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Recovering from Trauma

Monday, October 16th, 2017

by Megan Miller, MA

Monday, October 1, 2017, is a day that is, and will be, marked by the Las Vegas shooting during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. We have been flooded with information regarding this traumatic experience and finding a way forward can feel paralyzing.

For those who were at the concert or those who have experienced other traumatic events in life (war, physical or sexual crimes, or many other difficult circumstances) these experiences will be interwoven into their life story in an unforgettable and challenging way. Caring for ourselves after trauma may necessitate reaching out for help because of the deep impacts on our brains. When we experience trauma, our brain is catapulted into high alert. The job of the hippocampus in our brain (the fight, flight or freeze portion) is to alert us of danger. When it’s doing its job, we can respond before we have time to think strategically about what’s happening in front of us (think of pulling your hand away from a hot stove burner). After trauma of this magnitude, however our brain can be triggered to high alert mode from daily events that previously would have not sent us into high alert. Things from our environment taken in by our senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste) can take us back to an aspect of the trauma we have encountered and our brain “plays back” these events as if we were re-experiencing the traumatic experience once again. We have a hard time staying grounded in the present and slowing our brains to realize even though this event/stimulus has taken our brain to that scary experience, we are in fact not in danger in this moment.

For those of us who did not experience the traumatic events firsthand, as with the Las Vegas shootings, we are still exposed to the stories about this traumatic scene. The news media provides consistent coverage regarding details that can actually create an internal traumatic response to these events as we hear about them from a distance. We may feel there is no where we can go that is safe and we too can feel paralyzed about how to live in a world in which something such as the Las Vegas shooting or other tragedies can occur.

As you find your way forward, the following are tips for how to care for yourself:

  • BE MINDFUL - How much are you exposing yourself to information? Limit how much information you choose to take in about trauma to protect your own mind.
  • BALANCE - Don’t only focus on negative and tragic events, but balance these events with the good in your personal life and the larger world around you as well.
  • SEEK PEACEFUL ROUTINES - How do you seek peace for yourself? Is your faith a place to turn (even if that means wrestling with these tragedies)? Are there physical places you go that help you to slow and soak in peace? Physical exercise can release endorphins to help us feel better. Take care of yourself and seek balance in your journey.
  • KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS - Certain places and experiences can cause flashbacks (firecrackers after experiencing war or the Las Vegas shooting, flashing lights when there has been response to tragedy, a smell, etc). While you can’t avoid all triggers, once you identify them it can be very helpful in your healing journey to limit exposure when you have the choice. Use physical grounding techniques to help you stay connected to the present moment (deep breathing, pushing your heels into the ground, running your hands under cold water).
  • SEEK HELP - If you continue to struggle, know you are not alone. You can fight against the trauma by seeking out people to help you. You may find the need for help navigating questions about your faith (pastors), navigating personal trauma (professional counselors), and help with physical responses to trauma (medical professionals who can prescribe medications) as you have the courage to start your healing journey.

At Sioux Falls Psychological Services, we meet you where you are, offering hope.  Call 605.334.2696 to learn about appointment opportunities.  Now, in addition to serving you in our Sioux Falls Platte offices, we can refer you to one of our therapists who is able to serve you on your computer or smart phone using a secure video conferencing platform.