Release & Resolve Stress & Traumatic Anxiety
When we experience high anxiety or overwhelming stress the autonomic nervous system enters into a fight, flight or freeze response. As an experiential body we experience both “little trauma’s” and “Big Trauma’s” in our life. Our brain may not differentiate between these two.Somatic Experiencing gives you the tools to be in your body: healing & releasing unresolved anxiety, stress, trauma and PTSD.
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Often we can find ourselves frozen/stuck or in repetitive unproductive patterns. Learn how to release:
Release depression, tension, panic, grief, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle fatigue.
… re-living trauma often occurs in the form of physical sensations that precipitate emotions of terror and helplessness. Learning how to manage and release these physical sensations from trauma-based emotions is an essential aspect of the effective treatment of PTSD.
Even though we have both “little trauma events” and “big traumatic events” in our life, our brain may not always be able to differentiate between these two. If the nervous system becomes stuck on high (over coupled), we remain highly activated. The nervous system will seek out ways to re-create highly activated energy or drama. The individual may not feel safe if not in physical motion or the mind unable to stay highly activated. We can develop false “beliefs systems” about ourselves and others around the need for this high activation. If we are stuck on low with no energy (under coupled), any type of activation can feel overwhelming.
Again our “beliefs systems” are formed from this lack of energy. Our mind has an “unhealthy desire of needing” to make sense out of our experience, even if it stays trapped in vortex of pain and suffering. Then we have the issue of being stuck on both high energies wearing us down. Then we may shut down, where we feel there is no energy left. There can be a yo-yoing effect on our nervous system.
Somatic Experiencing gives you the tools that allow your body to slowly and safely discharge uncompleted survival energies. If a human cannot fight or flee…we can go into a freeze response. If a wild animal goes into a freeze response and survives an attack…afterwards it will begin shaking. The “shaking out” of a traumatic event or experience is what many humans shutdown.
The word trauma can feel quite overwhelming. Exchange this with “anxious, constantly stressed or high levels of anxiety” and we are able to begin acknowledging long held behavior patterns and beliefs that no longer serve us.
Trauma is healed through the process of discharging the survival energy that was trapped. This trapped energy may come from either a physical event or a psychological wounding/thought and/or belief. When we uncouple this trapped energy from our thoughts/beliefs and the musculature of the body…a physiological healing and shaking out response may begin…resulting in deep sense of integration and harmony within the body and mind.
If we are unable to move trauma out…
If we are unable to move trauma out our cognitive brain will create a story in-order to make sense of the incident. We are not taught or told how to shake out anxious moments of either emotional or physiological traumatic incidents…these experiences then become trapped within the nervous system and muscle tissue of the body. This is where many symptoms and maladies begin to take place.
Recent studies of the brain’s neural plasticity – our ability to rewire the nerve cells in our brain – suggest that these neurons form new synaptic connections with each piece of new knowledge and every new experience we acquire. The implication of this research is that if we give our brain the knowledge and experiences it needs to create new synaptic connections, and if we use repetition to further develop these connections, we begin to see long-lasting, even permanent changes.
Somatic Experiencing is a comprehensive theoretical and non-evasive approach to helping clients work through symptoms of stress and trauma. Growing scientific evidence indicates that the dynamics of symptoms due to stress and trauma are biological to a degree greater than previously recognized.
Traditionally, therapies have attempted to change perceptions of the world by means of reason and insight, with conditioning and behavior modification, with drugs and medications. However, perceptions remain fundamentally unchanged until the internal physical experience of the body changes. Even after physical injury, accidents, a rape or assault, emotional or physical abuse, illness, surgery, pre & perinatal trauma, abandonment and death of a loved one people can learn to have new bodily experiences and then come to heal and accept what has happened and create new lives and new communities.
Long held stress and trauma response is a specific defensive bodily reaction that people initially mobilize in order to protect themselves. This reaction lives on as it then protects them from feeling the totality of their horror, helplessness or pain.
Change can happen naturally…
Three Things To Remember:
- Trauma is healed through the process of discharging the survival energy that was trapped.
- This trapped energy may come from either a physical event or a psychological wounding/thought and/or belief.
- When we uncouple this trapped energy from our thoughts/beliefs and the musculature of the body…a physiological healing and shaking out response may begin…resulting in deep sense of integration and harmony within the body and mind.
The word trauma itself can feel overwhelming to even admit. And/or we may not equate or deny various experiences we’ve had in our life as traumatic due to always comparing ourself to others or “how we should be”, not accepting what is actually being felt within the sense body.
Often many clients have lived in such dissociation from the their body there is an inability or denial to sense the subtleties of anger, fear, loss, sadness and more.
- Many times this shaking out is seen as something that needs to be stopped or stabilized.
- If we are unable to move trauma out…our cognitive brain will create a story in-order to make sense of the incident.
- We are not taught or told how to shake out anxious moments of either emotional or physiological traumatic incidents…these experiences then become trapped within the nervous system and muscle.
Trauma is fundamentally a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. For example, when our full neuromuscular and metabolic machinery prepares us to fight or to flee, muscles throughout the entire body are tensed in specific patterns of high-energy readiness. When we are unable to complete the appropriate actions and discharge the tremendous energy generated by our survival preparations, this energy becomes fixated into specific patterns of neuromuscular readiness. Afferent feedback to the brain stem generated from these incomplete neuromuscular/ autonomic responses maintains a state of acute and then chronic arousal and dysfunction in the central nervous system. Traumatized people are not suffering from a disease in the normal sense of the word. They have become fixated in an aroused state. It is difficult (if not impossible) to function normally under these circumstances.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a medically recognized disorder that occurs in normal individuals under extremely stressful conditions. Its symptoms affect people from all walks of life, including soldiers, victims of natural disasters or serious accidents. PTSD can affect people who provide emergency services for others. Some individuals who survive a traumatic event are affected so strongly by the experience that they are unable to live normal lives.
- SE employs awareness of body sensation to help people “renegotiate” and heal rather than re-live or re-enact trauma.
- SE’s guidance of the bodily “felt sense,” allows the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually discharged.
- SE “titrates” experience, rather than evoking catharsis – which can overwhelm the regulatory mechanisms of the organism.
- SE helps eliminate pitfalls of re-traumatization and the spurious generation of “false memories”.
There are four main types of PTSD symptoms. A diagnosis of PTSD requires the presence of all categories of symptomatic responses:
- re-experiencing the trauma: flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories and exaggerated emotional and physical reactions to triggers that remind the person of the trauma.
- emotional numbing: feeling detached, lack of emotions (especially positive ones), loss of interest in activities
- avoidance: avoiding activities, people, or places that remind the person of the trauma
- increased arousal: difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability, hypervigilance (being on guard), and exaggerated startle response.
There is increasing evidence that the symptoms of PTSD are abnormal responses to stress. According to trauma authority Dr. Peter Levine, traumatic symptoms are not caused by the dangerous event itself. These symptoms arise when residual energy from the event is not discharged from the body, but remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds.
Levine observes that wild prey animals, though threatened routinely, are rarely traumatized. Animals in the wild utilize innate mechanisms to regulate and discharge the high levels of energy arousal associated with defensive survival behaviors. These mechanisms provide animals with a built-in ”immunity” to trauma that enables them to return to normal in the aftermath of highly ”charged” life-threatening experiences.
Although humans are born with virtually the same regulatory mechanisms as animals, the function of these instinctive systems is often overridden or inhibited. This restraint prevents the complete discharge of survival energies, and does not allow the nervous system to regain its equilibrium. From this perspective:
- ‘traumatic panic anxiety’ symptom occurs where normally varied and active defensive responses have been unsuccessful – when a situation, perceived as both dangerous and inescapable, results in a profound failure of innate defenses.
- un-discharged “survival energy” remains “stuck” in the body and the nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic responses are concurrently activated, like brake and accelerator, working against each other.
- symptoms of trauma result from the body’s attempt to ”manage” and contain this unused energy.
- healing the symptoms of PTSD is accomplished by normalizing defense responses – by progressively re-establishing the pre-traumatic defensive and orienting responses that were in execution just prior to the initiation of immobility.
In summary, when the normal defensive resources fail to resolve the situation, terror- panic, rage and freezing occur. These emotional anxiety states are evoked when the feelings of danger-orientation and preparedness to flee are blocked or inhibited. It is this “thwarting” that results in freezing and anxiety-panic symptoms associated with PTSD.
PTSD can have severe and long lasting effects on people’s lives. Examples of outcomes of PTSD are:
- neurobiological changes (alterations in brainwave activity, in size of brain structures, and in functioning of processes such as memory and fear response)
- psychophysiological changes (hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, increased startle, sleep disturbances, increased neurohormonal changes that result in heightened stress and increased depression)
- physical complaints that are often treated symptomatically, rather than as indications of PTSD (headaches, stomach or digestive problems, immune system problems, asthma or breathing problems, dizziness, chest pain, chronic pain or fibromyalgia)
- depression (major depressive episodes, or pervasive depression)
- other anxiety disorders (such as phobias, panic, and social anxiety)
- conduct disorders
- dissociation (“splitting off” from the present, and into parts of the self)
- eating disorders
- interpersonal problems
- low self esteem
- alcohol and substance use
- employment problems
- trouble with the law
- substance abuse
- suicidal attempts
- risky sexual behaviors leading to unplanned pregnancy or STDs, including HIV
- reckless driving
Prolonged, extreme traumatic circumstances — such as childhood sexual abuse, prisoner of war camps, or long-term domestic violence — can cause a form of PTSD called Complex PTSD. As in PTSD, ordinary, healthy persons under severe circumstances can experience changes in how they adapt to stress and how they view themselves. A mental health diagnosis called Borderline Personality Disorder is also highly indicative of a history of trauma, and is increasingly viewed as a type of Complex PTSD.
Possible symptoms of Complex PTSD are:
- severe behavioral difficulties (such as alcohol/drug abuse, aggression, eating disorders)
- difficulty in controlling intense emotions (such as anger, panic, or depression)
- other mental difficulties (such as amnesia or dissociation — a serious condition called Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, which is characterized by “splitting off” parts of oneself).
Anyone exposed to a severely traumatic experience is likely to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. However, one person’s symptoms may appear soon after the event, while another’s may not surface for several months or maybe even for years. One person may have relatively minor difficulty adjusting and returning to a fairly normal state, with mild and occasional flare-ups, while another might be debilitated for years to come. Even if two people are exposed to the same situation at the same time, they will have different levels of reaction.
While there is no scientific way to predict or measure the potential effect of a traumatic event on different people, certain variables seem to have the most impact:
- the extent to which the event was unexpected, uncontrollable, and inescapable
- perceived extent of threat or danger, suffering, upset, terror, and fear
- source of the trauma (human-caused is generally more difficult than event of nature)
- sexual victimization, especially when a sense of betrayal is involved
- actual or perceived responsibility
- prior vulnerability factors (such as genetics, early onset and extent of childhood trauma)
- negative social environment (shame, guilt, stigmatization)
- lack of appropriate social or emotional support
- concurrent stressful life events
A diagnosis of PTSD is made when symptoms in the main clusters (re-experiencing, numbing, avoidance, and arousal) are present for an extended period and are interfering with normal life. The first step in getting treatment is getting a diagnosis. This can be difficult for a number of reasons:
- symptoms may occur months or years after the traumatic event and may not be recognized as being related to the trauma
- beliefs that people “should be able to get over it” or “shouldn’t have such a reaction” or “should solve their own problems” may delay treatment being sought
- guilt, blame, embarrassment or pain may interfere with a person seeking help
- avoidance of anything associated with the trauma may result in an inability to recognize the need for treatment