Practical Solutions to Heal to Through the 3 Phases of Trauma Recovery
We are experiencing a collective trauma of such unimaginable proportion. It is causing an existential crisis. Existential crisis come about when our foundation is rocked, when we don’t have sure footing or a sense of direction and purpose. We wake up wondering what day of the week or month it is while searching for meaning in something we wish would be over and all the while trying to hold it together for the sake of others. Since we have never experienced anything quite like this as a global collective, we have no roadmap for what is happening. The mind does not like this uncertainty, it creates a constant feeling of being on edge where we yo-yo between hypervigilance and numbing out.
We are all going through this tragedy together and being stretched, stressed and tested. The collective numbing can be so compelling that just when you feel a reprieve, you might find yourself getting pulled back into the reality of trauma. A simple trip to get take-out or waiting in line at the grocery store can make us feel overwhelmed. Nothing feels normal right now and this makes us want to check out.
Mental Health Crisis
The effects of Covid19 will be with us for years to come on many levels but most certainly as we recover from the trauma shock and aftermath of grief. According to a poll conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation nearly 50% of Americans are experiencing increased anxiety, depression and mental health issues. The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control are staggering and alarming. Here are just a few ways young Americans are being impacted.
Mental health crisis and suicide hotlines are seeing 1000% increase in calls coming through. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, loneliness, suicidality and addiction are becoming more commonly known across all age groups. The nature of the pandemic is pushing major stress and mental health triggers.
Coping is Critical
We have to call upon all of our resources for coping with the social isolation, uncertainty, financial stress, loss, worry for our children and the 24/7 trauma exposure through the media. Staying on top of it and prioritizing healthy coping is critical. It is time to practice extreme self-care. We have likely seen parts of ourselves we wish we had not seen as we endure the ongoing stress and uncertainty. We have also likely experienced acts of kindness, compassion and resiliency that remind us of our shared humanity. We have to focus more on the latter to come together vs. feel divided.
Phases of Trauma Recovery
The phases of trauma recovery provide a roadmap to help us navigate through these challenging times. These phases are similar to the process of healing from grief. They do not have to be followed in any real order, but healing is more comprehensive when you go through each phase as fully as possible. Since we are continuing to endure this collective trauma we will be moving in and out of these phases regularly. In this way they can serve as a daily, weekly or monthly barometer of where we are on our journey.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is our response to an experience that is so distressing and frightening that we become overwhelmed and unable to cope effectively. We know we are likely experiencing trauma when we feel a combination of
The majority of our clients have experienced these symptoms during the pandemic and so have we.
3 Phases of Trauma Recovery
Safety and Resourcing
Most people can relate to dipping in and out of feeling shocked, disconnected, numb, and disoriented. This is known as trauma shock. It happens during and in the minutes, hours and months that follow a traumatic event. On the outside we might look calm or in control but on the inside, we may be totally disconnected or locked out from our feelings, screaming silently or imploding. Trauma shock disconnects us from our ability to empathize with others. We may feel unable to have a sense of compassion and understanding even though we know it is what is really needed right now. We may opt instead for feeling like we are too taxed and overwhelmed to care. Or worse we may be so triggered and fatigued, that we feel protective, agitated and anxious.
Dealing with Trauma Shock
Dealing with the shock of trauma is essential, especially when we are continually exposed to different layers of a traumatic experience. Each day, week and month that the pandemic continues we need to tend to potential feelings associated with trauma shock. Fortunately, there are a fair amount of resources available to support us in this area. This involves feeling safe, grounded and resourced in our body and mind.
Practices for calming, soothing and relaxing help to regulate our nervous system, the key part of the body and mind responsible for helping us feel safe or warning us of threat. If we don’t tend to our nervous system, it will stay activated and we will stay on alert and triggered. It can be uncomfortable to slow down and sit with ourselves when we are going through trauma of this nature. Over time and with practice it gets easier but initially it can feel unnerving and scary. It is essential to have on-hand a series of resources to feel safe and calm so that you know you can survive. Mind body practices are ideal for resourcing and safety.
Self-regulation and resourcing practices
Practice one or more of these activities daily
Face, Feel, Release & Grieve
Aside from the typical feelings associated with stress and trauma that often inhibit our energy, focus, sleep, patience and clarity, we also experience the images, memories and future tripping worries that whirl around in the mind. These are the things that keep us up at night with worry and give us a heavy feeling when we wake up. Even though we are feeling the impacts of these experiences, we are not getting any real relief from them. This is a sign that we may need to first calm and regulate our nervous system with one of the practices from Phase 1. When we do this, we gain more inner strength and ability to face, feel and release what is bothering us. We also come out of pervasive numbing that is associated with trauma and high stress.
When we become emotionally overwhelmed and frozen these experiences don’t process through our system unless we consciously feel and release them. When we choose to focus on the parts of ourselves that have been overwhelmed and disconnected, we hold space for these parts to feel, be seen and be heard. In doing so, we reclaim our sense of power and resiliency.
We can do this through a process called pendulation. This involves going back and forth from experiencing the physical sensations of contraction and arousal related to the trauma and feelings of safety and resourcing. You can start this process by scanning your body and noticing areas of tension or contraction as well as areas of calm or grounding. From here slowly move back and forth from each area and notice any shifts that occur. It is important to go at your own pace allowing your body to lead. Somatic practices are highly beneficial during this phase.
Compassionate Connection – Coregulation
Empathic presence is another key component to help face what we are going through and release our feelings fully. The presence of a safe attuned person while we feel, release and grieve, signals the brain to release at a deeper level. It allows the parts that were fragmented during the trauma to be witnessed, held and brought back into safety. We are social beings and need lifelines of support during times of trauma and stress. Loneliness and isolation are huge triggers for our mental health and overall wellbeing. Our ability to regulate our nervous system depends on our ability to connect with others. This is known as coregulation and it is a vital component of healing from stress and trauma.
Mind body therapies such as Brainspotting, EMDR and somatic therapy are highly effective for coregulation and healing.
Integrate and Restore Relationships
This phase may come and go loosely as we continue to experience new levels of uncertainty. The most important aspect of this phase includes holding space for your emotions to be felt and then integrated. When feelings and disconnected parts are felt, they are brought back into wholeness and an integration occurs. This helps us restore and experience a sense of empowerment. From here we can reconnect with our self-esteem and confidence. We will likely move in and out of this phase given the pervasive uncertainty. Healthy relationships are one of the ultimate outcomes in this phase. When we experience our personal power, we are able to set boundaries in relationships, give and receive love and choose to engage socially with others. All of these are vital to getting through trauma. We need to know we are not alone and we need safe people to connect with that help us experience our collective healing. Fortunately, we have video conferencing readily available and research shows it is a good alternative to face to face. It may take more effort but it is well worth the time to connect with people we care about whether in person or through video chat.
Schedule regular video chats, check on people you care about and make your relationships a priority during these times.