by. K.C. Lomonaco, Psy.D., R.N.
Today we are going to talk about trauma. I know not my favorite topic either. This is a hard topic and can trigger unwanted thoughts and feelings. So if you have experienced significant trauma, are in treatment for trauma, or just don’t want to talk about trauma, you might skip this reading.
What is trauma? The actual definition of trauma when someone has had an exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one or more of the following ways:
Directly experiencing the trauma
Witnessing the event
Learning about family/friend’s exposure to trauma
Experiencing repeated trauma exposures, e.g., first responders, etc. (not exposure via electronic media, pictures unless work related)
But what occurs after trauma is different for everyone. What is a big T trauma that has lasting symptoms for one person, isn’t the same for someone else and what is little t trauma for someone else, is big T trauma for the next person. In the past we talked a lot in psychology about nature vs. nurture but now we know it's both. How we respond to and heal from trauma depends both on our genetics and our environment. Believe it or not some of us are born with more genetic risks for things like depression, anxiety, and yes, even PTSD. PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder along with the experience of trauma involves a complex of symptoms including cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms that can make it difficult to function, concentrate, sleep, eat, and feel like you can live in your body comfortably. For individuals with trauma coping can mean many different things and some numb out through drugs, sex, food, and yes, even exercise. For many, the last two years have been a bombardment of traumas. Watching the news lately has felt traumatizing. For those of us that work frontline in some fashion be it service industries, healthcare, education, or businesses we are constantly trying to keep up with changing guidelines, rules and angry customers/people/patients while managing our own frustrations and stressors and those of our loved ones and I’ll be the first to tell you its been a lot. ALOT. And I for one am exhausted. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. And I think, if you are like me, we are flat out exhausted from the barrage of constant trauma.
So what to do? Well, I wish I had perfect answers to this but I don’t. There are days that are harder and days that are easier. There are days when we are slogging through and days that we are certain we’ve got this. This is normal. Let me say that again for the people in the back. This. Is. Normal. Hills in life are normal, mountains and valleys aren’t. If you’re in a valley, get help: from a therapist, a psychiatrist, a doctor or provider you trust. Talk to someone you trust. But get support! As I mentioned last month, connection is essential to our mental health.
If you’re riding some rocky hills, figure out how best you can take care of yourself. Lifting heavy shit with a bunch of women who lift weights is awesome but movement in general is helpful including brief walks on your lunch, stretching, running, yoga, anything to work the stress out. 30 minutes where you get your heart rate up a bit has been shown to push the stress hormones out of your body and replace them with our pleasure hormones and reduce the symptoms/experience of trauma. A hot bath with lavender for 30+ minutes too actually has some good scientific evidence behind it in trauma care. Look up a detox bath online and soak away! Sleep and nutrition is also essential to our overall mental health. Make sure you have healthy sleep habits and you work on eating well.
Take care of yourself. Find the things that help keep you well. Small things. Big things. Inside things. Outside things. Alone things. Community things. It’s been hard. I guess what I’m trying to say here is its ok to not be ok. There is a lot happening and a lot has happened in the last two years. We have been bombarded. So take care. And get support. I’ve got a great list of resources if you need. Always happy to connect you too! Take a look at this therapist with info on trauma. I found it helpful and elegant.