Why can’t I stop thinking about this? How Trauma affects the brain and ways to heal yourself.

Why can’t I stop thinking about this? How Trauma affects the brain and ways to heal yourself.

Trauma

You had a car accident. Luckily you are ok with only minor injuries, but now you feel very anxious driving and you dread even the thought of getting in your car. You are worried that every car you pass is going to hit you, or you anxiously keep looking in the rearview mirror worried someone may not stop and see your brake lights and rear end. It’s been months since the accident yet that feeling of being on edge and not being able to enjoy driving like you used to, is still there. This seems silly as you are fine now, why is this happening, why can’t you let go of this fear? 

What is trauma anyway? 

Trauma doesn’t have to be a soldier returning from the war and experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD), it can also be smaller things in life that overwhelm our ability to cope and shake up our sense of security. There are the big “T” traumas which are extraordinary events that can threaten your life, such as war, rape, or sexual assault in addition to smaller trauma, such as caregiver abuse, bullying or traumatic breakups, or abusive relationships. However, all types of trauma are equally debilitating and damaging and can have a negative impact on our sense of our self, safety in the world, and security. 

Symptoms of Trauma: 

People are often unaware that some symptoms they are experiencing may be indicative of a trauma response.  Here are some common symptoms of trauma and responses to overwhelming events: 

  • Feeling emotionally overwhelmed by things you previously were able to manage.
  • Increased anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Being in a state of high alert, or hypervigilant; on the lookout for something to happen again.
  • Being numb or in shock, not really believing what happened, and feeling detached or confused. 
  • Constantly thinking about what happened and having intrusive thoughts about the event.
  • Physical responses such as headaches, nausea, fatigue or exhaustion, disturbed sleep, or pain.
  • Flashbacks of the event or nightmares.
  • Memory loss before and after the event.
  • Shame about the event or feeling that you did something wrong. 
  • Dissociation, feeling disconnected from your body, emotions, and events. 
  • Being distracted and unable to stay focused on tasks. 
  • Increase in substance use or abuse.  Attempts to mask the feelings and memories with substances.   

Ways to Help Yourself Heal from Trauma

 First and foremost, be kind to yourself and allow yourself time to heal. Do not expect that you can go back to your old life immediately and do all the things you used to do. Slow down and take time to process what happened. Trauma affects our ability to focus and this distraction causes delays in action.  It’s important not to isolate yourself, continue to see and talk to family and friends about your experiences.  It’s also very important to express your feelings through close family members or with the aid of a trained therapist. Denying or pushing aside your feelings as silly or unimportant will make the healing process longer. 

It’s also important to try not to avoid certain places that make you uncomfortable. Oftentimes trauma victims significantly limit their activity and the range of places they will go. Make sure that you are exercising, adding things such as walking, yoga, or biking, can be very healing. If you feel you are struggling to talk about what happened, start with journaling.  If intrusive memories come up rather than pushing them aside, accept and allow them, and then shift your focus. Again, it may help to take time to write down these memories, and then once you have done that, change your focus and consciously choose not to ruminate over them. 

Trauma can be challenging to heal from without the support of a trained therapist. I have been trained as a brainspotting practitioner, which is an effective modality in healing from trauma and other disorders such as anxiety and depression.  Brainspotting can be just as effective both in person and virtually.  Please reach out for support today to get relief. 

Monica Ramunda is a Licensed Counselor who has over 20 years of experience working with families and children and has offices in both Colorado and North Carolina.

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