again. After a few minutes I got to a point in the center of my chest and I was absolutely blown away by what happened.
I felt an actual physical movement in my heart center as I was tapping and repeating my positive affirmations. It felt as if something moved abruptly and flew out of me! It was very bizarre, and even more weird considering I wasn’t even sure if a silly exercise like EFT would work for something so extreme in the first place. So that night I had my first breakthrough, after years of suffering. The terror feeling left me, and although it wasn’t resolved completely in the long term, it was a huge step towards my healing. So I highly recommend watching YouTube videos on EFT or just experimenting yourself for any symptoms of PTSD you might be experiencing. Make up positive affirmations suited to you and your condition. You will heal!
In my own journey, all of the above methods were simply incredible and I wouldn’t have survived had I not experienced them. However, I realized that I needed some extra help in various forms of medicinal allies, like herbs, amino acid supplements, and even pharmaceuticals. I personally believe in integrative medicine that combines the vast knowledge of the West and the immense wisdom of the East. All medicinal modalities serve the purpose of promoting optimal functioning, wholeness, and health. Together, they are unstoppable as an integrated team of medicinal potency! As always, speak to your doctor before making any changes to your current medication or before incorporating supplements into your regimen.
For symptoms of anxiety, panic, restlessness, or irritation, herbs like passionflower, lemon balm, valerian, skullcap, California poppy, and chamomile (amongst others) may be helpful in relieving those painful after effects of trauma. Amino acid supplements such as GABA or 5-HTP may also be of great benefit. As for pharmaceuticals, SSRIs or low-dose benzodiazepines have been shown to be highly effective (albeit a potentially dangerous last resort which I recommend using only in extreme cases).
There are many options for medicinal treatment available for PTSD. I encourage you to begin seeing a reputable Licensed Professional Therapist or Psychologist for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Systematic Desensitization, Mindfulness meditation, and other therapeutic techniques that can enhance your quality of life and help you overcome the after effects of trauma. Also, speak to a local Certified Herbalist or Naturopathic Doctor. There are a vast array of professionals that can help you! Just know that healing takes time, but you will get better!!!