Being trauma-informed is based on awareness. Understanding why someone might be reacting in a particular way, how to make our clients feel safe and how to avoid triggers are all considered in creating a trauma informed environment.
The first point of reference we need to understand the basis of trauma-informed practices, is how we interpret danger and/or a life threat. Our peripheral nervous system is split between our somatic and autonomic systems. The somatic being the messages and thereby actions we control in our body such as lifting our mug to take a sip of coffee. Our autonomic system represents everything that works on its own: breathing, digesting, heartbeat.
The autonomic system then further splits out to parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Parasympathetic is also known as rest and digest. What this means is that our nervous system must be essentially calm and relaxed so we can perform important bodily functions such as sleep, digestion, moderate heart rate and deeper diaphragmatic breathing. These are also the functions of the body that are compromised in both trauma and chronic stress.
Sympathetic is considered fight or flight. When this system is triggered our body gets ready for action, we bear down clenching our muscles, heart rate quickens, breath becomes shallow so we can react quickly and efficiently, like moving out of the way before we are hit by a bus.
What is interesting to note is that our brain doesn’t differentiate between real or imagined danger. After someone has experienced a traumatic event: car accident, natural disaster, war or any form of abuse (trauma is also subjective and can only be defined by the person who is experiencing it) memories or flashes of memory (as with PTSD) continually replay in the person’s mind.
Our bodies can essentially become stuck in sympathetic nervous system, hypervigilant and ready for any perceived danger. This can lead to chronic stress, creating a destructive feedback loop in the body and overtime the system will stop working. In other words, our natural reaction to stress is compromised. We either shut down and freeze or create situations of “over-reacting” to everyday stresses.
So – what do we do?
Even a basic understanding of how our body reacts under stress can go a long way in helping to regulate our systems. A healthy nervous system is one which is easily able to toggle between reactive and relaxed states. So often we find ourselves in an elevated state, high demands from our jobs or pushing to get things done. We need to find balance.
In my course, Becoming Trauma Aware: Creating a Healing Practice we will discuss in deeper detail what is happening to the nervous system under stress and the practices we can use to begin to release this. Ways we can bring more balance to our system and how we can begin to heal from the inside out. There are still a few spots left in the live/virtual course on March 27th or purchase the online course and start today.