We are going through a traumatic time as a society. What happened in Buffalo, Uvalde and Laguna Woods are devastating and difficult to comprehend. There’s a war raging on the other side of the world. People are anxious and afraid.
It can be a single traumatic event or a lifetime of emotional or physical suffering and peril. It can be obvious or obscured. It can manifest itself in different ways: fear, shame, anger, or sadness. Whether it is Little T-trauma (divorce, natural disaster, car wreck) or Big T-trauma (prolonged abuse, neglect, or abandonment), trauma can have a profound psychological impact on an individual.
Pain, distress, and shock can disrupt the nervous system–shrinking the body’s window of tolerance, intensifying senses, and taking away the ability to control emotions. A traumatic event can leave a brain stuck in a fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode. With the nervous system on high alert, one can feel like they are unable to relax and “losing their mind”. Traumatic stress can lead to anxiety, panic, sleeplessness, restlessness, hostility, and chronic pain or digestive problems. When the body’s capacity to tolerate such pain and intense emotions runs out, the brain switches to a shut-down (freeze) state. The person can become lethargic, depressed, exhausted, and disconnected.
“Because of the volatility and lack of emotional stability, I have had clients come into my office feeling like they are “going crazy,” said Allison Medina, Director of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services at The Women’s Center. “However, it is important for everyone to understand that this is a normal response to a traumatic and shocking experience.”
Even if a trauma survivor wants to talk about what has happened to them, they might struggle to find a person resilient enough to hear their story. Trained therapists have listened to a lot and can hold even the heaviest of burdens. Talking through a harrowing experience can help one reflect on it, process it and recognize that it is a part of your life story. The next step is to learn how to cope with post-traumatic stress.
An event can be traumatic to one person, but not another, depending on their resiliency and ability to cope with it. While there are various types of therapy, one way to regain control after trauma is to learn how to self-regulate.
From a subtle smell to loud noise, many things bring on fear, anger, or anxiety. Through mindfulness and staying in tune with your body, you can recognize what makes your emotions spiral out of control. As a mental health professional focusing on such therapy, Allison Medina recommends working with a specialist who can help you recognize such triggers and teach you techniques to self-regulate emotions before your brain jumps into either a numb or hyperactive state.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope mentally after a traumatic experience, you can book an appointment by calling The Women’s Center at (571) 385-1625 (Vienna location) or (202) 293-4580 (DC location). Please visit our website for more information.