Three words have stuck with me after attending a three-hour presentation on how trauma affects the brain.
Accept and adapt.
At the presentation by Dr. Ryan Allen, I learned 70% of adults in the USA have experienced at least one traumatic event in their life. Of those, 20 percent develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What is Trauma, Again?
Depending on who you ask, or what source you lean into for guidance, trauma is defined as experiencing something negative that’s considered too much, too fast. The experience can be real, or perceived, leaving the person feeling hopeless, fearful, helpless or in fear for their life or safety.
The American Psychological Association (APA) states, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”
For those who are new around here on the Cupcakes and Yoga Pants blog, I manage multiple autoimmune conditions. Grieving the loss of specific abilities and the life you thought you’d have is indeed a trauma.
That 70% stat I shared earlier is not a surprise to me.
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Books to Read to Understand Trauma
The talk was rooted not only in the speaker’s professional work observations but also in the published studies and research documented in these three books:
- Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk
- The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation by Stephen W. Porges
If you’re looking for the root cause of autoimmunity or chronic illness in your body, I suggest checking out these books. You might just find your answer. I know I did.
For many, unprocessed traumas from childhood or our younger years leave the flight or flight survival response in the ‘on’ position inside our brains, wearing down our bodies and making our immune systems turn inward to attack healthy tissue.
A Shift in Mindset for Healing
So, back to those three words that have been popping up in my mind daily since the talk: accept and adjust. They’ve been a little hard to swallow, because I know I’m not the only person managing ongoing health issues who is always on the lookout for ways to heal.
What can I do to be better?
How can I get my immune system to function properly?
I point-blank asked the presenter if we can actually heal from trauma, and the answer is yes. But the road is long, tedious and requires work. It’s possible to embrace various therapies to build new neuropathways in the brain. Progress isn’t linear or fast, but eventually, the brain chemistry can shift into a state of rest.
As we heal, we must accept and adapt. This means facing our reality — looking it straight in the eyes — accepting where we are in our health journey and how we got here. It means adapting to a new way of living and adapting our lifestyle to nurturing our healing journey.
The existence of trauma never goes away. Memories remain. But, what can emerge from that experience is resilience and recovery. As you process trauma (not downplay it or ignore it) the neuroplasticity of your brain changes making you better able to accept change, move forward and be more present in daily life, rather than feeling stuck in the past.
I recommend working with a mental health therapist and your medical care practitioners to understand which methods of healing would work best for you to process trauma.
My first autoimmune diagnosis popped up over 13 years ago, and I am still working on the acceptance piece. It comes in layers, shifting and changing with my life journey, deepening its definition every few years. The idea of adapting has also changed over time, to align with my needs and goals.
My healing mantra is accept and adapt.
Until next time,
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