Hello my friends and optimal well-being explorers.
Before we can fully understand stress or trauma we need to cover the basic three components that make up any traumatic experience.
These three components are: FIGHT, FLIGHT, AND FREEZE
Understanding these principals is integral to helping one recover from a traumatic or stressful event.
Here is a simplified version of how it works: (even though I read thousands of pages on the subject, and spent hundreds of hours studying it, does not mean I need to subjugate you guys to the same thing…)
So here goes: Imagine, being confronted with a perceived or real threat. A bully approaches you in the school yard, a hooded man in a dark alley or your boss in the company coffee room. At this point it does not matter if the fear is rational or not, your instinctual brain (or as the literature calls it your “reptilian brain”) starts firing thousands of signals throughout your body to get you ready for the confrontation that it senses will soon take place. Blood rushes to your muscles to prepare them to either FIGHT your way to safety or RUN your way to safety. Likewise, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released into your blood stream by the bucket load to give you the needed energy and alertness to protect yourself through your fight or flight experience.
As this is happening your body switches into the sympathetic nervous system that causes your heart rate to increase, your pupils to widen, and your digestion to slow down, justto name a few. Basically, your body switches out of relaxed gear and into “holy sh** we need to protect ourselves!” Your body moves into hyper-vigilance and hyper- alertness to give you the best chance of survival. Now, all of this is happening without you consciously deciding to do it, it is automatic. These responses are part of your automatic nervous system that creates these responses whenever it perceives a threat, it is irrelevant if the threat is real or not.
Now, let’s go back to the story of the hooded man in the dark alley walking towards you. Your body is pumped with hormones to protect itself and your central nervous system has put all systems on red high alert. Then the hooded man turns the corner and never even comes close to you. Feew!! That was close, thank goodness it’s over!!
Now here is the most crucial point.
Is it really over?
In many cases, the affects of such an episode can be far from over if not taken care of appropriately. The individual’s body is still buzzing with the “alert” charge and swimming in the stress hormones released just a few seconds before. Without knowing how to discharge all this summoned energy, the sympathetic state will stay “on” and the stress hormones will stick around causing havoc to the person’s body.
What frequently happens next is that the nervous system moves into a FROZEN state and the trapped energy just creates further damage. The problem is that as time passes one will begin to experience all the terrible affects of long term hyper-vigilance such as : Low energy, challenges with sleeping, heightened anxiety and digestion problems just to name a few.
Next, because the body is turned on to high alert for so long It instinctively fights back and dives into the other extreme; creating a lethargic and depressed feeling. The body when full of stress and anxiety is like a car with the gas pedal pushed to the max. Left with no other choice the body so to speak “pushes the brake” and the individual experiences low energy and depressive symptoms. This creates the classic yo-yo affect of stressed and trauma individuals. At time they are overly anxious and then at times apathetic. They have lost contact with the middle ground. Their nervous systems have lost the ability to regulate and maintain for them a feeling of balance and well being.
So what can you do?
Don’t worry, a mind-body approach or somatic approach is ideal for working with such challenges. Through using this approach your body can be guided to release the charge and normalcy can be experienced again. (I promise)
So really simply put, TRAUMA is FIGHT or FLIGHT energy that has become FROZEN in the body and creates havoc on the individuals entire system until it is released.
Take away points:
- Trauma and stress stem from the FIGHT and FLIGHT energy that has become FROZEN in the individual’s body.
- The debilitating symptoms of PTSD and depression are really only expressions of the hyper vigilance that has not been given the opportunity to discharge from the body.