Effective Strategies for Trauma and Stress

Toxic chronic stress can devastate our lives, relationships, and our ability to accomplish our personal and career goals.  The sudden death of a loved one, a job loss, marital problems, divorce, increased financial debt, moving to a new place, and emotional difficulties related to grief can seem insurmountable challenges for many people.  The use of effective coping skills can be a saving grace to many individuals suffering from trauma and anxiety.

Coping skills are effective emotional techniques that can be used for emotional regulation. These can be used internally as thoughts or slogans or externally as behaviors that can be utilized to switch the brain towards more creative and logical outcomes.  In Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy these skills can be taught and selected by individuals to overcome emotional turmoil. As we carefully observe the event that precipitated the trigger we recognize and adjust the thoughts that led to the feelings and our response behavior.  Identifying our usual negative thinking traps and refocusing on our innate strengths can be liberating for a great majority of us.

Cognitive behavior therapy is based on how we interpret and perceive what happens and our evaluation of behaviors. It is often used for P.T.S.D, trauma, and many types of psychological disorders.  Challenging our cognitive structures and identifying thinking errors are critical tasks, while there are many negative thoughts, a few of the most common are:

Black-and-white thinking, where we look at things as all good or all bad. Or we think that things are perfect or a failure.  Personalization is when anything that happens is about you. If someone is angry they must be angry towards you, for example.  Minimizing, is when you assume that your failures are so overwhelming that they discount all of your successes.

To deal with anger it is necessary to engage in positive self-talk and to avoid the negative thoughts that can lead us to increase it. Our inner conversations can be powerful aids or triggers. Saying to yourself, “what’s the use”, or “they just never listen” can produce very different behaviors as if you tell yourself “slow down”, “I can handle it”, “I love myself”, and “I can do it”.

To manage emotional distress there are also a few helpful coping skills that will get you through.  Always remember to select what works for you in order to self-sooth and learn to monitor and adjust your emotions:

The deep breathing technique is one of my favorites. Just lay down or sit on the floor if you can and take deep in-breaths from your stomach through your nose, then slowly release the breath out through your mouth. This will fill your brain with oxygen and it will relax you.  Another technique to help manage emotional distress is imagery.  Focus on a calming photograph of a natural scene of your own choosing or imagine calming colors surrounding you and forming a bubble that encircles you and protect you. A calming object such as a blanket or a comfortable jacket to put around you as you meditate is another technique to manage emotional distress.  Take a warm shower, practice muscle relaxation, listen to inspiring music, listen to a guided meditation video recording, or exercise.

Before reacting to negative feedback, take a mindfulness course or count back from 50.  These are all ways to help you regain your cognitive abilities and help you with self-monitoring and self-regulating your emotions.  Understanding your inner narrative by writing about your anxious feelings can also be a powerful way to change and re-create your life.  It begins by writing about daily and past events, gauging your own level of distress and body reactions.

Incidentally, the mind-body connection is an area that cannot be understated and this is how illnesses such as heart attacks and morbid obesity can affect those who don’t find adaptable strategies to deal with trauma and stress.  To succeed, maladaptive strategies to deal with trauma and stress must be avoided. Personal isolation to escape will result in more anxiety and feelings of victimization. Also, attempting to numb yourself from overwhelming feelings with drugs and alcohol can result in addiction. Moreover, engaging in high stakes risk-taking behavior or self-harm can be dangerous and counter-productive.  Ultimately, targeting feelings of shame, our distorted perceptions about ourselves and other people will change our negative feelings and behaviors and will result in a long lasting emotional balance.

I invite all of you to consider a different approach when confronted with pain, injustice and life’s challenges. There are always lots of possible solutions to our difficulties. Embracing creativity, self-worth, responsibility, hard work, and compassion for ourselves and others will enrich our lives and the lives of others. Responding with anger and violence is never the answer.

Responsibility For Your Life

I have been in the field of mental health for over 16 years. Nine of those years I spent managing young men with an abundance of behavioral issues, ranging from post-traumatic flashbacks to violent outbursts that escalated to situations in which their safety and the safety of others was involved . I quickly came to realize that deescalation and the development of trust with these young men were essential skills to have to be able to help them. Many of them I wouldn’t have trusted with weapons of any sort, not even a water gun.

More and more in the news we hear of angry, lost and violent young men who identify with extreme views and ultimate solutions. Working with these young men and becoming acquainted with their families I learned of parental drug abuse, sexual and physical abuse and its perennial companion, neglect. The economic pressure on the family for both parents to work and the exhaustion that it causes on the adults often can lead to aberrant behavior. What worked with the young men was creating a trusting relationship, therapy, a solid and positive structure in their schedule and people who took their time to teach them service by example. As they acquired social skills, developed their education and found receptive ears to their fears and emotional turmoil, they flourished. Eventually after restitution and learning to take responsibility for their actions they found a sense of meaning in sacrifice. Since the sixties the field of psychology have been telling people to just accept themselves and their emotions. This advise is a good port of navigation, yet, to truly arrive to your destination, I believe much more is needed it.

To quote Jordan Petersen:

“The purpose of life is finding the largest burden that you can bear and bearing it”.

The young men that succeeded in recreating themselves learned to take responsibility for themselves and then they managed to find something to sacrifice for. This made them happy and gave meaning to their lives. I have come to understand that in personal life these lessons provide meaning also. I wonder how many people out there struggle with anxiety, stress and lack of meaning, male or female? Do these ideas resonate with others or do you think that I am just preaching to the choir?

In my life I know my path now. The responsible care for my family and what can I do to contribute to the society at large. Please let me know what your thoughts are on this theme.