Watching a train come down a track as it hits a splitter taking the train in a different direction is a good example of what trauma does to our brains. Trauma and trauma informed care have become buzzwords in the mental health field, but what is trauma? Is it possible to heal from it?
Trauma is a deeply disturbing experience that overwhelms our ability to cope. The key word being “overwhelm.” Trauma is more than the minor upsets we experience in our day to day lives. It’s something that upsets our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical balance so drastically that our brains have difficulty processing, or are unable to process the experience. These experiences can include (but are not limited to) physical, sexual, spiritual, or verbal violence/abuse, war/battle incidents, accidents and natural disasters.
Online examples of trauma like the ones just mentioned can be vague, and do not always connect the dots for the online info seeker, as case specifics need to be taken into consideration. It takes more intense processing to realize that growing up in a household or environment where there was domestic violence was a traumatic experience, or that getting bullied in school everyday was an early childhood trauma that still affects us.
Though we all experience trauma in our lives it affects all of us differently. It’s the reason why two people who were in the same car accident can have two very different trauma responses. One may be able to get behind the wheel and drive the very next day, while the other has a panic attack just trying to get the key in the ignition. Panic attacks along with anxiety, anger, hypervigilance, depression, and trouble sleeping, are just some of the symptoms of trauma. These symptoms may manifest soon after the trauma or in the weeks, and even years to follow.
Ptsdunited.org sights that 70 percent of American adults surveyed had endured a traumatic experience, and an estimated 20 percent of those individuals will go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A mental health challenge with a specific symptomatic profile that includes flashbacks and nightmares surrounding the traumatic event. Though most people are familiar with the term PTSD from awareness of those in the armed forces who are affected, PTSD is not exclusive to war vets, and can be developed by anyone who experiences trauma.
In a 2011 Adverse Childhood Experience study, almost 35 million children in the U.S. alone experienced childhood trauma. Experiencing childhood trauma makes those youth more prone to anxiety, depression, and other effects of trauma as they enter adulthood than youth who have not.
As Native American/First Nations/indigenous people, we have inherited the historical and intergenerational trauma of our ancestors. Making us more prone to the effects of trauma and vicarious trauma, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse challenges, and even thoughts of suicide. Some of our elders serve as shining examples of the courage and strengths it takes to heal with many first generation boarding school survivors still in the process of healing from the horrifying experiences at places like Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The obstacles and realities of rez life, modern struggles, family dynamics, relationships, financial burdens, and current socio-political climate can deal any of us a one-two punch, making our commitment to our own healing one of the most important choices we’ll ever make.
Here's the good news: HEALING. CAN. HAPPEN. Trauma and it’s effects are like big bullies, leading us to believe we have no choice but to live in fear, anxiety, and sadness. We mustn’t let our brains fool us into thinking we don’t have options. We can always choose to heal.
Acknowledging that you have trauma to begin healing from is the first step. Seeking a mental health professional can be of great assistance in your journey, but a great deal of our healing takes places outside of a counselor’s office when we put coping techniques and skills into practice in our day to day lives. Having an arsenal of healthy techniques to turn to when feeling triggered and anxious is crucial to long-term healing from trauma and anxiety.
Here are three things you can start doing today to begin healing and increase your ability to cope with trauma and anxiety.
Trauma distorts our reality and our perception of ourselves. We can forget to care for our spirit and forget that we deserve healing, love, and every good thing that Mother Earth wants to offer us. A good place to begin our journey of healing is our self-esteem. A quick YouTube search will render a ton of guided self-esteem meditations.
The positive affirmations will program your brain to have a more positive outlook on your ability to heal, and a sense of self-worth. Meditating once in the morning before starting your day and once in the evening as you lay in bed will have a profound impact on your healing. Put your headphones on and listen as you're falling asleep at night. Inside a week you’ll notice a difference in your feelings about yourself and the world around you. Here's a favorite 10-minute self-esteem guided meditation.
An EFT Routine
Emotional Freedom Techniques are modeled after acupuncture, tapping areas of the face and body that release energy blockages and unhealthy emotions. EFT has been used to treat anxiety and PTSD. It will feel foreign at first but after a week of doing it you will feel a difference. Think of it as the gym for your brain, and consistency is key. Try the below 7-minute EFT video with Brad Yates either once a day, or once in the morning and once in the evening, preferably in tandem with the above meditation.
Start a Goals and Gratitude Board
Your best life begins with gratitude. Start a board where you can visually see things you're grateful for, even if it's just the air in your lungs, and post daily. It will help you realize all the good things surrounding you. Include goals for yourself that you’d like to accomplish.
Setting small attainable goals for yourself will make you feel more confident in your abilities as you accomplish them. Simple tasks like “get to the gym twice this week” or “read two books this month” will help you realize all that you are in control of in your life, and that you can accomplish good things.
Bring in some of the future too! What things in the weeks, months, and years to come are you looking forward to? New beginnings and fresh experiences help us realize that this moment of trauma and anxiety is only temporary and that—as the elders say—“this too shall pass.”
By no means are these things a catch-all. They're small things that have a big impact, but they also serve as a starting point. Healing takes time, work, and a lifetime commitment.
Think of your brain after trauma as a broken bone. A cast helps to retrain the broken bone to stay in place and heal properly without further trauma to the area. Techniques like the ones above retrain the brain to heal and stay in place.
Be patient and kind to yourself in the process, and seek professional help for the major unpacking and processing of trauma. We all have something to heal from, and at some point we all can use professional assistance, and there is nothing wrong with that! Though it may seem like a daunting task at first, you are worth the efforts it will take to heal. Your story matters, your trauma matters, your pain matters, your happiness matters, your healing matters, and in this very moment, you matter.