Posts Tagged ‘ptsd’

Happen to Something

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I was recently talking with a client who is dealing with some very difficult PTSD and depression concerns.  She was describing her sense that many of her goals have been interrupted, and her struggle to take any action since she couldn’t see how it would connect to a goal.

I think the feelings she described are true for many folks who have been affected by illness or trauma.  When life is severely disrupted, when the things we thought we would be doing begin to feel out of reach, it can be hard to see why we should bother engaging at all.  We struggle to see the point.

What I have learned is that sometimes, when we are in the dark, action and engagement are the point.  Trauma and depression are emotional experiences that provide us with a constant litany of all the ways that the world is dangerous or that we have failed.  In a misguided effort to protect us from pain, depression and anxiety can tell us that we should just not bother trying anything.  Here are some common messages you might be getting from your depression or anxiety:

  • It’s just going to backfire anyway.
  • I have already missed my deadline to do this, so doing it later will still feel like a failure.
  • Nothing ever works out for me.
  • I don’t deserve to succeed.
  • Doing this small self-care won’t get me a job (finish my degree, fix my relationship, etc.), so why bother?

When my clients share thoughts like this with me, I remind them of two things.  First, that we can appreciate the work our depression and anxiety put in on trying to protect us from harm.  That is true. What is also true is that depression and anxiety will use lies to try to reach that goal. They will lie using pieces of truth.  And the fundamental lie that they will tell is that lack of action keeps you safe.

Lack of action doesn’t keep you safe. It keeps you stuck.  So, today I am going to invite you to engage with your life in some small way that brings you joy.  I know that you may be facing pain and challenge.  I know that the future may feel too complicated to face.  So don’t face the future.  Don’t worry about where your action is taking you.  If the struggle to understand how this makes change is keeping you frozen, step around the struggle. Do something because you can and because you like it.

Today, this moment, do something that you love.  Happen to the world instead of the world happening to you.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Cook something delicious. Stand in the sun.  Do a 5 minute lovingkindness meditation. Snuggle your pet. Watch something funny. Take a long shower. Do something that you can start, even from a place of darkness, something small and manageable. But happen to the world.  Happen to yourself.  Create a ripple of joy and connection.

If you’re willing to share how you happened to the world, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  If you need some help getting started–click on that appointment button to the right.

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Connecting the Dots: Health & PTSD

Many of my clients would not say that they have suffered from trauma. But many of them have faced serious health challenges. So, one of my early tasks in therapy is to help them explore how much trauma they may have experienced without knowing it. Here’s how Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines trauma:

trau·ma
noun \ˈtrau̇-mə, ˈtrȯ-\: a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time

medical : a serious injury to a person’s body

So, would you characterize an insulin crash as “very difficult or unpleasant”? What about cancer treatment? Or a stroke? Or chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis?

These questions and the definition are the long way around to my point that health challenges are frequently traumatic. They include pain, disruption in life, and other major stresses. And surviving a traumatic event puts you at risk for developing post-traumatic triggers.

What’s a Post-Traumatic Trigger?

Good question. A post-traumatic trigger is something that creates a reminder or re-visiting of your initial traumatic experience. That means that nearly anything can be a trigger, because your brain created a unique set of associations with your initial trauma. Some frequently identified triggers are tests or scans, doctor’s appointments, the smell or sound of hospitals or hearing about someone else’s health challenges.

What Happens if I’m Triggered?

The experience of trauma and post-traumatic stresses is different from person to person. A few of the most common responses are freezing, flooding, or dissociating. These are only a few types of response, there are many other possibiliteis as well. Let’s look at the most common responses a bit more:

  • Freezing: When faced with a post-traumatic trigger, you may find yourself feeling unable to move, act or respond. This can include either physical or mental responses.
  • Flooding: Flooding includes an intense rush of physical and emotional sensations. If you don’t know that you have been triggered, you may feel completely taken off guard.
  • Dissociating: Dissociating is a fancy word for “completely disconnecting”. Most of us have some experiences of dissociation pretty regularly–have you ever gotten home and not remembered your drive? You were dissociated while you were driving. If you experience a post-traumatic trigger, you may dissociate (it happens automatically) and then find yourself “checking back in” without knowing what happened.

So Then What?

I don’t know about you, but many of my clients are initially relieved to have some labels that help their responses make sense. However, once the relief of being able to name and understand post-traumatic responses wears off, they also want tools to help with those responses.

There are lots of resources for coping with PTSD and post-traumatic triggers. Here are a few easy-to-learn strategies that you can begin right away:

  1. Know what is happening. There is huge relief in being able to name the fact that you have had a traumatic experience and that you may experience future triggers. You’re not losing control. You are having a natural response to a painful event.
  2. Use breathing to help ground you in your body and mind. Even 3-5 slow, deep breaths will help you move away from a triggered state and into a more comfortable relationship with your body.
  3. Remind yourself that you are safe and out of immediate danger. Trauma responses are part of your body’s emergency protection system, and reminding your brain of your safety can help lower the response level.
  4. Be aware that you probably won’t know all of your triggers–post-traumatic stress can sneak up on you. Be patient with yourself as you move through the cycle of identifying and responding to triggers.
  5. Ask for help. Support groups and therapy can be good places to get additional coping support.

Have you been through this yourself? I’d love to hear your favorite strategy in the comments. And if you need help, you are always free to reach out to me.

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