CBS 19 recently did a story on identifying trauma details, after a family gave wrong identifying information following a traumatic event when their 7 year old was shot and killed. A reporter came to The Bridge Therapeutic Services to interview me on understanding why it is so hard to identify details during and after a trauma. Please see below a broader explanation of this interview, trauma treatment information, and how to be more aware of your surroundings.
Identifying specific details during a trauma can be difficult. Why is this? God has created our brains to go into survival mode when we are in a traumatic situation to protect our loved ones and ourselves. This mode can best be described as fight, flight, and freeze. In fight mode you may physically or verbally fight the person. In flight mode you may find yourself trying to flee the person or situation. In freeze mode you may feel stuck as if you are frozen and can began shutting down, feeling as if you have given up. When your brain is functioning in this primal fight, flight, and freeze response your amygdala, which is your brains emotional fear response, is on fire. So when your brain is focused on surviving and full of fear it is very difficult to take in and access all of the details happening at the time of a traumatic event.
After a traumatic event has occurred you are left feeling dysregulated, either stuck in fight/ flight feeling anxious or stuck in freeze feeling depressed. Your brain can have a hard time telling the difference between a current real threat and a memory of a traumatic situation you were once in.
After a traumatic event different things may trigger memories and you may feel as if you are in a constant state of emotionally and physically reliving the trauma. After being traumatized you may have a hard time connecting your thoughts and memories together and may block your memories, this is called dissociation. All of this makes identifying details after trauma difficult.
It is important to seek treatment after being traumatized, to help heal and move forward. Having a support system is vital to your healing process. Relaxing the mind and body are key to calming down your feelings of anxiety and depression. The calmer and safer you feel the better able you are to process, which allows you to move forward from the traumatic event that has occurred. Processing the trauma will allow you to let go of it and move forward. Some key ways to get help after a trauma:
Connecting with family, close friends, and a counselor will help you not feel alone. These connections will help you think more clearly and provide you the support you need. Staying connected with God can be difficult after a trauma has occurred, however this is a time you will need him the most. Finding hope and purpose in a difficult time will help re-frame the trauma you have experienced.
Trauma informed massage and trauma informed restorative yoga help to physically calm and relax your body that has been through trauma as well as help reconnect your mind and body after trauma. Physical movement in sports, dance, and yoga can help you feel more balanced. Deep breathing and pacing your breathing throughout each day will help you get more oxygen to your brain, which will help calm your anxious physical feelings. It is important to ground yourself by remembering the trauma is in the past and you are now in the present. Calming through your senses will help you to feel more in the present. It’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions and answer as specific as you can. Where am I right now? What do I see around me? What do I feel? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I taste? The more you feel calm and in the present, your mind and body are more connected and the less likely you are to be triggered or to disassociate. When relaxed your brain is functioning from your prefrontal cortex and you are better able to problem solve and think things through.
EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, is a research-based therapy that helps with processing and moving forward after trauma. When you are triggered and reliving the trauma you have experienced, it is as if you are stuck. EMDR helps you feel unstuck which leads to your memories feeling more resolved and in the past. The over all results are feeling relief, calmness, and more relaxed.
Awareness During Trauma
How can a person be more aware and alert during a traumatic situation? Understanding the brain and how it works is helpful in making sense out of why you are thinking, feeling, and reacting the way you are during a traumatic event or anytime. When you understand your brain and how it works, you are able to feel more in control in an out of control situation. Practicing being in the present by grounding yourself through your senses, which involves noticing yourself and your soundings, will help train your brain to be in the here and now. Disconnecting from devises and reconnecting with God and others also helps with being in the present. The more we feel in the present and connected with others the more aware we are. This practice of self and surrounding awareness leads to more of an automatic awareness overtime, so if something traumatizing does happen you are more likely to remember what is around you.
Erin Young, LCSW
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