Navigating Through a Tough Time- Overcoming Trauma and Anxiety



Navigating Through a Tough Time- Overcoming Trauma and Anxiety by Georgia Tetlow, MD and Jill Maddock

Our newest provider, Annmarie Mcmanus, recently gave a free Group Class for our PIM community on Optimizing Adrenal Health to Reduce Stress. If you missed it, you can view the presentation here. I wanted to follow up with a focus on one of the causes of adrenal fatigue. We all use the word trauma to describe a highly stressful event. Bad experiences tend to stay in our body and mind and can leave us feeling “stuck” from time to time.  Lucky for us, learning to understand the cause can lead us to create new patterns to help us overcome times of high stress and trauma.

Trauma is an emotional experience or response to a difficult event such as an accident, crime, violence, loss or a  natural disaster. With multiple hurricanes and a recent earthquake, we’ve experienced a lot of trauma lately! Immediately after the event, it is normal to feel numb and ‘in shock’, or to even deny that the events occurred. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Trauma comes in many forms so it is useful to think about it in a broad sense. It can be psychological, physiological, or both. The key to understanding traumatic events is that the word trauma refers to times of extreme stress that overwhelm our ability to cope.

Trauma can be divided into two categories.

  1. “Discrete trauma”, or ‘shock,' occurs when a person witnesses or experiences injury, physical abuse, or death. Explicit memories, vivid memories usually surround this type of trauma, and it is often related to PTSD.
  2. Developmental trauma, or Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs), occur during childhood years, mostly caused by the relationship with the caregiver. This can include painful experiences such as childhood neglect, parental criticism, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, and mental or medical illness in the family.

The Outcome

Mentally, trauma often creates a competing set of strategies that are all triggered at once. Victims can alternate between anxiety and irritation with withdrawal and depression.

Physically, trauma can feel like being 'on guard' -- a constant feeling of needing to ultra-aware, in order to defend oneself. It can manifest as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, myofascial pain, problems with the temporomandibular joint of the jaw, chemical sensitivities, chronic headaches or migraines, and chronic lower back pain. Trauma or PTSD has even been linked as a cause to Cardiovascular Disease in this article by Steven Coughlin.

We can feel overwhelmed, as though we are ‘freezing up’, and we can even feel disconnected from reality.

Ways to overcome

Staying connected or 'grounded' is one of the best ways we can begin to cope with trauma. This means being in the here and now and having a full sense of one’s physical body. Grounding and clarity can provide a “tether” for us to come back to when tend to freeze up or dissociate.

Mentally and emotionally, meditation and breath exercises can be used in addition to a deeper understanding of the trauma we experience, for example through talking about our experience and feelings, in therapy or more informally with loved ones with whom we feel safe. Becoming aware of stressful moments--especially if they are due to reliving past trauma--can be a first step in reducing stress and eventually reduce anxiety. Actually feeling feelings is an important step in breaking the cycle of PTSD and dissociation; most people are unable to feel the initial and overwhelming triggering experience, which can make it even more important to have professional support. Feeling feelings is different from reliving trauma in that one actually digests and integrates the initial experience, thus reducing physical symptoms that initially occurred when the body and mind were not able to process or ‘be with’ what was happening due to the intensity of circumstances at the time.

Nutritionally, there are also ways to support our body and mind to overcome anxiety and trauma. You will want to work with your provider to discover a lifestyle, diet and supplement regimen that will best support your individual needs.

Physically, there are grounding positions and yoga poses we can learn that will help enable us to cope. Making social connections is also a great way to cope. You can connect with another human, a pet or any object that brings you joy. Reach out to this person or item, bring this into your day and soothe yourself. At PIM, we recognize that many of us have experienced trauma to differing degrees. We believe in the provider-patient relationship and offer this opportunity to connect at each appointment.

Interested in connecting with PIM? Register for our upcoming group class at Cabrini College: October 17th: Live Long and Prosper: Functional and Integrative Medicine for Cardiovascular Health. Keys to Heart and Blood Vessel Health with Annmarie McManus, MMSc, PA-C, PT, IFMCP. Admission is FREE!

If you or your loved one has ongoing stress, mood or hormone imbalance and, please consider scheduling an appointment with Annmarie McManus, MMSc, PA-C, PT, IFMCP, our certified Functional Medicine PIM provider