Overcoming Emotional Trauma
We have all experienced some trauma in our lives. The clients with whom we work at the Alvarado Group have often experienced complex trauma, early, developmental trauma or Secondary Trauma. Some of our first responder clients are in the face of trauma daily (police officers, fire fighters, vets, child welfare staff); as are many of our resource parents caring for wounded children.
If you’ve experienced trauma or secondary trauma, you may be struggling with upsetting emotions, frightening memories, or a sense of constant danger. Or you may feel numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. Your personal and professional relationships and work may be struggling and you might feel more tired than usual.
Organizationally we tend to see high turnover and low levels of employee satisfaction.
When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again. But with the right strategies and support, you and your organizations can experience recovery. Whether the trauma happened years ago or yesterday, you can heal and move on.
Emotional Trauma Definition
Emotional trauma is the outcome of highly stressful events over which you have little control. These events may shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world.
Causes of Emotional Trauma
Emotional trauma can be caused in a multitude of ways:
- One-time events, such as an accident, injury, natural disaster, or violent attack
- Ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, battling a life-threatening illness, child abuse, working in a trauma environment (our vets and first repsonders) and even adoption
- Commonly overlooked causes, such as surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life), the sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, loss of a job, financial stress or a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
An experience may lead to emotional trauma if:
If you are consistently under a heavy stress load or have recently suffered a series of losses; or if you have experienced early, developmental trauma the likelihood of further trauma outcome increases.
Childhood Emotional Trauma
What we know from ACES: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
Childhood trauma increases the risk of further exposure across the lifespan: Experiencing trauma in childhood can have a severe and long-lasting effect. When untreated a sense of fear and helplessness carries over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma.
Childhood trauma is the result not only of child abuse, but also might result from anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety, including:
We are all unique with unique experiences and personality traits. We each react in different ways to trauma. Your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.
Emotional Trauma Symptoms
Some emotional symptoms of trauma (if untreated, may last a lifetime):
Physical Trauma Symptoms
Some physical symptoms of trauma (if untreated, may last a lifetime):
Emotional Regulatory Healing
At the Alvarado Group we teach a paradigm for the recovery from trauma called Emotional Regulatory Healing
Trauma disrupts the body’s emotional regulatory system, leaving our nervous system stuck in states of fight, flight or freeze. One of the most effective means to respond to trauma is to learn how to regain your sense of self, how to come ‘back into your body’ and how to regulate your breathing and emotional state.
5 Tips For Healing From Emotional Trauma
Emotional Trauma Recovery Tip 1: Breathe
Simple breathing exercises throughout your day can alleviate many of the symptoms of stress and trauma even on highly traumatic days.
Set your timer on your computer, watch or in your home/office for every 60 minutes. Each waking hour stop for 3 very deep breaths.
Inhale for the count of 4; hold it as deeply as you can for the count of 7; and control your exhale slowly for the count of 8. Repeat 3 times. Close your eyes and allow the sense of calm, returning to safety and quiet to infiltrate your entire mind/body system.
You may feel the need to stretch after each breathing break, do it! Your body/mind will thank you with increased energy and clarity throughout your day.
Emotional Trauma Recovery Tip 2: Exercise and movement
As well as burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins, exercise and movement can actually help your nervous system become unstuck.
- really focus on your body while you move, and how it feels as you move. This will keep those obsessive, trauma thoughts at bay.
- exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs—such as walking, running, swimming, basketball, or even dancing—works best.
- notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin. Pay attention to the swing of your arms.
- rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts can make it easier to focus on your body movements—after all, if you don’t, you could get hurt.
- try to exercise for 30 minutes or more—or if it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good. Move as often as you can throughout the day.
- I tend to move for 5 minutes each hour when I practice breathing in addition to an hour of walking daily~
- Yoga counts. If nothing else, find a quiet, safe yoga studio and participate a couple of times a week. All of you will thank you.
Emotional Trauma recovery tip 3: Don’t isolate
As much as we feel compelled to be alone during hard times, isolation makes things worse. Healing happens in relationship. Find someone safe.
- You don’t have to talk about the trauma. Just don’t be alone so much of the time.
- Ask for support. From someone you trust to just listen without judgement.
- Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. Do “normal” things with other people, things that have nothing to do with the traumatic experience.
- Volunteer. As well as helping this can be a great way to challenge the sense of helplessness that often accompanies trauma. Remind yourself of your strengths and reclaim your sense of power by comforting or helping others.
Emotional Trauma recovery tip 4: Learn self-regulation
No matter how bad you may feel, even now reading this, you CAN learn to calm your system:
- Mindful breathing. If you are feeling disoriented, confused, or upset, a quick way to calm yourself is through mindful breathing. Simply take 60 breaths, focusing only on the inhale/exhale with no counting or pausing.
- Sensory input. Our sensory system either regulates or dysregulates us quickly. Find a soothing sensory experience and have it close by. I tend to listen to calming music all day as a preventative method, and I light incense when I am struggling to find my calm. Chocolate helps too, in portions J
- Staying grounded. Own your body/mind; sit on a chair, feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue in them. Pause to breath at each one. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it. Acknowledge your feelings about the trauma as they arise and accept them. Just don’t stay there longer than a few moments at a time.
Emotional Trauma recovery tip 5: Take care of your health
Stress and trauma make us sick. Stress depletes our immune system leaving us vulnerable to further dis-ease.
- Sleep matters. Do your best to go to bed and to get out of bed at the same time daily. 7-9 hours of sleep daily does the trick for most adults, 10-12 hours for children.
- No alcohol or drugs as their use can worsen your trauma symptoms and exacerbate feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
- Food matters. Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. Avoid sugary and fried and eat plenty of omega-3 fats—such as salmon, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds—to give your mood a boost.
- Amino Acids can help. Melatonin for sleep and Gaba for anxiety can be purchased over the counter.
- Reduce stress. meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises will help. But you have to do them.
Signs Of Emotional Trauma
Seek help for emotional trauma if you’re:
- Having trouble functioning at home or work
- Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression
- Unable to form close, satisfying relationships
- Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
- Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
- Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
- Using alcohol or drugs to feel better
At the Alvarado Group
we know the importance of support for our first responders and victims of trauma.
We offer training and debriefing to Police and Fire Departments, the VA, child welfare and mental health and frequently in our educational and juvenile justice systems of care.
Emotional Trauma Treatment
During the integration and healing of trauma, it is important to face and resolve the unbearable feelings and memories you may have been avoiding. Our work with individuals, couples and groups might include:
- Processing trauma-related memories and feelings
- Discharging pent-up “fight-or-flight” energy
- Learning how to regulate strong emotions
- Building or rebuilding the ability to trust other people
How To Help Others Dealing With Emotional Trauma
Sometimes it is more important to ‘be’ with others who have experienced trauma, than to know exactly what to do or say. “Holding Space” in and of itself is very healing.
- Be patient and understanding. Healing from trauma takes time. Be patient with the pace of recovery and remember that everyone’s response to trauma is different. Don’t judge your loved one’s reaction against your own response or anyone else’s.
- Don’t pressure your loved one into talking but be available if they want to talk.
- Don’t take the trauma symptoms personally. Your loved one may become angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant. Remember that this is a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with you or your relationship. Wait it out before you say something that might make the situation worse.
Alvarado Consulting and Treatment Group is unique in the industry and offers an integrative and scientifically based continuum of trauma informed and secondary trauma relief services. Our mindful and sensitive approach has resulted in healing transformation for groups and individuals internationally for two decades.
We would be honored to serve you and your groups as well. We offer coaching, consulting and counseling internationally. www.alvaradoconsultinggroup.com