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  • Writer's picturePam

Trauma: Can we just "get over it"?

In March of 2018, I was involved in a serious car accident at a notoriously dangerous intersection. Other than a small bone fracture that took two months to heal, I had no lasting physical damage. The biggest issue I faced was the uncontrollable terror I experienced every time I approached any intersection when riding or driving in a car. My heart would start racing, my face would flush, eyes wide and searching for danger. My hands would be clammy, with my fingers gripping the armrest and my belly churning. Nearly one year would pass before these distressing symptoms of trauma would start to lessen.

red car with accident damage
Car accidents can feel traumatic, especially when you are injured. Wix stock image

My logical brain knew that another wreck was unlikely, and I would constantly remind myself that I am safe. But trauma experiences do not live in the thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Trauma often results in an overactive fear center (amygdala) of the brain. The amygdala responds to threats and triggers the fight or flight response that overrides the thinking brain. This is a very helpful system when we are being chased by a hungry tiger and we need to remember the danger for the future. Sometimes, when the danger has long passed, our nervous system has not received the message yet, so the trauma symptoms continue.

What is trauma?

When you think of the word trauma, what comes to mind? Veterans returning from combat. Violent crime. Tornadoes. We typically think of trauma as a one time event that usually involves something shocking or dangerous that you witness or that happens to you directly. Trauma can also be chronic, long term, and relational. Stressful relationships can cause trauma, such as ongoing child neglect or maltreatment, living with domestic violence or unpredictable situations that involve substance misuse (addictions) or untreated mental illness.

According to the National Center for PTSD, more than half of adults experience trauma at some point in their lives. Seven percent of adults meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with complicated and distressing symptoms that interfere with daily functioning, such as:

  • difficulty sleeping and bad dreams

  • difficulty concentrating

  • recurrent, intrusive thoughts and memories

  • feeling edgy and "on guard"

  • anger and guilt

  • fear and anxiety

  • muscle tension

image of person with hands covering face with dark background
Trauma can cause feelings of fear and anxiety. Image courtesy of Melanie Wasser via Unsplash.

What can you do about trauma?

If you experienced a trauma that is interfering with your life, there is hope. In-depth trauma treatment is advised when symptoms remain severe for a long time or prevent you from healthy living. A trauma therapy specialist uses advanced techniques to help you process the memories, emotions, and thoughts about your traumatic event. This is best accomplished with an experienced trauma therapist who can guide you through the process without re-triggering the trauma response. Before you choose a therapist, ask about their training and the types of interventions they use. Also, ask if they typically use only talk therapy or if they incorporate body-based techniques to cope with physical trauma symptoms.

We can’t think our way out of trauma. When I work with clients who have experienced trauma, they often tell me “I feel like I should know better: the trauma is in the past and I should be able to get over it by now.” So much “should-ing!” Traumatic memories actually linger in our nervous system long after a traumatic event and can cause symptoms for many years, or even a lifetime.

Thankfully, we now understand the neuroscience about trauma, so we have more tools to treat it successfully.

In last month’s blog I wrote about how to use mindful breathing techniques to cope with stressful events. I used these same techniques to help me overcome my fear of driving through intersections. I also regularly use the grounding exercise listed below.

5 Minute - 5 Senses Grounding exercise:

Trauma memories can leave us feeling distracted and out of control. Try this simple practice to calm your nervous system.

five lit candles
Image courtesy of Steve Johnson via Unsplash.

  1. Stop what you are doing, right where you are. No need to change locations or sit in a special way. Just pause.

  2. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to five as you exhale.

  3. Eyes. Take in your surroundings by silently noting 5 things you see. For example, are you in your office? Maybe your five items include: desk, wall, monitor, pen, floor.

  4. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to five as you exhale.

  5. Ears. What can you hear? Can you name five sounds in your environment? The hum of your laptop. Traffic out on the street. Birds outside your window. People talking.

  6. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to five as you exhale.

  7. Touch. Notice the sensations on your skin. Your clothing. Temperature. Any tightness, softness, or irritation? Without judgement, just silently list your five things.

  8. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to five as you exhale.

  9. Scent and taste. These are closely related, so combine them to see if you can find five scents and/or tastes at this moment. It’s okay if you don’t notice anything in particular; using curiosity is the important point.

  10. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to five as you exhale.

  11. Return to your day feeling a bit more relaxed.

Brought to you by:

Pam Kuras, MSW, LCSWA

58 Old Roberts Rd, Benson NC 27504



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