What is Trauma?
Research suggests that trauma isn’t about the event; it is about our body’s response to the perception of threat. When our sympathetic nervous system detects danger, an automatic defense cascade leaps into action and we unconsciously end up in fight, flight, or freeze mode. None of these processes involve our “thinking” brain. Our nervous system detects the threat (neuroception) and our body responds. Some of us have more sensitive nervous systems than others. Past traumas can contribute to this, but a few of us are just born this way. This is why one person can become traumatized by an event and another will not.
We experience trauma when this fight, flight, freeze response is not completed. We are trapped, helpless, or unable to complete the process that our nervous system has started. The process is stored in our brain; in fact, the same area of the brain that we store how to ride a bike. This is why our memories can be so vivid and produce the same bodily response over and over, with no resolution. We operate in a constant state of flight, fight, or freeze and our nervous system becomes hypervigilant to danger. We are traumatized more easily, and go through the same response over and over.
How Does Trauma Affect the Body?
For those of you that have experienced trauma, you know how uncomfortable and distressing the symptoms can be. Immediate symptoms can include racing thoughts, gut discomfort, pounding heart, sweaty or clammy palms, tense muscles, and pressure in your head. Unresolved trauma can also lead to sleep disruption, low tolerance to stress, panic attacks, anxiety, anger, frequent crying, fear of dying, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Health issues like chronic headaches, fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, neck and back problems, IBS, severe PMS, and immune and endocrine problems also often result from unresolved trauma. Often sufferers are plagued with a sense of impending doom and depression, feel alienated and isolated, and feel disconnected to themselves and the world around them. These are severe challenges and roadblocks to enjoying life to the fullest.
For those of you that can relate to any of the above symptoms, there is hope. Trauma treatment has come a long way. Therapists understand that sharing events of your traumatic event can be retraumatizing. It is not possible to do any recovery work if you are being traumatized in treatment! Recovery occurs when you are in your “window of tolerance,” not in fight, flight, or freeze mode.
As mentioned, trauma is an incomplete response of the body. For that reason, current treatment methods address the body, focusing on your heart rate, how your chest feels, your gut, your throat, your limbs and your hands. Wherever you feel a bodily response, you can learn methods to reduce these responses.
The next step is to reduce the hypervigilance to danger and increase perceptions of safety and security. At Incentive Counselling, we are trained in trauma therapy methods, and can provide several techniques to ensure that you are in your window of tolerance. This is when recovery can occur. A major factor to reduce hypervigilance to danger, which causes so much stress emotionally and physically, is to teach concrete skills to help increase your awareness of safety and security.
Sometimes, people are perfectly satisfied stopping here. The bodily responses are reduced and they feel safe and secure. That is wonderful.
For others, processing the trauma is also important. Again, a counsellor trained in trauma will have several strategies and techniques to help maintain your window of tolerance so that you can process your experiences safely.
If you have past trauma and are still experiencing the distressing effects, give us a call. Our trained counsellors provide the safe, secure environment and use proven strategies that allow you to effectively engage in recovery work.