Trauma is a word that has been used more and more frequently over the past 10 years to describe various situations that bring about certain symptoms in the people affected. Some of these symptoms include feelings of overwhelm, nightmares of the event, anxiety, depression, rage, avoidance of memories, and disconnection from reality. The curious factor when facing a potentially traumatic situation, like losing your home in the flood or being trapped without means of escape from a flood zone, as happened in Boulder, is that some people experience the above symptoms after the event and some don’t. What the research has found is that if the individual can “fight or flight” themselves to safety while keeping their social engagement system on-line then they are far less likely to exhibit the symptoms of trauma.[i] Why is this?
On a basic level, way down deep in the brain, we have mechanisms whose only job is to keep us safe by running, fighting, or playing dead. These instincts are natural and are the fundamental reason why our species has made it this far. When this deep down safety switch has been activated and the individual is not able to complete the appropriate action (because of lack of resources, inability to find safety, physically incapacitated, etc…) then the above trauma symptoms develop. The symptoms can fade with time depending on the resiliency of the individual, and for some people the deregulation keeps going and sometimes gets worse. But there are ways to move past these symptoms! Thank goodness!
A trauma therapist who works through the impulses in the body will help to bring about fairly rapid relief. But before you can get to the deeper work with a trauma therapist that will resolve these symptoms, there are steps to take today which will bring relief if you are feeling overwhelmed:
1. You are feeling overwhelmed, and you notice it! Good job! This is the first step to making some changes, the act of noticing means your pre-frontal cortex in on-line and aware of what is happening.
2. Look around and make sure you are safe. Are there any hungry tigers trying to get you? Is there an immediate threat to your bodily safety? If you answered no to the above questions, you are probably reasonably safe. This is important to recognize so you can continue on.
3. Feel your butt in the chair, your feet on the ground, or your body on the floor. Really feel those points of contact between your body to the chair or floor.
4. Now look around and let your eyes be drawn to something pleasant in the general vicinity. Out loud, describe this object in as great detail as possible. Color, texture, shape, etc. Now find another object and do the same.
5. Check in with yourself, get a sense of your level of activation and continue as long as you are experiencing some relief from your feelings of overwhelm.
This simple process engages the pre-frontal cortex, which is vital in recognizing the trauma as an experience in the past. When the pre-frontal cortex is off-line it feels like the trauma is real in this moment, thus the feelings of overwhelm. When the feeling of overwhelm is occurring your brain and body have switched into survival mode. Bringing attention and awareness to the here-and-now through activating the pre-frontal cortex will allow for further self-regulation. This is good news!
 Trauma and the body, Pat Ogden 2006