Build Resilience: Awaken Hope

Has 2020 made you feel overwhelmed? Stuck? You’re not alone. Across the world, we have all experienced this disruptive global pandemic.  It’s effects vary widely.  For this reason, I have chosen to write a three-part blog series on TRM (Trauma Resiliency Model) therapy. TRM is designed to teach wellness skills for children and adults experiencing traumatic stress reactions using a mind-body approach.  TRM can function as both a model for trauma recovery treatment as well as self-care.  The TRM skills can be useful tools to maximize movement toward peace through the current pandemic.   This week’s blog post and first installment in the TRM series will focus on fostering resilience in challenging times.  

Resilience refers to the ability to identify and use strengths, both external and internal, to live fully in the present moment. To be resilient is to thrive while managing the tasks of daily living.  Resilient people not only get back on their feet after a fall (figuratively), but they also create meaning from their devastating experiences.  Individuals who find the strength to create meaning from difficulty transform their lives and their communities with their passion to make the world a better place.  Thankfully, according to George Bonanno (2009), resilience is the most common reaction of those who experience trauma. 

As opposed to having the capacity for resiliency, there are a significant number of individuals who experience long-lasting traumatic stress reactions.  Reactions to traumatic events vary considerably, ranging from minor disruptions to debilitating flashbacks in a person’s life.  Emotional symptoms include: shock and disbelief, fear, sadness or grief, helplessness, guilt, anger, shame, and relief. Physical symptoms include: feeling dizzy or faint, trembling, shaking, rapid breathing, racing thoughts, changes in your sleeping patterns, unexplained aches and pains, and loss or increase in appetite. 

Just as it can often take time to clear the rubble following a disaster, it can also take time to recover your emotional equilibrium and rebuild your life. But there are specific things you can do to help yourself and your loved one’s cope with the emotional aftermath of trauma, as well as find a way to move forward with your life. The following are three ideas for healthy ways to cope with trauma:

  1. Remember, people react in different ways to trauma, so avoid telling yourself what you “should” be feeling.  Instead, accept your feelings. Shock, anger, and guilt are all responses to a loss of safety and security.  Accepting and being patient with your pace of recovery is necessary for the healing process. Validate your emotions with radical acceptance.
  1. Do not ignore your feelings; it will only slow recovery.  Instead, allow yourself to feel intense emotions and pass through them. Notice the emotion, like a wave, coming and going.  Do not try to get rid of it, ignore it, or make it bigger. Be mindful of your body noticing any body sensations you experience.
  1. Avoid activities that might lead to hyper focusing on or reliving the event that can overwhelm your nervous system, making it harder to think clearly.  Instead, occupy your mind by engaging in activities you enjoy like cooking, playing with your kids, or reading.  Reestablish a routine to restore a sense of peace and hope.  Even if your work or school routine is disrupted, you can structure your day with regular times for eating, sleeping, and spending time with family. Taking action, even small steps, can make a big difference.  

In my experience as a clinician, a client’s sense of helplessness and hopelessness will breed thoughts like, “I want to lay on the couch all day”, which in turn exacerbates those emotions. I recommend you boost your mood with physical activity, even when you don’t feel like doing it. Physical activity performed mindfully can move your nervous system from that “stuck” feeling and help you move on.  Focus on your body and how it feels as you move. For example, notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, and the feeling of wind on your skin.  Listen to some of your favorite music to help you get started.  

  1. Lastly, if possible, postpone major decisions until you have regained your emotional balance, and you are better equipped to think clearly.  Be mindful, press pause, and take a break until you feel in control of your emotions rather than your emotions being in charge of you. 

If these symptoms do not ease up following a disturbing event and your nervous system remains “stuck,” leaving you unable to move on from the event for a prolonged period of time or engage with things you love in a meaningful way, it may be time to seek additional help.  Signs include reexperiencing the traumatic memories, decreased negative mood that remains consistent, trouble functioning at home and work, increased difficulty connecting and relating to others, and intense reactions to and/or avoidance of anything associated with the trauma. 

In conclusion, everyone is feeling a little off during 2020.  TRM offers the skills to build resiliency and reduce long-term negative impacts for people experiencing traumatic stress reactions.  It is designed to help individuals learn skills to return the body, mind, and spirit back to balance after experiencing traumatic events.  This can awaken hope that has been lost, after trauma has been suffered.  Individuals who find the strength to create meaning from difficulty transform their lives and their communities with their passion to make the world a better place. Stay tuned for more on this in the second installment of the TRM series.

Resources:

Bonanno, G. A. (2009). The other side of sadness: What the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss.

Miller-Karas, E. ,Everett, E. and, Leitch, L. (2001).  Trauma Resiliency Model® and the Community Resiliency Model®

Lozier, C. W. (2018). DBT therapeutic activity ideas for working with teens: Skills and exercises for working with clients with borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and other emotional sensitivities.

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