Alleviating trauma is the primary focus at Agape Therapeutic Health Services. To be sure, there are many events happening in the world and in our lives that are potentially traumatizing.
“Trauma”, as a term, is referring to all kinds of real life events ranging on a spectrum from small to big. First off, big trauma events are referring to life threatening occurrences illiciting moderate to severe stress responses. To be specific, sexual or physical abuse, active military combat, natural disasters, major accidents or major health challenges are big trauma events.
In contrast, small trauma events are referring to common life occurrences eliciting mild to moderate stress responses. For instance, changing work or relationships, losing loved ones, time pressures and deadlines, as well as media messaging.
The Stress Response
The stress response from many small trauma events can end up having the same cumulative impact as any sort of big trauma event. Once the stress response is triggered, it’s estimated the body is experiencing up to 1400 chemical and 30 hormonal changes. The physical responses to long-term stress are well documented and a brief summary of the main stages of the stress response are listed below:
- Stage 1 – Alarm / Fight or Flight Response: Perceiving something as a threat, the body ends up releasing cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream.
- Stage 2 – Resistance: The body starts sending up red flags while trying to maintain the fight or flight response.
- Stage 3 – Exhaustion: Ongoing stress leads to “hitting the wall” in exhaustion and experiencing a complete system breakdown.
- Relaxation Response: Once the stress is gone, the body tries to undo and re-balance what was happening above.
Side-Effects of Trauma
Releasing the side-effects of trauma isn’t easy and many choose not to deal with it. Stuffing or repressing emotions doesn’t work and ends up creating emotional baggage, body image issues and post traumatic stress disorder.
Exaggerated stress responses to present day stressors are common for many trauma survivors.
Body Image Issues
A daily bombarding of media messaging is common for a large portion of the world. Buying into this messaging can end up creating faulty beliefs and unhealthy behaviors.
Messaging using shame or guilt is continually driving home the point that “you’re not good enough”. Furthermore, the diet and fashion industries are endlessly spinning this myth by using sexism in advertising.
For example, internalizing negative messaging about body size and shape can lead to behaviors such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. Additional negative behaviors may include compulsively exercising, using drugs and receiving multiple surgeries to alter body appearance.
Furthermore, sexual abuse survivors may find themselves being constantly re-triggered by the ongoing sexualization and pornification of society. The societal obsession of determining worth and value solely based on looks is an extremely shallow measuring stick and yet it’s rampant through the main stream media and social media.
In short, it’s estimated that between 80% to 90% of women in Canada are unhappy with their appearance. Further online statistics include the Dove Women’s Body Image Study 2016 and 11 Facts about Body Image. There is a lag in statistics, but recent research suggests 1 in 4 boys and men experience body image issues and eating disorders.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatric Stess Disorder is a mental health condition arising from experiencing or witnessing any of the big trauma events listed above. PTSD symptoms do not appear immediately and may end up including flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts regarding the event(s). Specific symptoms end up varying from person to person depending upon the nature and frequency of the big trauma event(s).
Advances in medical imaging technology, specifically Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), has been allowing researchers to see, in real time, the responses of the brain during major traumatic stress. The fMRI brain scans are indicating that both the speech center and the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing what happens in the present moment, are shutting down during traumatic events. In addition, the brain scans are also revealing that trauma survivors end up having more difficulty processing information in comparison to non-traumatized individuals.
Easing PTSD Symptoms
In the past, the prevaling wisdom for easing PTSD symptoms was sending big trauma survivors for talk therapy. As has been noted, big trauma survivors may struggle with speaking about what was happening to them during the traumatic event(s). For this reason, talk therapy alone for easing PTSD symptoms is limiting.
Using talk therapy along with other holistic modalities such as yoga, acupuncture, integrative bodywork, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and/or energy medicine is part of a comprehensive approach for easing PTSD symptoms.