Did you know that when we experience a trauma we don't just remember the experience, but our brain responses can actually cause us to relive it?
Did you know that our memories come in fragments and pictures, which we then later use to craft our story in order to make sense of the unthinkable?
Under stress it seems that we are not as logical as we might think we are. My daughter Heidi and I recently interviewed Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the New York Times best selling author of "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma," on our Open to Hope television show. This article is composed of thoughts from Dr. van der Kolk and other guests.
Trauma and its effects on the body
When we have a traumatic experience such as the death of a loved one it actually impacts brain connections by exciting some areas of the brain and dampening other areas. Stress hormones are released causing the body to freeze thus eliminating the ideas of possibility and imagination. We lose the ability to believe that things can get better and that there will be a future. In order to recover from trauma the body must again find peace and reach its natural equilibrium with an understanding of, "That was then and this is now." As time passes we can gradually move to put past and present into their natural order. According to Dr. van der Kolk it is necessary to step back and look at the past with the perspective of time and not relive it in our bodies in order to find peace in the present.
Peace In The Present
Jane, a bereaved parent and a member of our Compassionate Friends group, requested concrete ideas on how she could find peace in the present. Jane held her eighteen-year-old daughter as she died of a drug overdose. She said that it had been two years and she wanted to work on without constantly replaying the trauma. Below are some ideas for Jane and others who are looking for more peace in the present.
- Theater -- Bart Sumner is a bereaved parent who teaches improv. He has seen many amazing responses from those who take different roles giving them the freedom of possibility.
- College Making -- Sharon Strouse, bereaved parent and board certified Art Therapist and author of "Artful Grief: A Diary of Healing," has many great ideas on healing through art.
- Singing -- Alan Pedersen, bereaved parent and Executive Director of The Compassionate friends, has inspired hundreds of thousands of bereaved people with his music.
- Walking, Running -- Twenty minutes of daily walking can reduce your risk of stroke by fifty percent.
- Hugging -- Touch releases those feel-good hormones; being touched is a basic human need.
- Massage -- Lyn Prashant PhD, a bereaved spouse, has seen huge gains for herself and her clients with regular massage.
- Yoga, Tia chi, Chi kung, Aerobics -- Body movement can change the brain connections and calm the body. Moving the body is key to keeping a healthy attitude and alert mind.
- Laughing/Smiling -- Research has shown that even if you just pretend to smile it can change your brain patterns.
- Your grief may be a living memorial -- Loyalty to the dead. If you stop grieving you betray your love for them. The question is, "are you ready to let go."
- With time you can get perspective -- The question is, "How will you get there?"
- You must be safe to remember.
- You must regain your Internal Locus of Control: "I am still in charge."
- You need to be an active participant in your own care asking, "is this right for me?" What will make me feel be better?
- Be active but also patient in your grief work as the one constant variable in healing grief in "time."
Here are a few shows we've had him on: