Health Column: Finding hope: It’s there even after a trauma

By Barbara Bolin

The human imagination is the route to some glorious accomplishments, as well as some destructive reactions to the world within and around us. Human consciousness is configured in such a way that we may react to challenges on a broad continuum. Generally, though, we respond with fight, flight, freeze, fugue or fumble.

With extreme trauma, the individual responds to the traumatic event that was witnessed or experienced with intense feelings both during and after the event. In instances of natural disasters, shocking deaths, violence, military combat experiences, assault or sexual trauma, once the initial crisis takes place, the “system” protectively shuts away our feelings and numbness sets in. In time, the trauma then becomes ingrained in our personality and history.

Sometimes, numbness translates into post-traumatic stress reactions including physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, dizziness and immune system problems. The person who’s numb also may experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, anger and even depression. That’s understandable. When our lives intersect traumatic events, there’s an immediate reaction of shock, grief or terror and the body and mind go into crisis mode.

At this point, a permanent imprint is made on our psyche, and the mind and body both struggle to return to a balanced stage. Most people re-enter their lives but with a cost. Their world has changed, and their sense of safety is lost. Inexpressible shifts take place within, and if there’s a lack of an outlet to thoughtfully process and manage traumatic experiences, the event can haunt our minds, bodies and spirits forever.

Losing trust in the world can deplete our hopes, ability to set goals, relationships, resiliency and sense of the future. When unresolved, issues can re-emerge and prevent us from experiencing life’s joys, finding meaning and purpose in our lives, and being able to feel worthy of love. Traumatic stress basically can constrict and freeze our individual views of the world.

To heal and survive a trauma, though, individuals create understanding and perspective. Finding a trusted friend or professional to talk to is vital. Also, it’s important to include self-care such as regular exercise to “reset” the body’s chemistry, to learn and practice mindfulness and stress reduction, to find positive distracters, to redirect memories, to avoid self-medication with alcohol or drugs and to counter the temptation to isolate.

Anger management skills also are crucial for everyday challenges. It’s also important to remember the guardian angels encountered, find reasons for gratitude, recall positive moments and recognize those who help us savor life.

The simple mantra that “there is more right than wrong with the world” reminds us that we have power over our recovery. Coping with the aftereffects of any trauma is a process of nurturing our innate resiliency - using work, spirituality, relationships, nourishment, exertion, rest and play - to persevere.

Life is persistent, and the system always seems to try and right itself. However, it does take effort and mindfulness for our higher selves to heal or to develop instead of wither.

Barbara Bolin is a therapist with Blount Memorial Hospital’s EASE: Elder Assessment Service, an offering that provides assistance, assessment, treatment, support and referral sources to individuals age 55 and older along with their families.

Two locations available for caregiver support

The Caregiver Support Group at Blount Memorial Hospital meets at two different locations each month. The group meets every Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. on the hospital’s 3-east floor. The group also meets from 10 to 11 a.m. every first and third Tuesday at the Everett Senior Center at 702 Burchfield St. in Maryville.

The Caregiver Support Group is a free service for any adult who is caring for another adult. There are no membership requirements.

For more information, call Blount Memorial Senior Services at 865-977-5744.

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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