Trauma is defined as an extremely distressing experience, which could have been mental or physical or both. Each person has their own distinction of “extremely distressing”. What seems distressing to one person may not even be noticed by another.
When a person experiences trauma or a life-threatening event, their brain may create coping strategies to protect them from reliving that or similar experiences. These coping strategies can present as physical or mental reactions. Some reactions are listed, but not limited to the below:
- aches and pains, heart palpitations, sweats
- changes in: sleep patterns, appetite and digestion, interest in sex
- easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
- decreased immunity
- increased use of alcohol, drugs and food to change brain chemistry (state of mind)
- shock, fear, anxiety, grief, anger, worry, shame, hypervigilance
- nightmares, flashbacks
- feelings of helplessness, panic, feeling out of control
- increased need to control everyday experiences
- minimizing or denial of the experience
- feelings of detachment, isolation
- concern over burdening others with problems
- emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings
- difficulty trusting others
- struggling with concentration or memory
- feelings of self-blame, survivor guilt
- depression, suicidal tendencies
- desire for revenge
These reactions can be suffered not only by those who experienced the traumatic event first-hand, but sometimes by people, who have witnessed, heard about or just involved with those who had the experience. Reactions can be brought about by persons, places, or things (sounds, smells, touch, etc.) associated with the trauma. Some reactions can even appear to be unrelated.
For example, say someone had been in a kitchen during a party, was accidentally bumped into which resulted in a bad burn from a hot stove. The next day, with a fresh and memorable injury, this person approaches a stove or even a kitchen, which triggers a reaction pattern to avoid danger. A possible reaction could be becoming anxious or agitated while cooking, or perhaps keeping all people out of the kitchen while they use the stove. Another reaction might be to avoid stoves altogether, even when they are not turned on. This person may not even be aware that they have taken on these coping strategies. Now this event is quite minor compared to events coming out of a combat zone but has still created resulted in post traumatic stress reaction patterns for this individual.
Each time a reaction pattern is run, the brain is firing similar neurons. Over time, these heavily traveled neurons are like deep ruts in a road. Now, the reaction pattern has become a habit, even after the pain has subdued and visible scars have healed.
Although people’s brains take on these coping strategies to ensure protection of the person, the brain often continues to run these ‘reaction patterns’ even when the possibility of recurring trauma is reduced or eliminated.
A prevalent example of this is the sleep problems experienced by someone suffering with PTSD. Even while sleeping 8+ hours per night, someone suffering with PTSD may still suffer from lack of sleep (tiredness, irritability, edginess, problems with concentration/ memory, behavioral, learning or social problems, etc). Too often, the brain of a PTSD sufferer is still on alert when the body is asleep. When this happens, the proper sleep cycles required to repair and replenish the brain and body are not experienced.
Handling the after effects of trauma
Some of the more common ways of handling the after effects of trauma are: medications, psychotherapy (also called talk therapy), coaching and neurofeedback.
Medication alone will treat the symptoms of an issue but will not remove the issue. One may become dependent on medication and too often, bodies become tolerant to the medication and one might need to increase their dose, change their medication or incorporate additional ones to treat the same symptoms. Medication can certainly be used to get symptoms under control but should not be a long-term solution.
Psychotherapy deals with the person’s logical side. Cognitive talk therapy helps one recognize the ways of thinking that are keeping them stuck; for example, negative or inaccurate ways of perceiving normal situations. Exposure therapy helps one safely face what they find disturbing so that they can learn to cope with it effectively. Some of these therapies risk release of a previously repressed emotion and / or re-experience of the original trauma. Consequentially, people fearing these states may hold back in session or may avoid sessions altogether.
Coaching helps one recognize the reaction patterns as well as inaccurate perceptions and will help the client ‘logically’ break the pattern and insert appropriate empowering patterns which can become healthier habits.
All the above approaches can help someone gain control of the lingering fear after a traumatic event. Some people may seek relief using one approach; others may prefer a combination of them.
It is important to keep in mind that some of our reaction patterns can root themselves deep in our subconscious. Understanding that the subconscious mind will continue to do what it must in order to protect this body from harm, one must be aware of the possibility of the brain slipping back into its reaction pattern as a protective mechanism or just out of habit.
Neurofeedback as a Catalyst
Neurofeedback monitors your brainwaves and alerts your central nervous system when it is not functioning smoothly. It can also help build brain resilience, improving the central nervous system’s ability to bounce back from a negative incident. With repeated training sessions, the brain learns to “reset” itself allowing it to function more smoothly. Instead of staying stuck in the negativity of these events, the resilient brain will snap back and return to its normal baseline more quickly.
All of this learning is non-invasive and happens outside your conscious awareness which is where, many of the deep rooted ‘reaction patterns’ one runs subconsciously, are entrenched.
Neurofeedback can be used alone or in conjunction with talk therapy and coaching as it supports and speeds up work with clients by assisting the brain in breaking out of inefficient patterns; allowing it to run more efficiently, with more resilience, flexibility and stability.
No one should have to learn to cope with symptoms when they have the possibility of eliminating them through replacing the old entrenched ruts with alternative avenues.
How NeurOptimal Neurofeedback can help:
- The client is not required revisit any previous trauma for healing so the risk of releasing a previously repressed emotion and / or re-experience of the original trauma is very low.
- It is very easy (nothing to fail at or achieve) and peaceful for the client as they choose the music or video for the session.
- There is no effort required other than showing up for your appointment.
- Client is not dependent on the trainer as all NeurOptimal systems function the same way. If you travel often, you just need to find the nearest provider.
- Results, due to an effectively functioning Central Nervous System, continue post training.