Trauma Symptoms and How to Stop Flashbacks and Recurring Thoughts in 5 Simple Steps
What in the world is going on with all these symptoms and why am I sometimes triggered by seemingly random things?
To try and make this simple let’s think of your home and all the goodies you have in it. Most things in your home have a place they belong right? If you buy food , it goes in the fridge or pantry, cat liter goes in cat box, clothes go in the closet etc.. So with normal memories we learn that each item we own has a spot and that spot is filed into our brain so that the next time we know exactly where and what to do with that item. When trauma happens your brain gets overwhelmed and isn’t sure how or where to file the information so it shoves all of those items together into your junk cupboard and then slams the door shut. Oh noooo!!! We all know what those cupboards are like don’t we?! At any given time they can just fly open and random stuff spills everywhere..( at least that’s what happens in my house!) So when it comes to trauma symptoms any one of those random items shoved into your cupboard could be a trigger even though it makes no logical sense.
So what exactly are flashbacks?
Flashbacks are basically the brain getting stuck in a *memory* from the past .They are sudden, disturbing, vivid and can be terrifying because they feel very real as though the event is happening all over again. The most important part I want you to remember? They are a MEMORY! Its super important to use that language because reminding ourselves that it is a memory reminds our brain it happened in the past. It is over and we are safe now.
Why do these memories happen?
After you have experienced trauma, if you were unable to process what happened the memory get stored in a disorganized way like all the items in your house mish mashed together in your junk cupboard. When it comes to unresolved traumatic memories they are always stored in a disorganized and unresolved way so the brain likes to replay them and rehearse them over and over trying to figure out where to file them AND tries to figure out how to be better prepared if that experience ever happens again. What most people don’t realize is that each time you have a flashback or intrusive memory your body reacts as though you are actually experiencing the trauma again. So your blood pressure increases, heart rate goes up, anxiety amps up , cortisol starts pumping etc…Your body prepares to escape from the trauma it believes is happening again over and over…
Make sense? Take a deep breath.. I know this feels big and overwhelming so lets take a break. Take a look at this picture. Imagine walking down that pier on a warm summer night with a cup of your favorite drink..take a few moments and imagine being there totally safe. Smell the water and notice the warm air on your skin……
Do you know what just happened? Your brain believed you were there so it automatically relaxed your entire body. Your blood pressure settled, your muscle relaxed and your body was allowed to rest for a few moments. Isnt that amazing? We can totally harness our brain to help heal us! This is why I incorporate alot of mediation and mindfulness practice into this program.
OK so what about the other symptoms i’m having?
Avoidance– Similar to the flashback, after unresolved trauma occurs the memory of it is stored in a disorganized way in that junk cupboard. Everything that was associated is shoved together in the cupboard regardless of it was directly related or not. Did you see a bottle of water beside your bed while you were birthing? Water bottles may now be triggering. Unable to drive down the same road the hospital is on, this would be why.
Nightmares– same deal as flashbacks, when you wake up go through the flashback protocol outlined below.
Hypervigilance– does every little sound make you jump? This is because your body is on edge and not sure what the true source of trauma is so it’s prepared to run at any time. The smallest noises or even a towel dropping (ask me how i know this) could be enough to cause an intense reaction all the way from feeling jumpy to a full-blown panic attack.
Dissociating : When your body wasn’t able to fight or flee during the trauma it’s only choice was to freeze, to numb itself in order to survive something that it perceived to be beyond your control. Your brain again lumped all these experiences it had during the trauma into one spot. So any little trigger could send you back into the freeze mode. Dissociation can range in severity from feeling spacey to being totally checked out, completely missing everything that is going on around you. Some people experience it as an out-of-body experience.
Ugh no wonder you are so tired and overwhelmed right?
Experiencing these trauma symptoms is exhausting, because your body is on constant high alert and/or believing that each time it has a flashback or reoccurring thought it is actually reliving the trauma….
How do we let our body know we are safe?
We do this by interrupting our flashbacks and intrusive /recurring memories each and every time they occur. These are the steps to take every single time.
- Tell yourself this is a memory
- Wiggle your fingers and toes
- Look around the room, and notice what’s around you.. I see a rug, a chair a clock etc
- Remind yourself of the current date and time. Its is July 2016 at 5:00pm
- Remind yourself of how old you are and that YOU (AND YOUR BABY) ARE SAFE. I am 34 and I am safe in this moment.
It is of utmost importance you ALWAYS interrupt these thoughts. I’m sure you have heard the saying neurons that fire together wire together? Every time you allow a flashback or intrusive memory to play out it strengthens that pathway in the brain and down the slippery slope you go faster and faster each time. When you interrupt the memory your brain has to create a new pathway and eventually after enough repetition that will be the new slippery slope!
The rest of the symptoms will subside as you heal and you WILL heal. The more space you make in your nervous system with self-care the easier it is to process your experience and help to resolve your trauma without going into overwhelm. As you journey through this process those memories will find their rightful place and your brain will be able to file them. No more worrying about that unpredictable and exploding junk cupboard!
~Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax ~