Barbara Fish Counselling Services ... helping your life work

Overcoming Trauma

Helping Your Life Work

Volume 9, Issue 5

May 2013

Dear Reader
Psychologist Dr. Anna B. Baranowsky is the CEO of the Traumatology Institute (Canada) and a Registered Traumatologist and Trainer. She provides a range of services to trauma survivors and their families; offers Compassion Fatigue training to professionals; is a board member of the Academy of Traumatology; a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and is recognized by The National Center for Crisis Management. She is also the author of the best seller Trauma Practice: Tools for Stabilization & Recovery and co-author with Teresa Lauer of What is PTSD? 3 Steps to Healing Trauma, a finalist in the Health: Psychology/Mental Health category of the 2013 International Book Awards.

The article below has been adapted with Dr. Baranowsky’s permission from the following sources:

Traumatic events are a part of life. Statistics show that 60% of men and 50% of women directly experience at least one significant traumatic event over the course of their lifetimes. Women are more at risk of exposure to childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault later in life; while men are more inclined to experience or witness acts of physical violence, war, natural disasters, accidents, serious injury, etc. Although exposure to trauma is fairly common, only 7-8% of the general population is actually given the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (approximately 10% of women and 5% of men).

In general, we are remarkably resilient to what life throws at us, but when we are exposed to extreme events, even the strongest individuals can feel shaken. Post-Trauma Responses, including (PTSD), may occur after exposure to a very stressful event. PTSD has a number of different elements. We experience intrusive symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks and have strong feelings of wanting to avoid people, places and things that remind us of the event. We feel an increased sense of arousal (physical, emotional, mental and behavioural) that feels explosive in the body.

The autonomic nervous system is an important player in terms of stress response. It’s involved in the automatic control of our organs and muscles. The sympathetic nervous system helps us get out of harms way with a “fight or flight” response, and the parasympathetic nervous system helps us to regain calm when we “rest and digest.”

Experiencing PTSD can feel like taming wild horses; we have to work hard to grab the reins and manage the situation. Learning how to manage it early can make the difference between living a life filled with stress and managing well. We don’t want minor stresses to rule our lives: we want to feel like we’re in control. But when we’re experiencing post-traumatic stress, it’s hard to really keep from magnifying even the smallest events. Stress, left unmanaged, can lead to physical and emotional health problems, so it is critical that we learn to calm our bodies down.

Lowering our volume stress means doing things that help us recognize that we are able to let go of the past and move forward, that we can be in this moment, not in the past trauma or future worry. Work/life balance and making sure that you’re engaging with people are both important. Sometimes people have a tendency to work more when they’re stressed, but what they really need to do is find a way to decompress.

If you notice that you’re having a really strong reaction to something that really isn’t dangerous, that’s a post-traumatic response. Our brains store memories, along with all the emotional and physical reactions that went along with the terrible moment. People who do best after trauma use daily practice, determination and perseverance to re-train their body to find calm and relaxation. That’s the most important job.

It is clear that an appropriate, timely and skilled response is critical and can make the difference between years of unnecessary suffering and a reasonable and healthy recovery process. There are numerous professional and public websites that focus on information for trauma survivors, databases for specific professions (psychologists, social workers, etc.), trauma specific information sites for professionals specializing in trauma and trauma networks. TraumaLine1 is a professional website directory entirely focused on helping trauma survivors find skilled post-trauma professionals with a broad spectrum of trauma care approaches.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”

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