MANAGING EVERYDAY TRAUMA

Uncategorized Mar 30, 2019

WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY that makes emotional trauma a part of everyday life. In order to manage this trauma, it is crucial that you have a strong foundation for survival and resilience. This is true whether you’re managing serious chronic illness, or if you’re just trying to go about your day with your spirit intact.

Let’s get started.

STEP 1: BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY

Have you ever heard the phrase “community is everything”? It may sound like a modern-day cliché hashtag (because it is), but there’s a lot to it.

Let’s start with a few case studies:

  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California

What do these two cities on opposite sides of the planet have in common? Both are “Blue Zones”, parts of the world where people live statistically longer than average. Dan Buettner has been studying Blue Zones to determine what these folks are doing right. Some of the answers are things you’ve probably heard before, such as:

  • Eating nutrient-dense foods
  • Fresh air
  • Regular physical activity
  • Intermittent fasting (especially in Greece)

However, there’s another piece to the puzzle that I view as the most important:

COMMUNITY.

But what is it about fostering a community that can help you live longer and have a more fulfilling life?

  • Community gives you a reason to live, a purpose that gets you out of bed in the morning. They say that retirement is the number one cause of death in old age. In communities where the elderly are valued and needed, folks who stop working move into community service: helping others take care of children, telling stories, hosting events for good causes, passing down family recipes, and so on. Which leads to…
  • Community helps you feel loved. When you feel like you are loved and appreciated, the sun shines a little bit brighter, you breathe a little easier, and you’re more likely to make good decisions and pay it forward. 
  • Community can encourage good habits. It’s easier to stay active when that’s part of the culture itself. While the USA as a whole doesn’t represent the healthiest culture, there are plenty of cultural pockets to pull from. What did your grandmother cook? Do you have any traditional family meals made with whole foods that you could reintroduce into your life? Is there a fitness group that you’ve been dying to join? Do you have friends that would want to go on daily walks? Having a nutrition or sports companion is very effective in maintaining positive change
  • Community provides a support network in times of need. As an introvert, I understand the need for personal space to process difficult emotions. Nevertheless, having friends and family to lean on when I need them is a boon. Crisis can make us feel isolated and hopeless. Having a loving, supportive, dependable group of people to contact can lessen the burden. You can ground and guard yourself against everyday trauma because you know that you have a solid emotional foundation within your community. 
 
STEP 2: PAUSE AND TAKE A MOMENT OF SILENCE

What exactly does that mean?

Prior to earning my doctorates in naturopathic and classical Chinese medicine, I attended Haverford College, a small liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia. Haverford College has Quaker roots, and with this came a number of Quaker customs. Many were quite useful, and I still practice them to this day.

The most valuable, by far, is A Moment of Silence.

While many are familiar with taking A Moment of Silence as a form of respect for something or someone they have lost, in Quaker culture it has many more uses. A Moment of Silence is most commonly used at the beginning and end of group meetings, allowing those gathered to center their thoughts and be present.

So how do we use this in everyday life? 

Some obvious applications are board meetings, family dinners, and so on. And more can be done on an individual level, as well. In our high-stress world, we are bombarded by constant stimuli and traumas designed to elicit an emotional reaction, with little time given to consider that reaction. In order to take control and ACT rather than REACT, there must be a pause between stimulus and behavior. The goal is to extend that pause to your own psycho-emotional benefit, and to give you power over the situation.

This is where A Moment of Silence becomes a necessary tool. Think of this as an initiation into mindfulness practices, which are extremely helpful in times of stress. (And remember to contact your mental health and wellness practitioner for further mindfulness training if you require help with reducing depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.)

The next time you’re feeling overstimulated, pause. Breath. Stop talking, stop doing. Take A Moment of Silence. With practice, you will find yourself having much more control over the outcome, regardless of the stimulus.

STEP 3: ACTION AS MEDICINE

After you’ve taken a step back, it’s time to take advantage of your newfound resistance to REACTION and ACT on that moment of clarity.

Action is the cure for paralysis by analysis.

In a way it sounds contradictory. You’re having trouble doing anything because you overanalyze everything, but the solution is to do something?

Well, yes.

Let’s say you’re starting a small business. There are a million things that need to get done, and you’re the one that has to do them. The to-do list is overwhelming. The idea of making a to-do list is overwhelming. So what do you do?

Pick one small thing. That’s it. You can even flip a coin, or close your eyes and point. Whatever the result, take action and get that done. And you might even be inspired to complete another task. And another. And another. Soon you might find yourself having completed a full day’s work, and suddenly you’re floating on the high of accomplishment.

Not everyone is starting a small business, so let’s pick another scenario. Perhaps you’re struggling with the tricky combination of depression and anxiety and trauma. On one hand, your brain is telling you to do and worry about one thousand things at once. On the other hand, your brain says that nothing you do will matter so you may as well not do anything. As a result, you’re sitting in complete paralysis on your sofa while self-deprecating thoughts buzz through your head. Maybe you’re still having trouble getting out of bed.

Believe it or not, action can still help relieve these symptoms, and quiet some of that negative self-talk. The action you take doesn’t have to be related to your current business plans, that exam you need to study for, or any of the other projects looming over your head. The action you take doesn’t even have to be big – your brain will respond to accomplishment just the same. So pick something small. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Email one business contact. Make one flashcard. Vacuum one room.

You’ll feel better, I promise.

 
STEP 4: PRACTICE SELF-CARE

In this world where life is full of everyday trauma, self-care is a radical act of resistance. To put yourself first, even for a moment, when you’re expected to provide emotionally, physically, and financially for yourself and perhaps for others, is to claim your right to exist for yourself and without any further justification. Self-care isn’t just a nice idea.

It’s mandatory.

After all, one cannot pour from an empty cup.

SO WHAT DOES SELF-CARE MEAN?

There’s a lot of variation about what constitutes self-care. This is because self-care can be both personal and circumstantial. What you need at any given moment can vary. For now, let’s focus on the practical. Think of the following ideas as a list to go through when you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or otherwise emotionally funky.

HERE ARE 10 WAYS TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE

  • Have you had water today? Drink a full glass. Right now.
  • Have you eaten in the past three hours? Low blood sugar can mimic depressive symptoms as “tense tiredness”. Have a nutrient dense snack with protein, fats, and complex carbs. I usually reach for a handful of nuts in this situation until my brain is firing enough to cook a full meal.
  • Have you showered in the past 24 hours? If not, take a shower or bath immediately. Feeling physically clean can also help you feel psychologically refreshed.
  • Have you interacted with living being in the past 48 days?
 Preferably in person. It’s easy to get stuck in your head when you spend too much time alone. If you’re unable to make plans, call someone you love so that you can at least hear their voice. Commenting on Facebook doesn’t count.
  • Have you gotten dressed today? Put on clean clothes that are NOT sleepwear. It can be workwear, casual wear, or even a tux or evening gown if you want to feel fancy. Even if you’re not able to leave the house, changing your clothing can help shift your mindset.
  • Have you developed and followed a good evening routine?
 Get into your sleepwear, wash your face, brush your teeth, and settle comfortably in your bed without any screens. Books can help you wind down, but blue light will keep you up.
  • Do you feel ineffective? Complete a small task (As emphasized in Step 3 – It’s just that important.) Your brain will thank you. Make your bed, respond to a quick work email, prepare for tomorrow, and so on. Make the task simple and accessible.
  • Have you over-exerted yourself physically, emotionally, socially, or intellectually? If you’ve been highly social recently, take some time to yourself. If you’re sore from being too physically active, take a recovery day and limit yourself to stretching and mobility. In other words, give yourself permission to take breaks and recover. Recovery is the space where healing happens.
  • Have you changed any of your medications in the past couple of weeks, skipped doses, or changed the brand? You might be experiencing neurochemical changes. If your mood doesn’t stabilize, contact your PCP/prescriber.
STEP 5: ASK FOR HELP

SCHEDULE A VISIT WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS PROFESSIONAL.

It’s easy to develop a romantic idea of how treatment for a chronic issue, such as pain or feeling depressed, or managing the little daily traumas that life throws at you, should go. You have your first consultation and are immediately inspired. A few visits later, you’ve had twenty breakthroughs and your entire life has changed. Every visit has you feeling better, and you always leave the office with a smile.

This is not always the case, as much as we would like it to be.

As your body goes through the process of change and healing, there will be times when you feel worse after treatment. This doesn’t mean that you did poorly, or that the treatment itself was bad; it just means that you’re at a complicated stage in the healing process. The goal is to aim for an overall upward trajectory and while maintaining a realistic outlook about the occurrence of roadblocks along the way. This is particularly true when trauma and distress are a regular part of daily life.

Not every visit is going to be miraculous; some days will be wonderful, and some days will be difficult.

The trick is to stick with it. Persevere. Keep stepping up, even when it’s difficult. Committing to the process and accepting that experience can vary will see you through the low days and toward healing on the other side.

Eventually, you’ll find that the hard times are softer. Everyday trauma doesn’t hurt as much. Road blocks are easier to dismantle and move beyond. You’ll become your own guide, and you’ll have the tools to see yourself through. Life will always throw things at you. But if you are patient, persistent, and focused, then you’ll learn to dodge.

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