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Healing with grace

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When we hear of trauma, we think it does not apply to us — an unrelatable state that I shall escape. I belonged in this camp until my own experience of trauma, which taught me something obvious: that each one of us does, and will, experience trauma within this lifetime. Of course, the nature of trauma varies, just like the diverse nature of life events that may cause it. Loss, accident, failure, even intergenerational trauma... events that leave an imprint on our heart, mind and nervous system. And when these events are left constricted, we begin to be shaped around the constriction. Overtime, caught in a defensive response, trauma manifests — involuntarily — in an anxiety attack or stress arousal.

An experience of trauma is when our system is overwhelmed and we lose our usual coping mechanism and fall into fight, flight, or freeze. When trauma occurs, it leads to a spike in the level of cortisol in the brain. This stress hormone impacts our capacity to think, act or perform simple functions. You know you have some form of trauma if certain symptoms arise — anxiety, depression, numbness or disassociation, a feeling of mistrust in ourselves or others, sleeplessness, breathlessness, hyper-vigilance, or a general feeling of being unsafe in the physical body. An anxiety attack is an impulse in our body that says ‘I’m not safe right now’. We often tend to underestimate or belittle one trauma against another; for instance, death vs loss of a job. While the events are different in their irreversibility, the impact may be similar on two individuals.

Lessons learnt

When our body is undergoing a stress response, the first thing is to become aware of objects that help the survival brain feel safe; like what we can see, hear or touch. One of the most accessible ways to feel secure is to bring attention to where our body is in contact with our environment. Trauma specialists suggest focusing on the contact between our feet with the floor, toes touching bare ground, or our body in a chair for immediate grounding to safety.

Somatic practices and body-based movement routines (dance therapy, yoga) that foreground bodily awareness and the personal experience of movement are practices for healing and grounding to counter anxiety. As the survival brain feels stable, it sets off the recovery process.

Of course, talk therapy and medication are the mainstream recourse for recurring anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Yet somatic practices complement as simple rituals to foster emotional and physical resilience. ‘What can I lean on within myself?’ is a resounding foundational anchor. While they are considered ‘alternative’, research in Brain Science and Neurobiology, along with studies on Mindfulness and Mind-Body Connection, are shifting our understanding from focusing only on the mind to seeing the brain and body as a cohesive unit.

Whatever the recourse, one needs to heal; “you’re going to need to deal with the aches, deal with the doubts, get up against your own suffering’s edge before the transformation happens. But you need to condition that”. Conditioning is the decision to heal; an act of compassion towards self. We cannot heal without our own effort.

In my own journey, things have not yet returned to the familiar pace. Some days are still in limbo — the numbing impact of trauma — when I am only watching life from the outside, disconnected. I know that healing is gradual. Crucially, I love myself enough to heal. With each effort I am extending a hand of compassion to this person I can help most.

The writer is a freelance writer, blogger and life coach. nivedita@lifealigncoaching.com


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 6:32:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/how-does-one-deal-with-trauma/article34563897.ece

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