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Trauma Exposure Response Pt. 2

By: Dr. Alviar

Malaka Gharib | NPR

Trauma Exposure Response Pt. 2

This post is a continuation of the topic (Trauma Exposure Response) that was posted in September 2022. If you have not read that post yet and would like to learn about trauma exposure responses, read that blog and return here to learn about how to cope with these common responses to traumatic exposure.

So… what do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed by personal traumatic experiences and/or the exposure to traumatic content from the news, social media, work environment, or hearing the experiences of friends, family, clients, students, or colleagues? Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg…

But, what do you do?

First, it is important to identify the severity of what you are feeling and experiencing. How much is it impacting your functioning? And if you can’t answer that on your own, do you have people, supports, resources to help you identify it? If you’re having a hard time answering either question, or even if you can answer these questions, it is important to consider seeking mental health services through individual therapy. Many providers, like the clinicians at Interaction Dynamics, offer free 15-minute consultation calls to discuss what you are experiencing and provide a recommendation on how to move forward based on your needs. A therapist can support you through your challenges and help you build necessary skills, like the ones discussed below, to help you cope.

It is important to acknowledge that it is not healthy to have systems within a culture that continue to perpetuate traumatic experiences (from government policy to work environment to how people are taught to treat others who differ from them). People, humans, deserve more. AND since systems and environment don’t often change quickly, we need to find ways of coping and managing our stresses and response to trauma.

Here are some practices to consider adding to your coping “toolkit”:

1. Breathe – we need to remind our nervous system that we are (generally and in the moment) safe, and breathing slowly helps us communicate that to our brain and body. Find a breathing practice that you enjoy, and practice it (e.g., Diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, nostril breathing).

2. Create a daily practice of centering yourself – learn to be present and in the moment. Breathing (as suggested above) helps with that, and so do other mindfulness exercises (e.g., 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness, walking meditation, stretching).

3. Create space for inquiry – Ask yourself: Why am I reacting/feeling this way? Is this (my situation/reactions/etc.) working for me? Curiosity creates space to think, to develop other ideas and start the process of change.

4. Choose your focus – Ask yourself: Where am I putting my focus? What is my plan B? Increase your awareness of what is taking up your attention. Create a plan B, an option of what you could do or what your life could look like other than what it is now. When we shift our attention from what we are experiencing to what we would like to experience, we create distance from the hold of feeling stuck or frozen.

5. Build compassion and community – Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and can support you. Practice compassion for yourself and others. There is no healing without compassion and community!

6. Find balance – Practice gratitude. Even when there seems to be no good to be acknowledged, research has shown that shifting perspective and finding gratitude lifts burdens.

7. Do what feels good – Engage with your life outside of work (or whatever it is that is taking up your energy and resources). Make time to do something that brings you peace or joy (e.g., a bath, walking in nature, watching sports, playing with your children, etc.).

Coping with trauma requires multiple facets working together. Focusing on what we can control to make shifts in our experience(s) reminds us that we can and are able—WE ARE RESILIENT!

*Coping practices were adapted from Trauma Stewardship Institute (2020).


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