Have you ever had a moment – perhaps on a particularly bad day – that you’ve thought
‘This can’t be right! A human being was never meant to live like this!’
There’s a lot of truth in your bewildered observation; it may or may not be some consolation to know that the world’s leaders in trauma therapy are thinking along the same lines…
Because trauma and stress are rampant in our world today an enormous amount of work has been done, and helped along by new insights in brain science, there is a growing clarity about the brain-body mechanisms that lead to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and its many debilitating symptoms.
Naturally someone who had been through a horrific event – like a serious road traffic accident, a violent assault, or a natural disaster – will be deeply affected. However there’s a worrying trend that many who have been through fairly minor events are being diagnosed with PTSD. An example might be someone who seemed to be functioning perfectly well is tail-ended on the way to work one morning, and their lives fall apart! Someone who would by no means be perceived as a ‘wimp’ may suffer years of sleep disturbance, chronic pain and inability to hold down a job – the result of a 5mile an hour collision!
So what has gone wrong when someone (as in the example above) appears to have so little resilience – how can a minor event have such devastating consequences? Leaders in the field of trauma therapy would say that the underlying problem is accumulated stress: stress responses that are meant to fire up, help us through a crisis, then disappear, have actually stacked up in the system. These accumulated stress responses mean that a person who appears to be functioning perfectly well might actually be living very close to their edge; due to the backlog of stress in their system, they were probably working really hard to ‘function perfectly well’. Sadly, it’s not going to take much to push them beyond their tipping point.
But coming back to your thought at the beginning
‘This ain’t right. Surely this isn’t how a human being is meant to live!’
One of the most fascinating lines of enquiry that the experts in trauma are following … is that indeed this isn’t right. While life has changed enormously since our human ancestors came down from the trees and started to live a two-legged life on the ground, our nervous systems have not actually changed very much. Our nervous systems are designed for a life of the hunter-gatherer – a life lived in tribes of about 50 to 150 people, where we knew everybody, everybody looked out for everybody else; we hardly ever met a stranger and crises – such as a visit from a man-eating tiger, or aggression from a neighbouring tribe – were intense but short lived. The important thing is that crises were spaced out – there was time for life (and our nervous systems) to get back to normal: life usually returned to a state of relative ease, before the next crisis.
So from this perspective, it seems that modern life itself is a ‘trauma’ for a species designed for a much quieter, slower and generally less intense existence. Unless you’re living as a hermit, if you’re living in 2016, it’s quite likely that you have a background feeling that there’s always something else to sort – you’ve just negotiated one crisis and there’s another half dozen waiting! This is a recipe for accumulated stress, a recipe for living dangerously close to your tipping point – the edge of your resilience. But, please don’t despair – there’s a lot that you can do – just to understand how your nervous system and stress responses work is a great first step.
So, while the bad news is that trauma and accumulated stress are rampant in our society, the good news is that an amazing amount of work is being done to deepen our understanding and to discover ways to heal this modern epidemic.
If you are curious to learn more about the fascinating new developments in trauma therapy; or indeed if you yourself are suffering from what you feel are ‘stress related’ issues (difficulty with sleep, digestion, chronic pain, mood swings) why not think about joining
‘From Stress to Resilience’ a 6 week course starting on Wed 27th in The Be Well Clinic, Hill Street, Monaghan. The course will not only present some fascinating information about how trauma and stress mess us up, but also lots of ways in which we can reduce our own backlog of accumulated stress, thus restoring our capacity to live with resilience, connection and aliveness.
Topics will include:
How accumulated stress responses get locked into the body
How many physical, mental and emotional problems are caused by nervous system dysregulation
How to use yoga, mindfulness and a range of easy, enjoyable awareness exercises to work directly with the body and restore nervous system regulation
How presence and pleasure and key to restoring inner balance
If you’d like to hear more, do please come along to a free information session in Dochas, Park Street this Tues 26th at 8pm. Or just give me a call and I’ll be glad to answer your questions and share some more detail on the phone.
Contact: Mairead 086 8120332