Survivors of trauma experience a profound impact on their mind, body, and spirit. After suffering trauma, individuals can feel unsafe in a way that is beyond a way of thinking into a more complex, sensory level of discomfort throughout the body. Trauma can cause feelings of being disconnected, either from life before, people who didn’t experience the trauma, or disconnection from the body.
However, survival is a strong biological instinct we all have within us. It is possible to rebuild the changes that have occurred in our bodies and reconnect by processing the event and entering into the present, allowing those who have experienced trauma to live fully.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that usually occurs when an individual experiences a traumatic event. When a traumatic event occurs, our bodies activate stress hormones which increase heart rate, increase blood pressure, and increase oxygen intake in preparation for fight or flight.
Natural mechanisms for survival can remain activated long after the threat has passed. This can leave the individual in a perpetual state of fight or flight, which leaves living in the present difficult for them. What is important to remember is that PTSD is not a choice, a way of thinking, or a sign of weakness. PTSD is a physiological change to the brain structure. Developing a sense of safety is challenging, or even impossible, when the nervous system believes it is constantly being threatened. Those with PTSD often find themselves believing they are flawed, broken, or not safe.
PTSD is often associated with combat veterans who have experienced enemy threats, bodily harm, or loss of comrades. However, PTSD can occur after any traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD may include flashbacks, hyper-vigliance, nightmares, or emotional shut-downs. Not limited to any type or severity of trauma, PTSD can be triggered by accidents, natural disasters, domestic violence or assault, child abuse, serious illness, and much more.
PTSD is not limited to one type or severity of trauma. There are many life-threatening experiences that can trigger a trauma response: accidents, natural disasters, assaults, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, sexual violence, serious illnesses and many others.
Retraining the Brain
Humans have an incredible capacity for resiliency and to heal themselves through unspeakable circumstances. A great deal of research exists that demonstrates our ability to retrain the body and mind’s response to past trauma utilizing evidence-based practices.
The goal of retraining the body and mind is to create a sense of safety, allowing the nervous system to return to a state of calm and relaxation. Our sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, while the parasympathetic nervous system prepares us for calm. The parasympathetic nervous system is often activated while doing deep breathing exercises or practicing yoga. By utilizing mindfulness techniques and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, the body can work to believe that it is safe, turning off the fight or flight response.
Use of EMDR Therapy for PTSD
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a tool that can help retrain the brain. This practice does not require you to talk about the traumatic event, but instead uses the body’s restorative abilities to integrate left and right brain to achieve a new understanding of the traumatic event. Left and right brain integration occurs through bilateral stimulation under the guidance of a mental health practitioner. As an example, you may tap both sides of your body, or move your eyes left to right to activate both sides of your brain.
By allowing both sides of the brain to work together, the left brain can provide language for the traumatic event that was only living in the right brain. By going through the feelings of the traumatic event while keeping the left brain – the logical side – activated, you are able to create a healthier narrative of the traumatic experience to emerge. This can allow the body and mind to feel that you are now in control and safe.
As humans, we are very resilient, and healing from trauma is possible. EMDR can help you to regain control of your nervous system and begin recovery. Life after trauma is not about returning to how things were before trauma. It is about beginning life with a new sense of meaning and purpose.