Words: Juliette Karaman
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
Trauma can have a profound impact on individuals, affecting every aspect of their lives. Its effects can manifest in different ways, including physical and emotional symptoms. Understanding how trauma manifests itself and identifying its symptoms is the first step in addressing its effects on our lives.
Trauma can be defined as an event or series of events that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope. It is anything that happened to us which was too fast or too much for our psyche and/ or body to handle. This is why not everyone responds the same way to an intense experience.
Gabor Maté, who is well known for his work on trauma and addiction, defines trauma as “Not what happens to you, but what happens inside of you as a result of what happens to you.” Trauma can manifest in a variety of ways, including addiction, mental health issues, chronic physical illness, and relationship difficulties. It may be the root cause of many challenges that people face in their lives. Thus, the importance of understanding how trauma impacts individuals on a physical, emotional, and psychological level is key.
It can be a single event, such as a car accident or physical assault, or even the way someone looked at us that had us feel uncomfortable and creeped us out. It can be an ongoing experience, there may be abuse or neglect in whatever shape or form that takes. Oftentimes we have had a good upbringing with loving parents, and we think we have no trauma on board, yet physical symptoms or emotional mood swings are part of our lives. We do not have to experience BIG trauma for our nervous system to become unregulated it affects individuals of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds, and its effects can be long-lasting.
Visible or not, trauma can affect us without us being aware of it. Trauma can manifest itself in physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches, as well as emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals who have experienced trauma may also struggle with addiction or substance abuse, difficulty sleeping or experiencing nightmares, difficulty trusting others or forming close relationships, feelings of guilt, shame, or self-blame, difficulty concentrating or focusing, significant changes in mood or behaviour, and a sense of feeling disconnected from themselves or others.
Trauma is “Not what happens to you, but what happens inside of you as a result of what happens to you.”
Look at the below points and see if you resonate with any of them:
- You may have anxiety or panic attacks suddenly.
- You have difficulty sleeping/ have nightmares.
- You avoid certain situations or places due to fear or anxiety.
- You have difficulty trusting others or forming close relationships.
- You experience feelings of guilt, shame, or self-blame.
- You have difficulty concentrating or focusing.
- You experience Physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches.
- You dabble with addiction/ substance abuse.
- You have experienced significant changes in mood or behaviour.
- You have a sense of feeling disconnected from yourself or others.
The nervous system plays a critical role in the experience of trauma. The body’s response to trauma is designed to protect us, but it can also create lasting physical and emotional effects. The nervous system has two main responses to perceived threats: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Trauma can cause the sympathetic nervous system to become overactive, leading to a continued activated state in which feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic are triggered. If we look at the animal kingdom, when a rabbit has an encounter with a predator, it reacts without thinking and flees. You’ll see the animal shake afterward and complete the trauma cycle. We, as humans, don’t do this. Think of a car accident, we get out and exchange numbers and insurance policies. The trauma loads in the body, which creates dis-ease, unless it is specifically released by completing the cycle.
HOW CAN YOGA HELP US TO DEAL WITH THESE FEELINGS?
Somatic practices like yoga, TRE, mindfulness, and meditation are helpful in doing this and help create new neural pathways to a more regulated state.
Yoga is a powerful tool for addressing the effects of trauma. Yoga postures, or asanas, may help release physical tension and emotional stress while also improving flexibility, strength, and balance. Yoga also emphasises the mind-body connection, which helps individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Yoga can also be a community-building activity, providing individuals with a sense of belonging and connection to others.
Mindfulness is another powerful tool for addressing the effects of trauma. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Each experience can be broken down into 4 elements:a thought, an image, an emotion, and a sensation. By duplicating these 4 elements, by feeling them fully, we move through the stuckness that might be associated with an experience and bring ourselves back to the here and now, which helps with emotions and reduce anxiety and stress. Mindfulness can also help individuals cultivate a sense of acceptance and compassion, which can improve their relationships with themselves and others.
Meditation is another practice that is helpful in addressing the effects of trauma. It involves focusing on a specific object, like the breath or a mantra, and observing the thoughts and emotions that arise without judgment. Meditation, like the above practices, helps individuals become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, and body sensations and clear the monkey mind, and helps to cultivate a sense of inner peace and calm, which can improve their overall well-being.
Somatic therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on the mind-body connection. Somatic experiencing is key for those who have experienced trauma to become aware of what is happening in their body right now. Often we may have disassociated from our bodies in an intense experience. It helps release physical tension and emotional stress while also providing a safe space to process and heal from trauma. It may use techniques like movement, touch, sound, and breathwork to help individuals connect with their bodies and release stored emotions and tension.
MORE PRACTICAL TIPS FOR DEALING WITH TRAUMAS
In addition to these practices, there are other steps individuals can take to move through their days with more ease. Here are five additional practices to consider:
- Journaling: Writing about your experiences and emotions can be a helpful way to process trauma. Automatic writing is a form of journaling where you allow your thoughts and feelings to flow onto paper without censoring or editing them. The process involves setting a timer for a specific amount of time, usually 10-15 minutes, and writing continuously without stopping to think about what you’re writing. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit with a pen and paper. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and begin writing without stopping, allowing your thoughts and feelings to flow freely onto the paper. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation – the goal is to simply let your thoughts flow without judgment or censorship. When the timer goes off, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve written and notice any patterns or themes that emerge. Over time, practicing automatic writing can become a valuable tool for self-discovery and growth.
- Creative expression: Engaging in creative activities like art, music, or dance can be a helpful way to release emotions and express yourself. There are many groups out there that use improv as a way to communicate emotions in a group environment while expressing creatively. The group aspect is key, connecting with others who have had similar experiences and are moving through them.
- Nature: Spending time in nature is another helpful way to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Go for a walk in nature, put your feet on the grass, and feel the earth’s energy. Trees have a way of grounding us, and nature helps us connect to the world around us. Walking meditation in nature may be just the thing you are looking for. It does not have to be long. Set a timer for 15 minutes and set one question to yourself that you may want an answer to. Go for a walk and see what shows up. Often times there will be signs on your path, or you will notice the answers are being presented to you in nature. Be open to receiving them!
- Social support: Building a support system of trusted friends, family members, coaches, or therapists can be a helpful way to cope with the effects of trauma. We all want to be heard, seen, and understood. Being in a group of like-minded people provides a sense of validation, understanding, and connection.
- Self-care: Awareness is the first step towards self-love. Starting to notice the patterns that you may be running is key. There may be a tendency to take care of others and put ourselves last. We may not even realise that we are doing so because we have been so conditioned to take care of everything and everyone else. Start looking at some of that programming. Is it actually serving you? Taking care of yourself is essential when coping with the effects of trauma. Self-care may include activities like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise. It also involves taking time for yourself to do activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Saying “NO” to things that aren’t aligned with you is a massive step in loving yourself. Removing yourself from situations that do not feel good is the first step towards good boundaries.
While these practices can be helpful, it’s important to remember that healing from trauma is a complex and ongoing process. It’s okay to seek help from a professional if you’re struggling with the effects of trauma or recognise any of the manifestations listed earlier in this article. Know that you are not the only one out there and that there are so many ways to move through this in a safe, empowered way.
Juliette Karaman is a certified mind and body coach and expert on relationships, sensuality, healing, trauma, and body shame. She specialises in the reinvention of the most intimate relationship in life. It is the one you have with yourself. With courses, coaching, VIP experiences, and retreats, Juliette has guided and mentored thousands of women over the past decade and a half, rewriting the relationship with self, confidence, their bodies, mind, and spirit using her unique Rapid Release Rewire, and Restore method ™.
Her mission is to create a world where every woman remembers the truth of who they are and where scrumptiousness, pleasure, ease, spirituality, and sensuality are prioritised. She is a mother to 4 children in their early twenties, who she loves fiercely.