One fact of life is that time just keeps ticking on. Just like clockwork, the sun rises every morning and it doesn’t slow down to offer you a moment to catch up after a shocking life event throws you into a tailspin. With this fast pace, it’s no wonder so many of us are walking around with frayed nerves. While time itself can sometimes offer a healing effect – this isn’t always the case.
Here are 4 tell-tale signs that you may be experiencing unresolved trauma – and what you can do about it:
Warning Sign #1 – Thinking about a past experience creates physical and emotional turmoil. This can manifest as bodily reactions such as a sick stomach – or emotional effects like waves of unexplained sadness or agitation. If there are places that you can’t go anymore, situations that you actively avoid, or if even the mention of someone’s name triggers a blast of unpleasant feelings, it’s an indication that more healing needs to take place.
Positive action – Defusion. Thoughts do not carry emotional baggage in and of themselves, yet we can often correlate them with certain emotions based upon our past experiences. In essence, we fuse a particular feeling with a memory. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy offers an array of techniques to break that emotional connection (a process known as defusion) thereby putting us back in control of our feelings.
Warning Sign #2 – You most often feel irritable and on-edge. One way that our bodies try protect us, is by keeping us alert so that we can respond to possible dangers. Unfortunately, sometimes after a traumatic incident, this protective mechanism doesn’t disengage properly, leaving us in a state of hypervigilance. As a result, we might find that we startle more easily or experience a feeling of foreboding.
Positive action – Mindfulness. Learning to focus one’s awareness on the present moment is a therapeutic technique that promotes a peaceful acceptance of all feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. The good thing about mindfulness is that it can be practiced continually throughout the day, regardless of the activity.
Warning Sign #3 – You experience chronic fatigue. Experiencing the hypervigilance just described, can leave us feeling exhausted. Never being able to let your guard down is the equivalent to carrying around a large sack of rocks wherever you go. It makes everything feels like a struggle.
Positive action – Better self-care. Recouping your energy stores will require taking a closer look at your lifestyle habits. Examine your diet, sleep patterns and social activities for ways to institute positive growth. Finding even small areas for improvement can make a huge difference.
Warning Sign #4 – You find yourself drawn to escapist activities. This is a legitimate danger zone. It’s natural to want to find relief from the negative feelings associated with trauma but it’s important to steer clear of negative coping activities. Escape through drugs and alcohol, in particular, isn’t without its own price to be paid. While it may offer an immediate feeling of relief, studies have shown that substance use can actually increase nervousness and despair, as well as promote a greater sense of paranoia.
Positive action – Get Physical. While it’s true that there is both a physical and emotional component to the stress reaction, releasing negative energy can help on both counts. Any activity that gets you out and moving, raises your heartrate, and exhausts feelings of nervousness will offer a sense of welcome relief. It doesn’t have be high intensity. Even a simply nature walk will uplift your spirit and recuperate your reserves.
It’s important to know that if you do find yourself experiencing these lingering reactions to trauma, you are not weak or faulty in any way. Human-beings are the only species to have depth of thought, empathy and compassion. These gifts are what make us social, civilized and successful – but the price to be paid is vulnerability. Luckily, our superior intellects offers us advanced problem solving abilities, as well. To learn more about how the body responds to stress, I recommend the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. Additionally, trained counselors can also offer a variety of tools and techniques to help speed up the healing process. Recognizing the warning signs is the first step toward finding your way back to a peaceful existence. Therapy can help.
Marci Wise, MA, RMHCI, is a motivational author and mental health counselor accepting clients in the Fort Myers/Naples Florida area. To schedule an appointment call 239-689-3086 or visit marciwise.com. Material is free to repost as long as proper credit is listed, including our website address.