Demystifying Traumatic Stress: It’s really not mental – initially

Despite the common belief that stress is “mental and controllable,” the stress response is actually a reflex. This means that the conscious (cerebral cortex) part of our brain is not involved in the process. When faced with an event that threatens us, leaves us feeling helpless or that horrifies us, our stress response is activated. This means that even a threat can activate the stress response.

So what is the stress response? Many call it the fight or flight response, however, there is also a freeze response, too. With the stress response, the body goes into overdrive. Muscles tense to prepare for action. Our senses become piqued – to take in more information. Our brains also have difficulty focusing during this time, probably to help us to respond to any changes in our surroundings. Breathing and heart rates increase to support the increased demand of oxygen for our muscles. Meanwhile, our digestive tract shuts down, to shunt energy and blood flow to our other organs that are geared for survival.

Sometimes, we can even dissociate – or feel like we are “out of our bodies.” In extreme cases, where we believe that death is imminent, these same process occur and yet our muscles freeze in place and we are unable to move.

In nature, animals who experience a stress response work through the cascade of biochemical reactions by the actions of fighting, fleeing or literally “shaking if off” after freezing.

In his book, “Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma,” Peter Levine discusses the anxiety and depression that can result from blunting or blocking the unfolding of the trauma response. In our modern society, we often suppress this natural “reset” process. This is when the conscious control takes hold and can “get us into trouble” and may lead to long-term effects such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. According to Levine, it is in allowing ourselves to unfold from the trauma that we are able to move beyond it.

Trauma is confusing. It can shake us to our cores and cause us to question our safety, our roles and how we are living our lives. When the trauma becomes “stuck” within us, we can mess up in even our basic roles. Parents can forget to parent. Students can have difficulty studying. Employees can have difficulty focusing. In our confusion, in a way, we forget who we are.

The unprocessed trauma also gets locked in our bodies and can also cause physical effects. For instance, over a week after being on scene following a fatal motorcycle accident, I noticed difficulty moving my left arm. As a physical therapist, I began to investigate the muscles and low & behold, my neck and shoulder muscles were “on fire,” so I naturally began to release the tension. The next day, I had a headache and felt like every sound was piercing my body. It was bizarre. I can only guess that unlocking the tension in my muscles released some of the unprocessed chemicals from the stress response. More things then began to unwind.

Things which usually were easy for me to do were suddenly a challenge. I could not focus if there were noises around. I felt like I had ADHD and sitting still was torture. I wanted to move – I wanted to keep going – didn’t necessarily know where, but movement was imperative. Rushing became my M.O. – again, for no external reason, I just felt like everything was moving in slo-mo and it was time to speed it all up. As such, my ability to prioritize was also off. Everything had an air of vital importance, and needed to be completed NOW! Or two minutes ago.

I was driving myself (and my children) crazy. It was at this point that I decided to read about the traumatic stress response, when everything that I was experiencing began to make sense. And it was then that I also stopped fighting it. Soon enough, the irritation dimmed down quite significantly. While sadness soon followed, after a day or so my smile returned.

What I discovered first-hand in this process was what Levine described: that allowing the process to unfold, I was able to return to a greater sense of clarity. Do I believe the process is over, no, I don’t. Yet I am in a better place now than I was even a week ago.

Self-care during this sensitive time has been crucial. I have used each and every one of these following tools; some more than others. Luckily, many of these were part of my daily routine.

May we each find and use the supportive tools we each need in recovery.

These are the things that I have found helpful in this process:

  • Prayer & prayer requests
  • Constellation Therapy Sessions
  • Awareness of my emotions and focusing on “being present” in my body, reaffirming “I am here” to bring myself more fully present
  • Allowing the tension – my visualization is to see the muscles unlocking, as if I were peeling open a banana. It sounds too simple to be true. Find an analogy/visualization that works for you. Then repeat it!
  • Daily Meditation (2 times/day at bare minimum)
  • Gratitude: for life, for my safety, for everything!
  • Salt Baths – for relaxation of tight muscles
  • Homeopathics
  • Ionic Foot Bath (yes, this was amazingly
  • helpful to get past the insomnia – really)
  • Essential Oils
  • More meditation – grounding, breathing, being present
  • Writing/Journaling
  • Qigong
  • EFT Tapping
  • Exercise: Walking, Stretching
  • Eating Well
  • “Taking it easy” – avoiding over-stimulation
  • Massages
  • Breathing
  • Researching/reading to understand the trauma response
  • Namaste
  • Heal Thyself

    In our internal pain, we often seek from others the elixir that we really need from ourselves. Other times we consciously or unconsciously lash out against others and hurt them, in an attempt to ease our own suffering. It is in beginning within that we can identify what is lacking so that we may give that missing love to ourselves.

    Supportive modalities can include:

    • Meditation
    • Prayer
    • Laughter
    • EFT Tapping
    • Surrendering into the feelings – our emotions cannot kill us, blocking them can cause dis-ease
    • Journaling
    • Counseling or Life-Coaching
    • Breath works
    • Salt baths
    • More prayer
    • Daily devotions
    • Exercise – especially stretching such as with Yoga
  • When we seek outside of ourselves to fill the void, we miss the mark. It is truly when we allow ourselves to surrender into the emotions, or ask our Higher Selves to step in, again, through surrender, that we can rise above the pain and begin to feel love and open again. The love is already there, we just need to unlock it from behind the pain.
  • Hurt people hurt others. It is imperative that we each learn how to heal ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to perpetuate the cycle of victim-perpetrator. These are two sides of the same coin.
  • May we each unblock a new level of peace within; this is where healing the planet begins.
  • Namaste
  • Making Sense of it All

    There are times in our lives where events, that are often traumatic, lead us to want to “wrap things up” and put a bow on them. Senseless deaths or murders, such as school shootings or other acts of violence leave us grasping for understanding. Yesterday, I was almost involved in an accident in which there was a fatality. Hours after the Adrenalin wore off, I sat in silence as the various images raced through my mind. The speed at which the images flashed began to crescendo, and it was then that I realized that this was not my mystery to solve. It is not my place to make sense of it all. Instead, it is my place to do what I can to help others out. It is my place to be the best I can be in these situations that test my faith. My “small mind” cannot grasp the big picture here (nor anywhere, it seems). This realization has lead me to re-examine how I am living my own life. I’m asking myself: where am I unhappy? Where do I need to shift my focus to allow more joy? Where do I take life (way, way, way) too seriously? With these new thoughts in mind, I am beginning to mentally redesign how I view my life: it’s time to really appreciate all that I do have and to laugh more. A lot more. May you be well. May you find more joy today in the simple things. Namaste

    Changing Money Strategies: Financial Healing

    Back in January, I posted Changing Money Strategies, a post that was out of my comfort zone at the time. Since then, I’ve made some significant shifts that have helped me to improve my credit score and reduce my debt load. Being that many healers have hang-ups about financial issues and “net worth,” I felt it may be helpful to share what I’ve learned.

    New Mental Outlook: Helpful and not Initially Required

    Prior to the work I did leading up to the “Changing Money Strategies” post, I believed that I did not have enough money. It was a constant thought process on my mind. In making the shifts that I outlined, I now feel far more comfortable with my income and how I choose to spend it. It is in our discomfort and fear that we make choices based in fear. When our minds and hearts are open, we can make choices that are more aligned with our big- and small-picture desires.

    Consider a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation – even at a high interest rate. Here’s why: 

    Taking out a personal loan to consolidate my debt was one of the best choices I could have made. While the interest rate was high, and caused a lump in my throat at 16.99%, it was still lower than the ones on the credit cards. In moving the debt from the higher interest cards and to the personal loan, I lowered the amount of money that was being paid to the lender while paying more to the principal. An additional bonus, which I did not expect (again, I was non-financially minded) was that this also helped to improve my credit score tremendously and nearly overnight.

    Credit Score Factors

    When credit bureaus calculate your credit score, they use several factors. One involves the percentage of credit utilization on credit cards. Basically, we get “dinged” harder for credit on cards versus on loans because the higher the amount of money on credit cards, the lower your credit score.

    Credit Bureaus also look at the percentage of your available credit that you are actually using. After I found this out, I left my credit card accounts open instead of closing them. This helped to bump my score up, too. Note: This can be tricky! The temptation may be to use your cards, so if you know you’ll just run up the credit again – it may be best to close the accounts as you pay them off. 

    With these strategies, my credit score rose 76 points between December 2017 and February 2018, just by shifting the majority of my debt from the credit cards to the personal loan. Seven months later and my credit score has risen by 117 points, putting me in the “Good” category!

    These shifts were very fruitful for me, as I am now approved for a new personal loan with a <6% interest rate (>10-percentage points less than the January loan), and with a lower monthly payment and a shorter term. Though my score may drop next month due to getting “dinged” by both a new loan and the credit checks, in the long-run this will help me to pay my debt down faster!

    Personal Loan Payments: How & When

    During the last 6 months, I also paid as much to my personal loan as I could each month; adding on extra funds when I had windfalls AND paying early when I could, too – as the interest accrued was reduced when I made earlier and larger payments.

    While I still have a bit of time before I am “out of the woods,” I am in a much better place now financially than I was just half a year ago. Now, I am allowing myself to begin dreaming about home ownership again; it’s on my horizon at least – something I really wasn’t even able to think of just a few months back.

    I’m hopeful that this information will help those of us who also struggle with the fears of financial burdens and decision-making. Prior to January, I was feeling helpless and hopeless. These shifts have been a game-changer!

    Namaste

    Choosing Happiness while Ditching the Facade

    Mom, Physical Therapist, Healer, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Woman, Ex-Wife, Ex-Girlfriend, Employee, Student, Blogger, Breather, Investor, Borrower, Tenant, Driver, Consumer, etc, etc, etc.

    We can have so many roles that at times we lose site of who we truly are. Each of us can have multiple labels that come with different and sometimes complicated and conflicting expectations. Sometimes these roles come to define our identity and then we lose ourselves in living up to unrealistic expectations. Why do we do this? To meet the expectations of others, living and not, and some of these expectations are often only in our minds.

    In allowing these identities to define us, we lose personal freedom while we gain a false-sense of security. We then find ourselves needing to defend this false sense of self, less someone begins to see the cracks in the walls or the foundation. Separation from others deepens as we lose ourselves to the facade – to the mask – of who we want the world to see. We become trapped in our own self-created prisons; the place we created to protect ourselves now keeps us from true experiences.

    In this place we avoid following our hearts’ desires and instead we find ourselves stuck on the paths we believe we’re supposed to follow. How does this serve us? We believe that by following the preset path that we will be more safe, that our survival will be more properly preserved. Yet on the inside we’re dying from misery of living below our unique abilities.

    Each of us is here for a unique purpose. When we cage ourselves, we are much like the lion in the zoo whose pride (literally and figuratively) is taken away. He is unable to follow his instincts and roam as he may. Instead he treads the same paths, dreaming of running across open savanna’s. (what is your heart’s dream?) Unlike the caged lion, we can choose differently. We can choose to break free of the false identities, the roles in which we play.

    So when will you choose happiness, breaking free of the false-identities? When will you choose to follow the whispering of your heart, your soul unleashed?

    What I’m talking about here is happiness without condition. What happens in our lives can shape us or break us. Even the heartaches and struggles are here so that we can choose our values, our path, our perspectives. Strength is built by doing and by choosing to “level up” and be our greatest selves. When we place conditions on our love, on our happiness, both cease to exist.

    Namaste

    If not now, then when? When will you listen to the whisperings of a soul ready to be unleashed?

    img_2905

    Emotional Freedom Begins With You

    Emotional freedom comes from repeatedly choosing to observe our emotions and thoughts objectively; as a witness would. Otherwise, our thoughts and emotions rule us or we attempt to rule and suppress them (and then they eventually pop up again, either in obvious or secretive ways).

    The phrase ‘repeatedly choosing’ is also important here. Just as we require routine activities to keep our homes and bodies in order, our emotional landscape requires continual upkeep. Also, it is our will to do the work or to ignore it and allow the emotional or thought “weeds” to grow; hence our need to choose.

    It is when we decide that the pain of holding on is greater than the fear of letting go that we can grow; when we can allow life and healing to truly unfold. It is our will that keeps us from letting go. When we hold onto what has past, we cannot open our hands to allow the present to fully unfold. 

    In these ways, emotional freedom is ours to choose. Witness what you think, what you feel, as if you were watching a movie. You will find that the more you practice this, the easier it becomes to detach and move forward into acceptance, into allowing and recognizing the impermanence of what we think, feel and even do. These are the keys to emotional freedom.

    Namaste

    PS Fear not! You will still have emotions! They just will cease to consume, overwhelm and “control” you.

    Facing Fears While Having Fun

    Last summer, I faced my fear of heights by doing a high ropes course. This past weekend I faced my fears of deep water by taking surf lessons. Both experiences were life-changing for me. Instead of being limited by my fears, I became invigorated and more free by facing them, head on. I also had fun while doing it!

    There was some prep work for me. Last year I used visualizations a lot in the week before climbing to “see” myself successfully stepping and zipping. The experience was exhilarating and my most feared part, the zips, were also the most fun! My hunger and need for a meal was what lead me to leave…something I hadn’t prepared for!

    With the deep water fear, I used EFT tapping more than the visualizations, at least at first. Once I tapped away the bulk of the fear, I was able to use the visualization strategies.

    Surfing was also more fun than scary for me. In fact, I’m going back for round 2 in a few weeks when my schedule frees up. A friend even wants to go, as she’s been inspired by my tackling my fear of deep water. Hoping she’s receptive to trying the tapping.

    In both instances I was in a somewhat controlled environment. A surf board is a flotation device and there was an instructor there to guide and help me if I had run into trouble. The high ropes course had harnesses and safety features, also with help if I needed it. So while I was facing my fears, I was doing so in a way that helped me to feel somewhat safe.

    What are some fears that you have?

    What are some fun ways you can face them and free yourself from their grip and enjoy new experiences?

    Your confidence and self-respect will thank you!

    Namaste

    PS It might be helpful to come up with a reasonable goal for yourself. For instance, my main goal with the surfing was to get over my fear of deep water. If I rode in on a wave or two, that was icing on the cake. So let’s just say my next surfing lessons will have a higher bar! 😉

    Harnessing Our Anger

    Anger is an emotion. Emotions are energy designed to move us, to help us to move forward or to teach us something.

    Many of us were taught or learned that anger is dangerous, scary and should be avoided at all costs. Anger is like fire… and yes, we do want to avoid being burned, yet think about what would happen if all fire ceased to exist: how would we warm our homes, cook our food or drive our cars? My point here is that not all fire is bad and the same goes for anger.

    Anger feels like fire, and it is part of the matrix of passion. Just as fire burns and transforms fuel into movement, we can use our anger as an internal fire to propel us forward; to change.

    When we suppress our anger, our internal fire, we suppress our passion. We prevent ourselves from changing, and we stagnate or stay stuck.

    Tapping Out on Emotional Overload offers a helpful strategy to help manage anger, or other emotions, that feel excessive or unhelpful.

    Again, not all anger is bad. It is our judgment about the feeling and suppressing it or not channeling it into something creative that can be the danger. What we do with our passion, with our anger, and this with our energy is up to us. We can use it, just like fire, to cook food or to burn things down.

    For reflection:

    • What are you using your passion for today? Or are you keeping it locked up?!
    • Or just allowing it to unleash without any creative direction?
    • How can you see your emotions differently, allowing them to lead you to your greatness?

    Namaste

    Blog at WordPress.com.

    Up ↑