Anxiety Is Programming To Survive

Human brains are wired for survival. Human bodies likewise are designed to respond to the brain’s search for survival. Survival is essential. If you don’t survive, anything else you could potentially experience won’t be experienced.

There is so much discussion these days about being happy. This is often portrayed as the natural state. But the natural state is actually survival.

The Calm State

There is one part of your body’s defence system where happiness is king. That is your ventral vagal state. When the ventral polyvagal nerve is activated you feel calm, contended, happy and very safe. This activation occurs when your brain is not anxiously seeking cues of danger.

The Search For Safety

Because humans are wired for survival and the world is far from perfect, then human brains devote a lot of time to checking for safety.

The more you feel unsafe, the more anxious you will be as you constantly search for safety. This leads to a lot of anxiety, which is not a happy place.

Places Where You Feel Calm

Meditation or having fun are two places where you can feel calm and alive and at your happiest. But those are two states where you cannot be anxious. To be in those states your brain needs to feel safe.

The Search For Problems

As part of maintaining safety, your brain searches for problems. Worry is automatic. It is that constant scanning of your environment for danger.

Research has shown that humans don’t have to learn to worry. Your brains will store all stressful events in life as general sensory information. This information is then used by your brain to pattern match information your brain senses.

The Near Enough Pattern Match

But the pattern is always near enough, not perfect, because a dangerous situation is unlikely to repeat exactly the same. If you waited for the pattern to be identical you might be exposed to life threatening danger that you didn’t recognise. So similar pattern matching is what your brain does.

The problem with similar pattern matching is that you can be triggered to believe you are in danger when you are not.

An Example of Near Enough Pattern Matching

A classic example is distant ancestor hunter gatherer Zog. He is walking through the grassland and hears a rustling in the grass. Suddenly a large predatory cat leaps out of the grass at him. He reacts with his knife and manages to fight the cat off. Wounded it slinks off. Zog has successfully fought off his predator.

Zog’s brain has stored the sensory information around that incident. His brain now recognises the danger of hearing a rustling in the grass.

A week later Zog and his friends are walking through grassland. He hears a rustling in the grass and grabs his knife and lashes out automatically. This time however, it is a friend playing a joke on him that he gets with the knife. His brain pattern matched the rustling in the grass to the danger of a predatory cat. And his brain acted automatically to protect him from the danger it had matched to a predatory cat.

This is how your brain pattern matches for safety, but imperfectly.

Modern Problems Are Not What The Brain’s Safety Circuit Was Designed For

Part of your brain checking for safety involves looking for problems. In the world Zog lived in, it was predatory animals, enemy groups, loose rocks, steep falls and so on. In the world you live in it is someone who is angry, missing the bus, the boss complaining about your work, the friends who are saying nasty things about you when you are not there. The list goes on. The physical risks of Zog’s world have been replaced by largely psychological risks.

Whereas Zog may have gone about his day alert for risks that were genuine, you spend your day checking for a lot of risks that are not physical but instead are psychological. These risks are a lot harder to spot and a lot more subtle. This means your brain is busy interpreting the behaviour of others.

Why Are Some People More Anxious?

Some people are more anxious than others. This is because they have been exposed to more stress than others. The stress that causes more damage is that which occurs in childhood while the brain is developing.

If you grew up in a war zone, you would have been exposed to more stress than someone growing up in a peaceful environment.

If you grew up in a family where the dynamic was unhealthy, such as the presence of Domestic Abuse, addictions, mental illness or difficulty coping with life, then you will have been exposed to more stress than someone growing up in a healthy family dynamic.

Regulation Is Important To Manage Anxiety

In the above mentioned family, you will also have had less opportunity to learn good coping skills such as regulation.

If other people in your childhood were anxious and impacted by the stress of the environment you will also have learned to respond to stress with anxiety.

Even if you grew up in a healthy family you can be exposed to stressful situations that impact your level of anxiety.

Those stressful situations could have been something outside your family’s control. They may even have been perceived by others to be so minor there is no memory of them happening. But your brain may remember them.

The Work Of The Anxious Brain And Healing

When you are anxious your brain seeks, and pattern matches things it observes and labels them as problematic. Even when they may not be.

It also takes work to repair and heal the causes of your anxiety.

It takes practice to learn to calm yourself.

The Future

You will always most likely be anxious, but you can work to reduce your reactivity and learn methods to calm yourself.

There are many techniques that can work there. I use a variety of techniques that depend on your individual needs. Somatic approaches, mindfulness, meditation, art and EMDR are some approaches I use.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anxiety, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

3 Steps To Helping Your Child Understand And Process Grief

Grief is devastating for anyone.

As an adult, you have an advantage in grieving. That advantage is your brain development.

All things being equal, by the time your brain is fully developed (around age 25) you have learned how to process grief. If you haven’t encountered grief before, hopefully you have learned to seek help in processing your grief.

Children’s Brains Struggle To Process Grief

For a child, the lack of brain development means that processing grief is very difficult.

For an undeveloped brain, comprehending death and the existential issues around it, is extremely difficult. Adults struggle with this. So children will struggle even more without the tools yet to be developed to help them.

Grief In Children Resurfaces At Each Developmental Stage.

The younger the child, the more undeveloped will be their ability to process their grief. It is now known that grief in children will resurface at different stages in their childhood and even into adult life.

It is important to be aware of these difficulties and be ready to support your child.

The developing brain is learning. That is how the brain develops. But without support, the brain cannot learn. The brain needs to learn how to process Grief.

Attending To The Trauma Of Grief

Grief is a trauma. It is dysregulating. A child experiencing grief will be thrown into a major fight/flight/freeze stress response. They will also lose their connection to others and feel very isolated and alone.

Many people think they just have to sit their child down and talk to them and that will help. But a dysregulated brain can’t learn or reason so talking to a child in this situation will not work.

The 3 Steps

There are 3 steps to reaching your child and helping them to learn how to process their grief.

The steps are as follows:

Step 1. Regulate

The first thing you need to do with your child is help them regulate their fight/flight/freeze response and become calmer.

One of the best ways to do this is to be as calm as you can. Research has shown that children cope well with traumatic events when their parents remain relatively calm and can maintain as much as possible regular routines. The main thing is that your child feels safe. They need to feel that you can still protect them. In a world that has just fallen apart with the loss of someone important, knowing you are still there is vital.

Do the best you can

Obviously, if you are grieving as well, it is going to be hard to regulate yourself. You are likely to be crying and finding it hard to focus.

This is the pain of parenting. There are times when you have to put your own needs aside to attend to the needs of your children. It is natural for you to do that, and it may be necessary. But don’t put off attending to your own needs for long. It is okay to be crying when you seek to regulate your child.

After all, your child needs to see you grieving to learn it is okay to be sad and cry, but life still goes on.

One of the best ways to regulate is to hold your child. That helps them to feel safe and also gives you a sense of safety as well.

Step 2. Relate

Holding your child is part of the next step as well.

You help your child to regulate, to feel safer and still cared for.

Now you help them by establishing a connection. Holding your child will help them feel connected to you. This will mean they feel less isolated and alone.

Being Attuned To Your Child

Relating also involved being attuned to your child and their needs. It means you will stop and seek to understand what your child is thinking and feeling. Depending on their age, this may involve (when appropriate) making a general statement such as:

“It is really sad and frightening that x has died.”

This would work best for a young child who may still be learning to understand their emotions. Acknowledging what you sense they are experiencing helps them to feel understood.

For an older child you may ask them what they are feeling. Or you may wonder if they are feeling sad because you are.

It is important to not hide your feelings and allow your child to see you are sad too but that your sadness won’t stop you caring for them.

Be Attuned For A Long Time

Remember that I earlier mentioned that grief in children takes longer and is revisited at each developmental stage.

It is important to keep that in mind. Even after the initial period of adjustment to death your child will continue to grieve.

Always make sure you seek to understand your child. This maintains a connection between the two of you and is also comforting for your child. An attuned parent is one who provides safety and security. Something all children need, but grieving children need it more.

Step 3. Reason

Once your child is regulated and secure in their relationship with you, you can then reason with them.

You can support your child to express their feelings should they want to. You can support your child according to their developmental stage to reflect, learn, remember, articulate and learn how to live with their loss.

How Do I Support My Child To Learn?

There are many aids you can use to help you support your child through their grief. These aids will help them to learn healthy ways of processing grief. This will serve them well now and in later life with other losses.

There are many age-appropriate books you can read to your child. Your local library is a good source of these. If you send your child to a counsellor many will have these resources as well. I have a range of books I use with younger children.

For teenagers, who are already exploring the more existential issues of life as part of their teen development, a more existential approach that emphasises philosophical discussions mixed with some helpful facts about grief and its impacts is really helpful.

Can I Help?

Sometimes you and/or your child/ren will need help from a grief trained counsellor. It can be very helpful to learn what is normal in grieving both for yourself and your child. If you need help, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please
click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The Real Impact of Trauma

It is one thing to process memories of trauma, but it is an entirely different matter to confront the inner void – the holes in the soul that result from not having been wanted, not having been seen, and not having been allowed to speak the truth. If your parents’ faces never lit up when they looked at you, it’s hard to know what it feels like to be loved and cherished. If you come from an incomprehensible world filled with secrecy and fear, its almost impossible to find the words to express what you have endured. If you grew up unwanted and ignored, it is a major challenge to develop a visceral sense of agency and self worth.” ~ Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

This quote from the book The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel van der Kolk has always hit home for me.

It is such a powerful summary of the impact of abuse, neglect, lack of attunement, poor attachment, emotionally unavailable parents, narcissistic parents and more that include the range of wounds that comprise childhood trauma.

It is horrible to not be wanted. It is devastating to not be seen. The wounds left by never been greeted by your parents with love and lit up faces are immense.
When all those things happen the child feels like they don’t exist. They feel unsafe. The feel they have to fight for their survival. They learn to people please and fawn to be given the tiny bit of attention needed to survive. They do things that make them feel ashamed and cripple them in adulthood with shame. They learn to feel like a nothing. To have no way to express their fear, sorrow, anger and more.

My Own Experience

I understand this because that was my childhood. I was never wanted and was told that often. I was deliberately ignored. There were never any proud parents watching my achievements as a child. There were never words of congratulation around the dinner table at night.

I never knew what it was like to be greeted by someone whose face lit up when they saw me, that is until I met my husband. The things my parents did to me were never discussed.

In adulthood when I tried to discuss them with my parents and my siblings there was a wall of silence. My mother constructed a narrative to dismiss my recollections as me being neurotic, or over exaggerating, or making a mountain out of a tiny molehill.

I have had to fight very hard to heal from that. To learn that I am worthy, that I do have a sense of agency, that I matter. I have learned to feel safe, to learn to trust others, to fearlessly speak my truth.

Because I have done that, I know you can too. It is scary. It is hard to trust. Progress can seem so agonisingly slow. But you will get there. You can heal.

As well as my own lived experience, I have studied extensively the latest research on trauma and the best practice approaches to heal trauma. I have helped countless people heal from their trauma, and I can help you too.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your childhood pain and trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Trauma Blocking Behaviour

I often write about the impacts of trauma in childhood. I also write about the way our society teaches us to avoid uncomfortable feelings.

Today I want to talk about some behaviours people engage in that are designed to cover up deeply upsetting feelings.

These are:
Excessive use of social media and compulsive mindless scrolling.

    I am not referring to people looking on social media to catch up on what friends have posted. I am referring to people who search and search social media pretty much all the time, even when there is nothing to read. I know we can all do that to a certain extent, but when it becomes every day, all day, then it is a problem and most likely to be a trauma blocking behaviour.

Drinking alcohol to excess, including binge drinking.

    Taking drugs of any type, smoking, vaping are also trauma blocking behaviours. In fact experts in addiction agree that the addictions are caused by trauma.

Excessive and mindless eating, even when not hungry.

    Like alcohol, drugs and smoking this is a behaviour that helps to block trauma.

Compulsive exercising to reach an unattainable goal. Or just exercising compulsively.

    As with other addictions, this behaviour blocks uncomfortable feelings so it is compulsively adopted.

Being frightened of being alone so you stay in toxic relationships, even when you are unhappy or in danger.

    It is the idea of it being better to be in any relationship than none at all. But is it better to be in a terrifying and potentially deadly relationship?

Being frightened of being alone so you constantly surround yourself with people and activities to stop you ever being alone.

    This can also involve manipulative behaviours to ensure you have people around you. And when you are alone, you may well use alcohol, drugs or self harm to suppress the fear.

Feeling unsafe if you have nothing do you so you keep yourself busy with constant projects.

Compulsive shopping, especially online, for things you don’t need and going into debt

Being a workaholic with poor work boundaries so that you end up being available 24/7

I am sure you could add others to that list.

Do you find yourself adopting these behaviours?

If you do, you are not alone.

Do you want to stop using these behaviours, or others like them?

This is where a counsellor can help you learn how to face and heal deeply upsetting feelings.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your trauma blocking behaviour, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Why Is Your Body So Important In Trauma Treatment?

For many years, it has been known amongst Trauma Practitioners that the body plays an important role in trauma.

For decades, the mind and emotions were focused on as the areas where trauma impacted. But research over the past decades has changed that.

Somatic Therapy

Somatic Therapy, as practiced by therapists such as Pat Ogden is one area of work in the way we hold our bodies as having an impact on our mood as well as holding uncompleted defensive actions from our past.

Peter Levine, with his breakthrough book “Waking the Tiger” works to release trauma from the body where it is trapped in incomplete movements.

Bessel van der Kolk, with his book “The Body Keeps the Score” is another who has presented the evidence that trauma is stored in the body.

The Impact Of Your Body Posture On Your Mood.

More recent research has shown that your posture and the way you hold your body has a major impact on how you feel and how shifts in posture can release stress.

Big expansive poses such as the so-called power poses are empowering and stress relieving. Power poses include standing with your arms outstretched or on your hips, or sitting with your arms outstretched and leaning back.

The opposite of these poses, ones that trap stress hormones in the body include any posture where you hold yourself as small as possible. These include hunching forward and crossing your arms and legs slumping with your shoulders hunched forward and your head hanging down.

Body Poses That Empower

Poses that open up your vulnerable front, such as the power poses empower you whereas poses that close up your vulnerable front, disempower you.

Bessel van der Kolk often mentions in his lectures the impact of taking a person who is sitting slumped in front of him and directing them to sit up and pull their shoulders back. He reports that the person’s mood immediately lifts.

It is worth remembering the importance of posture when you are feeling stressed, or nervous about meeting certain people. Stand up, pull your shoulders back, gaze ahead, don’t look down. You will find your ability to remain calm will increase and your mood will improve.

Trauma Stuck In The Body Needs To Be Released

As for trauma stored in your body. That trauma needs to be released. I mentioned earlier how Pat Ogden and Peter Levine work with completing uncompleted defensive actions from the past. This is very helpful. I use this approach often when working with people. Being able to complete defensive actions that were not able to be used when the original trauma happened is very powerful.

It is also helpful to adopt practices to help you release the trauma. There are many different practices, although the one most often used is Yoga, which is a particularly well-known approach and there are Yoga practitioners who work with releasing trauma. Movement therapy can also be helpful.

Mindfulness can be used to feel into parts of the body and work with the movements those parts need to complete as well as the trauma those parts need to release.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with releasing trauma from your body, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: https://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

I didn’t think I had an abusive childhood, but now I realise I did

Do you need other people to validate the things you do?

Do you need the approval of others?

Do you find it hard making decisions for yourself?

Do you find it hard feeling self-reliant?

Do you find it hard to regulate your emotions?

Are you really hard on yourself?

Do you feel you have little or no worth?

Do you do things to numb your emotional pain?

Are you frightened of rejection and abandonment?

Do you feel you are stuck in angry mode?

Do you find it hard to feel joy or peace?

Do you find it hard to get close to other people?

Do you feel lonely and seek out others to compensate for your loneliness?

Do you feel lost, misunderstood or that you don’t fit in and others are judging you for that?

Do you frequently feel anxious or depressed?

Are you frightened of social situations and fear being rejected.

Do you feel others judge you as not being good enough?

Do you feel empowered in your life?

How childhood experiences can impact you as an adult

Did you know that trauma in childhood has a significant impact on your self-worth?

If your sense of safety and belonging in childhood was damaged you are likely to have developed skills to keep you safe in that situation. As you grew up you may never have unlearned those skills, so they trap you in patterns that don’t serve you in adulthood.

Also, poor attachment between your parents and you puts you at risk of suffering from loneliness in adulthood.

Traumatic experiences in your childhood disrupt how you see your self as a person and affect your ability to regulate your emotions. All this impacts on the quality of the interpersonal relationships you have later in life.

My parents didn’t physically or sexually abuse me. I can’t have suffered trauma.

It can be hard to understand you have been traumatised in childhood. The usual picture of trauma is that of being hit or sexually abused. But trauma covers much more than just that. In fact, the worst traumas are emotional and psychological.

Neglect

Neglect is a trauma that is often overlooked. With neglect the child’s physical and emotional needs are frequently overlooked. It may involve not receiving regular meals, not having clean clothes to wear, not having your emotional needs for comfort and support met. A parent who rarely interacts or shows an interest in you is also neglectful.

Neglectful parents are also unlikely to be there to teach you skills of emotional regulation. They may not teach you how to wash yourself, how often to change your clothes.

It is unlikely a neglectful parent will see you and spend time connecting to you. This is known as attunement. A child who is not seen is a child who is not safe. Not being safe is extremely traumatic.

The clear message in this situation is that you have no worth or value. After all, you are not worth having any time or attention given to you.

Narcissistic Parent

Narcissistic parents are also very destructive of a child’s sense of self-worth.

Such a parent depends on the child to make them feel good. The child gets positive attention when they do things that serve the parent. The trouble is, there are no clear guidelines as to what the child needs to do to serve the parent. Consequently, the child lives life second guessing the parent in order to feel that the parent will care for them and they will be safe.

Narcissistic parents will also often shame their children in front of others. They will expect their child to meet their needs, to do things to make them proud. They will never teach their child any skills that will equip them for adulthood and self-reliance.

Narcissistic parents will often hold the child close to serve their needs. They want the child to stay dependent on them because the child is there to serve their needs and that is why they had them.

One classic example is of a woman who would take her child to school. The child would happily run into the classroom and greet her friends. The mother would call her back and make a fuss of her, stating it was okay for mummy to leave now and she would be okay. The child would go back to her friends and be happily talking with them. Again, the mother would call her back. This would continue until the child’s resolve was broken and she would wail and beg her mother not to leave her.

A narcissistic parent is one of the most destructive types of parent and sentence their children to mental poor health and a dependence on validation from others in adulthood.

Complex PTSD and Borderline personality disorder

These conditions develop because of chronic trauma experienced in childhood. The type of trauma most associated with these conditions is emotional abuse and invalidation. It can happen if you are neglected or have a narcissistic parent. It can also happen from other types of abuse and invalidation.

Sometimes parents are not aware that their behaviour towards their children is invalidating and can be surprised when their child develops this disorder in adulthood.

When a parent is emotionally abusive or invalidating during a child’s early years it impacts on the child’s sense of self and the child can struggle to have a strong sense of self.

You may develop self-defeating attitudes and beliefs around yourself and the trustworthiness of the world.

When raised in such an environment it is also difficult to learn to regulate your emotions. This is often due to your parents being unable to regulate their emotions. How can you teach another person how to regulate their emotions if you can’t do it yourself.

For this reason, I encourage people who had difficult childhoods to seek counselling from a trauma trained professional before having children. Many parents who were emotionally abused as children are determined their own children will never have to go through that. But sometimes things your children do can trigger reactions in you that you can’t control and don’t like doing. If you find raising your children triggers behaviours you struggle to control then seek counselling. Seeking help makes you a good parent.

Unstable and intense relationships

If you find that any type of relationship you have with others tends to be intense and over time unstable then you may be experiencing the impacts of chronic trauma in childhood. Sometimes these relationships happen because you are uncomfortable being alone and seek out anyone who looks willing to be in a relationship with you. This can result in you unconsciously choosing the wrong type of person to have a relationship with.

Sometimes when you are in a relationship you can sabotage it by clinging to the person and unwittingly pushing them away.

I think you are the best, I hate you patterns

Another impact of childhood trauma can be seen in meeting someone new and idealising them. This continues for some time then you start devaluing them and finding things wrong with them.

You are too hard on yourself

One of the saddest impacts of childhood trauma is the lack of self-worth and lack of self-compassion.

It is not surprising that children develop these beliefs. When a parent is abusive, or expects you to jump over hoops to gain their approval, the natural response is to believe this is because you are a bad person. If your parent constantly tells you that you are bad then this belief is reinforced.

The reality is that a child is just a child learning how to live life. There is no inherent badness in a child. Sadly a child doesn’t know that. Shame becomes a big part of the life of an abused child.

Ways to dull the pain

If you never learned how to regulate your emotions, and you believe you are a bad person, then you feel great pain that you don’t know how to soothe.

Many people turn to behaviours that numb the pain. These behaviours may be dangerous. A good example of this is children who steal cars then drive them dangerously at high speed. The risk and dangers inherent in this activity help to suppress their pain.

Other things people do include addictions such as substance abuse, smoking or vaping, gambling, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, exercise addiction and eating disorders.

I am lonely

If you don’t feel you are worth anything then you may not feel you are likeable. The result is that you may avoid getting close to others so that they can’t reject you.

Getting close to another person means exposing yourself to the rejection of your parents. If they rejected you, then other people will too.

When you do form relationships with others you may be frightened of expressing your needs or asking for help because your parents failed to meet those needs when you were a child. So you may feel even lonelier because you can’t turn to someone for help.

Many people who suffered trauma in childhood report feeling lonely.

Depression and Anxiety

It is very common for someone traumatised as a child to be anxious. Your childhood was an anxious time of never being sure when you would receive support, or whether you may be abused. Abusers are rarely predictable so hypervigilance was an essential part of childhood.

Hypervigilance leads to anxiety. There is the need to be constantly on your guard because you never know what is going to happen in the next minute. You never know when things will suddenly become dangerous and frightening.

When you grow up and things become safer the fear doesn’t go away because your brain has developed neural pathways that constantly scan for danger. This is why anxiety is a constant companion of the traumatised child.

Depression is another consequence of this type of childhood. Many people report feeling depressed from childhood. The sense of not being good enough, the lack of self-worth, being emotionally worn down with anxiety and fear, the rejection and abandonment of parents and the sense of never being safe all contribute to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and lead into depression.

I constantly feel on edge

The environment of neglect and emotional abuse is a highly stressful environment. Children in this situation are being impacted regularly by the release of stress hormones in the body. This has an impact on the developing brain and will often result in an adult who is highly sensitive to stress hormones.

The result is that your brain is in a constant state of defending yourself. In other words the fight/flight/freeze response.

It is very difficult to cope with life if your brain is constantly seeing danger and you spend a lot of time with your brain taking over your life and deciding whether you are to fight, run away, or freeze.

When this defence mechanism takes over, your thinking brain switches off. You can’t control your reactions. Sadly, very few people understand this and you may find yourself judged when you get stuck in this defence response.

It is for this reason that it is important to seek counselling from a qualified trauma counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your childhood trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Hope: A Vital Ingredient in Survival

Over the years I have worked with many people who are suicidal.

One thing I was introduced to early on in my suicide training was the concept of Hope.

What researchers have found is that Hope is a vital ingredient in survival. It is not possible to ask someone who has killed themself what was going through their mind at the time they took the actions to end their life. All researchers have been able to do is to ask people who took steps to kill themselves but survived. What researchers found was that people took the actions to end their lives when they had lost hope.

But hope does more than keep you from killing yourself. It also affects how you cope with life’s crises such as serious illnesses, bereavement, and financial reverses.

Hope is the first Dose

I was recently reading a book by W. Lee Warren “Hope is the First Dose: A Treatment Plan for Recovering from Trauma, Tragedy, and Other Massive Things”.

Dr Warren is a Brain surgeon who works with people who have Glioblastomas, a type of brain tumour.

He always struggled with how to help his patients as they struggled with this rarely survivable, aggressive cancer.

What Dr Warren did was to research how people manage with diagnoses of diseases that will never be cured. He observed his patients, and he researched as many papers on the subject as he could find.

What emerged was 4 patterns of response to the trauma. He named these responses Crashers, Dippers, Untouchables and Climbers.

Crashers

These are people who seem to have their life together. They have faith in life and are happy. Then something bad happens and they crash emotionally. This crash changes them permanently. Even if the event that caused them to crash and lose faith in life is resolved, they never recover from it. This event becomes the focal point of their world view.

When I work with people who have experienced a traumatic event, such as a bereavement or a serious illness in themself or someone close to them, I frequently notice they have lost their faith in life.

Traumatic events are devastating. They very effectively remove all sense of the certainty of life and of the world as a trustworthy place. It is not surprising that people can crash and not recover without professional help.

Dippers

Other people enjoy good lives and are doing well. Then when the traumatic event happens they lose their hope and faith in the world.

After some time they start to recover their hope and rebuild their faith in the world.

They learn how to bounce back, often with professional help.

Climbers

There are some people who are in a bad place when traumatic events happen. Maybe they are struggling to be mentally healthy. Maybe they have a chronic illness. Maybe they struggle with addiction. Maybe they are just not happy with their life.

Traumatic events are accepted as though that is just another horrible thing happening in life.
What Dr Warren found was that the climbers would discover joy, hope and faith in the world. Sometimes they made this discovery on their own, other times the discovery was made after seeking professional help.

They would emerge from this event with a better outlook on life than before. For many their lives were transformed by this experience.

It is as though it gave them something tangible to work on and they were able to use skills they didn’t know they had to improve their outlook on life.

Untouchables

These are people who are seemingly unaffected by traumatic events. They just pick themselves up and get on with life. And they lead full, happy lives.

The Discovery about Survival

Dr Warren discovered that hope was the key in how people coped with traumatic events.

Those who held on to hope were the ones who coped well, even found life better afterwards.

From his observation, that holding on to hope depended on the ability to separate happiness from circumstances.

Gratitude

From my experience as a counsellor and in my own life, that ability is about gratitude. Being able to find things to be grateful for, no matter what is happening in life.

You can always find something to be grateful for, and that will change your perspective from one without hope to one with an abundance of hope.

Another aspect of holding on to hope is being able to accept the difficulties in life. It is about making a choice to see the traumatic events in life from a different perspective. To choose to heal.

This is what Dr Warren did when his own son died, and that is what you can do. It doesn’t change the traumatic events and their aftermath, but it does change your perception and willingness to heal.

Can I Help?

Sometimes it helps to talk to a counsellor to help you find that different perspective and to receive the support you need in difficult times.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

I have been in a traumatic situation. Will I develop PTSD?

I see a lot of people who have been involved in traumatic situations. One of the biggest fears they express is that they will develop PTSD as a result of the trauma.

What does PTSD look like?

I am including this information to demonstrate how complex PTSD is. People are often afraid they have PTSD but are actually just experiencing a normal reaction to a really traumatic situation.

This information is not to be used to self diagnose. If you are concerned it is best to see a professional who is experienced with PTSD and can make a correct diagnosis.

Formal diagnosis of PTSD includes experiencing at least one of each category of the following symptoms for at least a month:

Re-experiencing the trauma – at least one of these:
• Flashbacks including reliving the event and experiencing physical symptoms of fear such as a rapid heart beat or sweating
• Recurring memories or dreams of the event
• Distressing thoughts about the event
• Experiencing a rapid heart beat, sweating or other physical symptom of stress

Avoiding reminders of the trauma – at least one of these:
• Avoiding places, events, objects or anything that reminds you of the trauma
• Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event.
• Changing routines to avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma

Symptoms of arousal or reactivity that have arisen or worsened since the event– at least one of these:
• Easily startled
• Feeling tense or on guard
• Difficult concentrating
• Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
• Feeling irritable, even having angry outbursts
• Engaging in risky, reckless or destructive behaviour

Thoughts and mood symptoms – at least one of these:
• Having trouble remembering parts or all of the trauma
• Experiencing negative thoughts about yourself or the world
• Feelings of blame directed at you or others that are exaggerated
• Experiencing negative emotions that persist. These include fear, anger, guilt or shame.
• Losing interest in enjoyable activities
• Feeling socially isolated
• Finding it hard to feel positive emotions such as happiness.

How likely is it that you will develop PTSD after a traumatic event?

More people recover from trauma than get PTSD.

Research has shown that previous trauma, especially in childhood, increases your likelihood of developing PTSD. But even that does not mean you will develop PTSD.

The Normal processing of trauma

Many people will report some memories of traumatic events for some time after the event, but these memories fade over time.

People can become stuck in the traumatic event. Triggers that throw them back into the event time and time again are distressing and interfere with healthy daily functioning. Others will avoid talking about the event and situations, people or places they associate with the event.

Trauma processing is similar to Grief processing

There is another life event that can have a similar effect. That is the death of a loved one. For some people the only way to cope with the grief is to avoid all reminders of the loved one.

Another thing that researchers have found is that the more you avoid memories and reminders of traumatic events, the more likely it is that you will develop PTSD. Just as the more you avoid memories and reminders of a loved one, the more likely it is that you will develop Complex Grief Disorder.

Avoiding these memories and reminders is usually due to the extreme discomfort of experiencing these memories and reminders. The emotions associated with them can be extremely difficult to experience.

The importance of processing trauma

When a traumatic event happens it is essential you emotionally process what happened. Much as with grief, it is considered the best way to process this is to titrate your emotional exposure to the event. You allow yourself time to think about it, then allow yourself time to think about other things.

Debriefing after a traumatic event is very important. 30 years ago it was considered essential for everyone to talk about what happened. People were forced to take part in debriefing when they weren’t ready to talk. This caused extreme distress for some people. Not everyone is ready to dive into processing something immediately after it has happened. They need more time to titrate the emotional exposure.

Debriefing today is more an opportunity to talk if you want to and access to trauma counsellors who can help you debrief.

Having your story witnessed and acknowledged

Sometimes after a trauma the focus may be on certain people who are considered to be “worse affected” than others. This may mean that you are not given the chance to tell your story and have the impact of the trauma on you acknowledged. In can be helpful to talk to a trauma counsellor to allow you to share your story and have that story acknowledged. This allows for a better resolution of the trauma.

Some people process things by talking and talking. Others process by reflecting. That is why the debriefing I do, and the format that is recommended, involves letting you talk if you want to or allowing you space if you don’t want to talk.

Sometimes you will need to talk to a counsellor to help with processing the trauma, especially if you are avoiding the emotions and memories due to the pain they cause. A trauma counsellor can help you learn how to cope with those overwhelming emotions and how to titrate your exposure to them.

Unhelpful coping behaviours

In trying to cope with trauma, some people may adopt behaviours that are extremely unhelpful and keep them trapped in the trauma. Substance abuse and increased alcohol consumption are the most common behaviours that I see. They may provide temporary respite from troubling thoughts and emotions, but they are dangerous in the long term and actually keep you trapped in that place of trauma.

When to seek help

Traumatic events take time to recover from. Most people will recover in time. Recovery will usually involve talking about what happened, reflecting on the incident, being willing to cry or experience other emotions.

If you feel that you are stuck in these memories and emotions and don’t seem to be getting better, then it is helpful to seek counselling.

To summarise:

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing PTSD:
• Previous trauma exposure, especially in childhood
• Getting hurt or seeing others hurt or killed
• Feeling helpless, horror or extreme fear
• Thinking you are going to die
• Having little or no social support after the event
• Being exposed to extra stress after the traumatic event such as pain and injury, loss of job or home, loss of a loved one.

Things you can do to reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD:
• Seek support from friends, family, support groups. Accept offers to engage in critical incident debriefing, either when the counsellors are present or at some point in the next few days.
• Allowing yourself to be upset and impacted by the traumatic event
• Allow yourself to process what has happened and learn from it
• Seek counselling if you need support with the impacts of the event and processing the feelings around the event.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with processing your trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

7 Ways To Reduce Stress

When stress levels are high you can feel that things are out of control. You can feel overwhelmed with tasks and feel unable to cope with your massive To Do list.

Here are 7 “C” suggestions of things to do to feel better able to manage that stress.

1.Control

When you feel overwhelmed with things to do you don’t feel in control of your life. It feels more like life is controlling you and you are drowning in the busyness of it all. It is really important to find some space to think. So take time out. Even a few hours. Review everything you have on.

• Is there anything you can pass on to someone else to do?

• Is there anything non urgent you can move to another day/week/month?

• Which tasks need to be done so that your life can continue to function? (such as clean clothes, food, clean dishes, caring for children if you have any.)

• Which tasks are “like to do” rather than “need to do” tasks?

Question: what can you do to feel more in control of your life?

2.Competence

When you feel capable of completing the tasks you have to do, the tasks are easier to do. That doesn’t mean they won’t take time. You do need to be realistic about the amount of time a task will take and the amount of time you have available to complete your tasks.

Question: what skills do you need to learn or improve so that you can feel more competent?

3.Confidence

If you are confident that you can manage the unexpected obstacles to completing a task you are likely to feel less stress around attending to tasks. Fear of things going wrong and not knowing what to do is a major contributor to stress.

Question: how confident do you feel? Describe that level of confidence. What can you do to increase your confidence?

4.Connection

One of the best buffers against high stress levels are healthy relationships with other people. It is not so much about having great friends, but more about feeling you have a community around you that you belong to.

It is about having a network of people you can turn to for help when you need assistance, advice or other resources to complete your tasks.

Questions: Who are the people in your life you can go to for support or belonging? How might you make connections in the community? Do you have strong connection with family, friends, and your community?

5.Character

This may seem odd, but it is important the tasks you have to complete align with your values. Doing something you feel uncomfortable about is going to make you feel stressed and going to make the task a hard one to complete. That then leaves you with a To Do list with uncompleted tasks. That is a recipe for high stress.

Things to consider in this situation are:

• Who has assigned this task to you? Is it work related? Has a friend/family member asked you to do something? Is this something you feel you have to do because you don’t know of any other options?

• What is it about this task that you feel uncomfortable about?

• Which of your values does this task not align with?

• What other options are there for you to consider regarding this task?

• Do you have to do this task?

Questions: What are your values? What things you do make you feel uncomfortable? What is it about them that is uncomfortable?

6.Coping

There are myriad ways of coping. Some of those ways are helpful and some are unhelpful. Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope, but these are unhelpful because they never allow you to resolve the problem. It just becomes buried and that causes more problems. It is better to see a counsellor to learn coping techniques than resort to substances and behaviours that bury the problem. Some ways to cope are:

• Self care – take time out to do the things you love to do. Maybe you like a massage, or a visit to a float tank. Maybe you love seeing family or friends. Maybe you love walking in the bush or walking along the beach. Maybe movies are your self care.

• Relaxation – learn how to meditate. Guided meditations can be really great for that. Mindfulness is also a good meditation to do. Yoga or Qigong are also great for relaxation. Or you can find activities that are relaxing such as going to the beach, hugging a tree, a bush walk, jogging, walking, going to the gym and many more.

• Spending time on a relaxing hobby.

Questions: What do you usually do to cope when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Is it helpful or unhelpful? What is something more helpful you could try?

7.Contribution

This one refers to the contribution you make to the community in which you live. It is about volunteering to help others. It may involve dropping in to say hello to an elderly neighbour. It may involve volunteering at a Homeless Shelter. It may be as simple as giving a family member a lift somewhere.

Contributing is part of connection. When you contribute to your local community you feel more connected and invested in your local community. Research has also found that people who are willing to help others are more likely to reach out for help when they need it.

Part of Contribution is allowing others to contribute to the needs in your life.

Questions: What can you do to contribute to your community? What can others do to help you?

Putting the 7 “C’s” into practice

Here are some important things to consider when managing high stress levels:

• Have healthy boundaries. Learn to say “no”. Learn to be okay to ask for help, but also to not be involved in something you don’t want to do. Learn how to stop people encroaching on your boundaries. This is an aspect of control in your life and also coping.

• Accept who you are. You are like anyone else and that is wonderful. You are unique. There are things you are good at, and things you are not as good at. There are things you know how to do, and things you have yet to learn how to do. Know your limitations and accept them. Learn the things you need to learn and accept it will take time to be competent. Know also when it is time to stop because you have realised you will never be able to do something competently. This is an aspect of control, competence, confidence and character.

• Practice a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you get enough sleep. Eat a diet that is well balanced and low in junk and high sugar foods. Move and exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the Gym. It may mean you take a walk on the beach, go dancing with friends or dancing in your own living room. This is an aspect of control and coping.

• Ensure your routine includes time to attend to essential tasks and allows time for play. This is a big part of self care. If you don’t spend time relaxing and recharging your batteries you will not be able to complete those essential tasks. This is an aspect of coping and control.

• Embrace mistakes and failures. They are a normal part of life. They are also opportunities to learn and grow. A popular learning theory holds that we learn about something then try to do it. After we have done it we evaluate its success. Do I need to do it differently? Is there more I need to know? Have I learned something from this attempt to show me how to do it again? After evaluating, you try again. This goes on until you are able to complete the task. According to this theory mistakes and failures are a vital part of learning. This is an aspect of competence and developing confidence.

• Be creative. Try different ways of doing things. You may find a better way of organising your life. The creative ways I have devised throughout my life mean I can achieve a lot more than I could in earlier years. There were many creative ideas and some of them worked really well and I still use them. I still apply creativity to completing tasks. This is an important aspect of control and competence.

• Recognise and manage those things in life that will bring up unhappy memories that upset you. There will always be things like that. Maybe recognising why you were upset about something is possible and will help you be alert for that again. Recognising where the upset comes from is a great aid to being able to learn strategies to manage it. You can also see a counsellor to learn strategies when you are unable to.

• Talk to someone you trust when you need help.

• Can’t find anyone to talk to or who is helpful? Talk to a counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with learning to reduce stress, set boundaries, accept yourself, feel more in control, competent, connected make connections, identify your values, learn method of coping, and develop the skills to identify ways to contribute in your community please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The Cry For Help

Have you met someone who is constantly telling you their horror story of a traumatic past?

Maybe you do this yourself?

Many people will tell me they retell the story because they can’t let go of it.

I totally get that. I have told and retold my own trauma stories often.

I thought it was to have someone witness my story.

And to a certain extent that was correct. I did want my story witnessed. Just as many people who come to see me want their story witnessed.

I hear you, I believe you.

You want someone to say I hear you.

You want someone to say what was done to you was horrible. A child shouldn’t have been treated that way.

You want to hear the horrified reaction of your listener as they hear your horrible story.

It is important to be heard, believed, and have the extent of your trauma acknowledged.

But there is something more that prompts you to tell the story over and over.

I need help

It is the wounded child seeking help. When that story happened to you as a child, no one came to your assistance. You needed help. Desperately. And no help came.

The next time you feel the need to tell your story, ask yourself. Am I seeking help?

If the answer is yes, then you are the adult who can help your wounded child.

You may not feel able to help your wounded child, and that is where counselling from a trauma professional can be helpful.

And if it is someone you care about who needs help for their wounded child, don’t dismiss them. Listen, ask if their wounded child needs help, and encourage them to see a counsellor.

Can I help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your wounded child, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz