A few weeks ago, I wrote about the damaging effects of chronic, overwhelming stress. Today, I will follow this up with some ways to heal from these conditions.
1. Hold and be held. Particularly with babies, tactile stimulation does wonders. In one study, a control group held babies for two hours a day while an experimental group held babies for four hours a day. After six weeks, the babies in the experimental group cried 43% less. This applied cross-culturally. Babies who are held more are less likely to develop PTSD or hypercortisolemia. While the first year is so critical for lifelong brain development, I don’t think human touch ever becomes less essential. Sure, maybe we don’t need four hours a day, but hugs, cuddles, and massages go a long way.
2. Medication and/or supplements. I am not one to believe in going straight for the magic pill, but there are several medications that can be helpful if you are feeling very overwhelmed or out of control. Several types of medication can activate Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor(BDNF), which strengthens neural pathways and can protect the brain from damage by extreme stress. All antidepressants activate BDNF (this is their one common denominator). And guess what? Omega-3 fatty acids are also neural-protective. If you think you may need medication, of course talk with your doctor or psychiatrist.
3. Movement. Exercise also activates the neural pathway protector BDNF. It increases seratonin levels as well. Much of the feeling of PTSD is that of being “frozen.” Movement of any kind can immediately snap one out of that feeling.
4. Make choices that increase safety and structure in your daily life. In events of trauma and abuse/neglect, a common theme is powerlessness. Looking at brain chemistry, BDNF decreases when an individual experiences perceived powerlessness. Of course, it is not possible to always be in control of one’s circumstances, but it is possible to make choices that increase the chances of safety. It is also possible to have a regular schedule that increases predictability in your daily life. This will help. If this point interests you, look into the Seeking Safety program.
5. Mindfulness-based stress reduction. I love this one and regularly incorporate it into my work with my clients. It is a form of meditation and consists of simple exercises one can do to increase one’s mindfulness, which strengthens the brain and increases one’s ability to have control over where attention is placed. There is a lot of good science out there showing that this stuff really works.
6. Facing fears. The act of facing fears actually increases the frontal lobe’s ability to dampen down anxiety. It also gives one a restored sense of self-efficacy and control. When I am at my best, I try to face one fear every day. It is amazingly uplifting.
7. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. EMDR is a cutting edge, evidence based alternative to talk therapy for healing trauma or anxiety. It has been shown to work more rapidly in treating trauma than traditional therapies. This is highly desired as it allows you to spend less time reprocessing, or "digesting" the traumatic material. In this sense, you may move forward in life more freely without unresolved emotions from the past being activated by current triggers. This work is client-centered, meaning the resolution and integration of past traumatic events comes from your innate capacity for healing. This may leave you feeling empowered as you find your own ability to move through painful material and make sense of it in a way that lets you grow in wisdom and move forward in life the way that you want to.
EMDR is an emotionally challenging therapy, and you may find your symptoms intensifying before they decrease. For this reason, it is important to have a current level of stability in your life before participating. It is also necessary to have the resources to regulate intense emotions. If you choose to pursue this, I can work with you on these skills, and assess whether or not you are in an appropriate space before beginning. I will also provide more detailed information to you directly about this process if you are interested in trying it.