A traumatic experience can happen to anyone at any time.
Anxiety can come out of nowhere catching you off guard at inopportune times.
The restlessness, dread and panic that happens after a traumatic experience are the hallmarks of what categorizes something as a traumatic event
Contrary to what most generally people think, trauma is NOT an experience. Trauma is the body’s reaction to an experience – the emotional and behavioral symptoms that occur.
You know the dread you feel going to work? Or the restlessness you feel when your kids are out with the car? Those are the trauma responses. Trauma is the body failing to regulate.
Those of us who deal with people in crisis are generally able to separate the experiences at work with their own lives, thus able to work very difficult jobs. However, you are human and will have reactions to your experiences.
When these symptoms (inability to turn your brain off, anxiety, nervousness, nightmares, superimposing family on a call you went on, irritability above and beyond what’s normal for you, excess exercise or other adrenaline-pumping activities) occur, the body has failed to regulate. You are now suffering a trauma.
For many of us dealing with repeated traumatic experiences at work, trauma reactions are cumulative instead of just one specific event.
Biology of trauma
Anxiety stems from the Sympathetic Nervous System being dominant
There are two parts of the central nervous system that deal with the fight/flight or stress or trauma response. The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. When you are calm, your blood pressure and heard rate are at your normal, you are able to think logically and make purposeful decisions, and your muscles are relaxed your your parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. The Parasympathetic Nervous system is active when the brain believes you are safe.
When your mind and body are feeling threatened, whether or not it is real, your blood pressure and heart rate elevate, your muscles tighten, you don’t think as clearly, and you have an urge to flee. Now your sympathetic nervous system is dominant. The sympathetic nervous system is active when the brain believe you are in danger.
The sympathetic nervous system is vital to survival when you are in times of uncertainty or a threatening situation, but when you are not in danger and the sympathetic nervous system stays dominant and active, it causes many physical and emotional symptoms (depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart problems, etc) and behavioral symptoms (anger outbursts, crying, difficulty with relationships, trust problems, etc).
When the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, (in other words, your body is in fight/flight mode), these symptoms and behaviors are NORMAL. Any situation or cumulative situations that cause the body to react this way is considered a traumatic experience.
The importance of Self-Regulation
Self-regulation will bring the brain out of uneasiness, but the body may still feel restless
Self-regulation is using techniques such as breathing, meditation, relaxation, imagery, using your senses, and more to regulate the body and bring it from sympathetic dominance (fight/flight) to parasympathetic dominance (calm).
When we can get our bodies out of a constant sympathetic dominance, we can lead the lives we want, free of the behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms of trauma, thus traumatic experiences will not dominate any longer.
An important thing to remember about self-regulation is that breathing techniques will not necessarily bring your shakiness down. What it will do is give you time so your logic can turn on and you can think clearly, slow down the heart and blood pressure thus helping you to maintain a healthy heart and circulatory system.
You will live a healthier life without the body constantly pumping adrenaline into the system keeping your heart rate and blood pressure elevated for safety that is not necessarily needed.
Effective therapies for trauma
All of these therapies are evidenced-based (they have been studied) as effective treatment to quiet the misery of anxiety, stress, and trauma responses
- Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model (ATRIUM)
- Beyond Trauma: A Healing Journey for Women
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Thematic Map and Release
- Prolonged Exposure (PE)
- Seeking Safety
- Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Treatment (TARGET)
- Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM)
- Trauma Resiliancy Model (TRM)
- Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)