Trauma isn’t always what we think it is
Hannah Longley, LCSW
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience and the reaction of the body and the mind to such an event. Many believe there are set qualifiers for what makes an experience traumatic, but often it is very personal, and the same event can impact people very differently. Certain communities of people can begin to normalize traumatic experiences due to the frequency in which they may occur. As an example, in the fishing community, near-drownings occur more than people may realize. This can, at times, result in the minimization of the impact of an event, or simply ignoring the occurrence. Other community tragedies or stressors may also impact individuals differently such as the COVID 19 pandemic.
In response to a traumatic event, our brains and bodies are wired to respond in ways to help to stay alive. In times of high stress, the brain responds by using its primal part- the fight, flight, or freeze response. When this occurs, it means the part of the brain that includes communication, emotional regulation, memory, structure, and impulse control is no longer working. It also results in a stress response- speeding up the heart and lungs to push blood to the arms and legs to be able to fight or run. When this occurs, the body does not want to waste energy not necessary to survive. This includes shutting down the stomach, the bowels, and the bladder. Brains and bodies are amazing things. But they can also be tricked. After a high amount of stress, it can start to think that there are threats occurring that are not in fact there in order to always be ready to respond. The body can only remain in a state of high threat level for so long before it is exhausted and much like a computer has to do an automatic shut off and reset. At these times we feel exhausted, no motivation, or no energy. We need to reboot.
If you or someone in your life has been through a traumatic or stressful event, allow them to talk about the experience and the impact it has had on them personally or seek this for yourself. Understand that each experience is very different and there are a lot of things that factor into reactions. It is important to validate how you or they are feeling regardless of if you agree with it. It may be different than you think you would respond. Urge them to listen to their body, it will tell you a story by the aches and pains, appetite, sleeping, and even bowel movements how you are feeling, even if your brain is not telling you this. High levels of stress dehydrate you, so drink extra water and try to eat some healthier foods. The body also needs good sleep- so trying to sleep for a minimum of 3 hours for the first few times you sleep after an event and avoid alcohol because it interferes with the body going into a deep sleep.
If you feel that you are struggling with completing typical activities, you feel like your body is telling you something may be wrong or you are struggling in some relationships, talk to someone you trust, or seek support from someone trained in helping others. A traumatic reaction to an overwhelming event is normal, but getting support is sometimes the best way through the reaction.
NAMI Maine Helpline: 1-800-464-5767 x1
A note from MCFA staff: Fishermen Wellness is a new on-going series by NAMI Clinical Staff. Each week a new topic will be featured pertaining to mental health and wellness for fishermen. We hope that this information is helpful to fishermen during COVID-19 and also under regular circumstances. Thank you to the clinical staff at NAMI for their support and insight during this time. Together, we persevere.