Trauma is Not the Event But Your Reaction to the Event
Whether you were caught in your house as 10 feet of rushing water was surrounding you, fearfully waiting in a closet as you listened to the howls of 150 mph winds believing you were not going to make it out safely, blaming yourself or others for making the wrong decision on evacuating, fretting over the ruination of items of value, or witnessing loved ones’ homes or lives be devastated, you probably have been traumatized by Hurricane Ian. There is a growing understanding that trauma is our nervous systems reaction to the event and not the event itself.
What that means is that many of us are experiencing the effects of trauma which include sleep troubles, digestive issues, brain fog or confusion, anger, fear, sadness and a state of overwhelm. That is the bad news. However the good news is that there are many things we can do about it. I am fortunate both to have the tools to heal and the time and support to heal. I want to help you heal as well and that is why I am sharing my story and tips that are working. May you glean nuggets of wisdom to help you on your healing journey.
Steps I am Using in Healing Trauma that Might Help You!
Awareness of how you are feeling is step one. Acknowledge that feeling ashamed, guilty, sad or angry often follows a trauma. You might feel the weight of making the wrong decision in the hurricane or blame others for not warning you soon enough. You might feel that what you went through was not as bad as what you are seeing on the news. On the other hand, if your situation was worse than others who are offering to help, you might fall into the trap of comparing your situation to others. What happens when we do this, is that we become more and more isolated. Isolation slows down the healing process. Friends and family, even those who did not experience the same thing as you are trying to help. By opening to their love and understanding you are creating connection. Connection is one of the keys to our ventral vagal system, which is also called our safe and social nervous system. This system is where healing takes place. After a trauma, we might find ourselves in the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system or even in the dorsal (shutdown) nervous system. Both keep us from getting over traumas.
Our Bodies Keep the Score
It is so hard to keep up our healthy routines during and after a traumatic event like a hurricane. But making the time and putting in the effort to move our bodies in gentle, nourishing ways can shorten the length of time needed for healing. Cleaning up a mess after the hurricane may be exercise, but it will not shift the nervous system out of fight or flight. Walking and yoga really helped me, not only to physically process the loss, but also to mentally, emotionally and energetically process what had happened in a safe way. Safety is key number 2 to shifting into the ventral vagal system. Once again, this is the system that will help the process of healing.
Craving Sweets and Salts More than Usual
Our nervous system is deeply affected by what we feed our physical systems. I noticed post hurricane that I was reaching for more sweets and even accepted a glass a wine each night for the first time in years. Suffering from a chronic illness, I know what alchohol and sugar do to my system. So I tried as much as possible to feed myself and those around me the most nutritious unprocessed foods that I could make considering the circumstances. In a recent article in Psychology Today, entitled Eight Foods that Contribute to Anxiety and Depression, the author quotes the following study. “When university and medical school researchers from North and South America* set out to explore the theory that processed foods contribute to poor mental health, they found ultra-processed foods (UPF) to be the worst offenders.” Here is a link to the article.
Savoring Moments of Beauty
Witnessing and be part of such devastation can color our view of the world. Before we know it, everything might seem ugly, dirty or chaotic. That happened to me post Hurricane Ian. I looked at all the debris and start imagining what creepy things were underneath. The environment around me seemed so dirty. I began to notice every noise. And it was deafening. I knew I needed to spend time witnessing beauty in order to shift my perspective, which is normally so sunny. I was fortunate to be able to limit my exposure to news and get away. Whatever you can do to savor moments of beauty will shift your nervous system and perspective. Consider setting your watch to remind yourself once an hour to take a break and look at a bird or listen to peaceful music or go on a treasure hunt to find a flower that spontaneously is growing out of the rubble. This will help your brain understand that everything can heal, even you.
If you need help or a person to talk with you, move with or cry with, know that I am here and I understand. My wish for you is to heal and I know from the bottom of my heart, we can all heal together and be more resilient. #fortmyersstrong