A Closer Look at PTSD

One of the areas of work I feel particularly passionate about in my practice is facilitating recovery after a traumatic incident. Last week, I began a discussion of trauma and PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, one of my areas of specialty.

We often think of veterans when we think of PTSD. In large part, much of what we do know about trauma and PTSD is a result of the experiences of Vietnam veterans. Prior to that, while trauma responses existed, there had not been a whole lot of focus on understanding traumatic reactions. Although PTSD tends to be the issue that most often comes to mind when we consider trauma, there are a number of other responses to trauma, including things such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and difficulties in relationships. We will address some of these elements but, in our multi-episode Looking at Trauma series, we will mostly focus on PTSD. Most of these other issues are embedded within the constellation of PTSD and will make more sense as we understand PTSD.

To begin with, it’s important to understand what exactly a trauma is…

If we think about the definition of a trauma, it’s generally defined by dictionaries as a deeply distressing or disturbing occurrence. Often, in medical contexts, it’s described as a disruption. Different experts and different fields describe trauma in different ways, which can be confusing and even intimidate if we are looking to do our research.

However, there are some common elements in thinking about what a trauma specifically is. From the lens of mental health or psychology, trauma, as described by the American Psychological Association, is typically an emotional and somatic response to a terrible, overwhelming, situation.

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, traumatic events are shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity. While the World Health Organization describes trauma as more of an emergent/disaster based situation.

There are a number of different events that can be traumatic. Some examples of these situations that may immediately come to mind include a serious and potentially life-threatening accident, assault, natural disaster, or combat. Other types of experiences can be traumatic as well such as surviving or witnessing a crime or physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as bullying or even a big move. Sometimes, trauma responses can follow any major change or disruption in a person’s life.

Many people are exposed to traumatic events. In the time immediately following a trauma, most people will have the experiences of PTSD that we will talk about. However, over time, for many people, those experiences naturally decrease, and they are not diagnosed with PTSD. In other words, they naturally recover from the traumatic event. There are some people who do not recover and are later diagnosed with PTSD. Based on that, it is helpful to think of PTSD as a problem in recovery. Something got in the way of you having that natural process of recovery, and the work of therapy is to determine what got in the way and to change it so that you can recover from what happened. You and your therapist will be working to get you ̳unstuck.

Let’s look at this in more depth…

Because we know that PTSD experiences are nearly universal immediately following very serious traumatic stressors and that recovery takes a few months under normal circumstances, it may be best to think about diagnosable PTSD as a disruption or stalling out of a normal recovery process, rather than the development of a unique psychopathology. A therapist needs to determine what has interfered with normal recovery. In one case, it may be that someone believes that they will be overwhelmed by the amount of emotional reactivity that will emerge if he stops avoiding and numbing himself. Perhaps s/he was taught as a child that emotions are bad, that s/he should just get over it.‖ In another case, someone may have refused to talk about what happened with anyone because s/he blames herself for ―letting‖ the event happen and she is so shamed and humiliated that s/he is convinced that others will blame her, too. In a third case, a person may have seen something so horrifying that every time s/he falls asleep and dreams about it, s/he wakes up in a cold sweat. So, in order to sleep, s/he drinks heavily. Yet another person may be so convinced that s/he will be victimized again that s/he refuses to go out anymore and has greatly restricted his/her activities and relationships. In still another case, in which other people were killed, a person may have survivor guilt and obsesses over why s/he was spared when others were killed. S/he feels unworthy and experiences guilt whenever s/he laughs or finds himself enjoying something. In all these instances, thoughts or avoidance behaviors are interfering with emotional processing and reshaping our beliefs. There are as many individual examples of things that can block a smooth recovery as there are individuals with PTSD.

There are several categories of experiences that tend to follow a traumatic event. Last week, we more closely examined each of the categories.

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What’s for Lunch?

It’s almost lunch time for most of us!

What are you having for lunch today?

And HOW are you having it?

Did you know that Mindful eating can help you keep your weight loss goals, build your confidence, and get more out of your lunch hours and dinner dates?

Mindful eating helps us build a better relationship with our eating habits, the way we consume our food, and its impact on not just our bodies, but also our mood! It’s one of the more popular sessions of my Mindfulness Matters group because it brings so much value – members have shared weight loss triumphs, greater self-esteem, and more gratitude for their food with this tool!

For a brief sample, listen HERE!

If you’re curious about how Mindfulness Matters can help you start your path to a healthier relationship with food and with yourself, click here: http://www.subscribepage.com/c6q6s5

Want even more information? Get access HERE!

What Does a Typical Group Look Like?

You may have heard the buzz about my upcoming Mindfulness Matters group and might find yourself wondering what a typical group is like. I thought I would give you some details so that you can see how this might help serve you in learning to more deeply connect with what you want in your life, create more satisfying relationships, and improve your sense of self-worth and love!

I start by doing an activity for the members to get to know each other so we can keep building our skills together over the course of the 12 weeks. I then begin introducing a new skill each week and using an activity or handout to help the particpants get a clearer understanding of that skill and make it applicable to them in their daily lives.

Then, I open it up to the members to:

1) provide feedback on the skill being taught that week

2) give an example of how they had successfully used a skill previously learned during the week

3) talk about a time during the week when they were unable to implement a skill and get feedback from myself and/or other group members on how they could have handled themselves/their emotions differently

4) receive feedback from the group on any other pressing issue that came up during the week and is causing distress so we can troubleshoot together and come up with ways to help them cope

Want even more information? Check out the details here!

P.S. Groups are an amazing way to lean how to express oursevles and understand that we are not alone. The Mindfulness Matters Group will run on Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 6:30pm beginning on July 11th and running through September 26th.

If this group looks like a good fit for you, contact me for more details. 

Ready to talk more about how the Mindfulness Matters group can bring you greater focus, deeper confidence, and finally quiet that inner critic? Get access HERE!

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Do You Have an Inner Critic Berating You?

Give Yourself Permission to Show Up Fully In Your Life!

In my practice, I see many people in the office who struggle with depression and low self-esteem who also want to get “perfect” work evaluations and be liked by everyone.

They have the idea that keeping up the image of perfection on the outside will give them the validation and praise they need to feel good on the inside. But what happens is that this positive acknowledgement is being poured into a leaky cup.

And it’s never enough.

And the very concept of relying on outside sources to fuel inner confidence becomes dangerous because then any perceived criticism or rejection becomes one hundred times more harmful.

And then they start to feel like they’re falling apart.

You CAN quiet your inner critic!

One of the first tasks we work on in my Mindfulness groups is showing participants how to recognize their self-judgments and inner critic. I use concrete and creative techniques to teach members how to recognize these judgements as a story they’ve been telling themselves that’s untrue and unhelpful.

Then, we work on practical skills to challenge these judgements and rewrite the story as a more accurate and empowered one to create confidence and improve self-esteem so that they leave the office feeling better about themselves than when they walked through the door.

And they’ve let someone see behind the mask and help them, which is critical to the healing process.

How can you begin to notice and shift judgments to improve self-esteem?

There are three steps to helping improve your confidence by practicing a non-judgemental stance:

Notice self-judgments. Gently point out to yourself that statement like “I’m a failure” or “I’m an imposter” is a judgment and not a fact. Perhaps ask yourself: “Is that true or is it a judgment?” Just notice it and let it go. Don’t judge yourself for judging – this is a natural thing and you are learning how to change it.

Encourage yourself to track judgments. In my Mindfulness groups, we use a “judgment jar” and move a marble into the jar anytime we notice ourselves or each other using a judgment. Invite yourself and perhaps even your loved ones to count or track judgments to recognize how much they are coming up for you during the day. The very act of noticing is promoting Mindfulness and will automatically help you shift from judgemental to more aware and compassionate.

Restate your judgments in a factual way. When you evaluate people, emotions, or things as good or bad, restate them as facts when you repeat them back to yourself. For example, if you say “She looked so ridiculous at work today,” you might rephrase this as “She had a different style than I do.” Describe what you see without placing opinions or emotions in the observations.

Learning to take a look at ourselves and tune into our inner critic and learning how to be non-judgemental CAN be hard. And it takes time to learn how to be self-compassionate.

Start practicing today and begin to build up your non-judgemental and self-compassionate muscles because they are SO worth it… and you will believe that too! It is one of the reasons we begin this skill so early in our Mindfulness groups!

P.S. Groups are an amazing way to lean how to express oursevles and understand that we are not alone. The Mindfulness Matters Group will run on Tuesdays from 5:30pm t0 6:30pm beginning on July 11th and running through September 26th.

If this group looks like a good fit for you, contact me for more details.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

Get access to more valuable content weekly here!

Showing Up Powerfully in Your Life

If you have ever said…
-I can’t focus or think straight
-I can’t seem to figure out what I want
-Everyone judges me
-I’m not good enough
HELP GET CLARITY AND SHOW UP POWERFULLY IN YOUR LIFE!

The Mindfulness Matters 12-week group will provide you with support + give you the skills to…
+ Notice the here and now experiences even when you are overwhelmed and unsettled so that you can participate in the parts of your life that are meaningful

+ Engage in activities even when you’re feeling scared or insecure so that you can lead a fulfilling life and feel happy

+ Stop comparing yourself to others and learn to feel fully comfortable in your own skin

+ Quiet your self-critical voice and learn to love yourself for exactly who you are

Groups are an amazing way for us to lean how to express ourselves and understand that we are not alone. The Mindfulness Matters Group will run on Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 6:30pm  beginning on July 11th and running through September 26th.

Space is limited to 6 participants to ensure that everyone in the group feels heard and has a meaningful experience.
**only 3 spaces remain**

New Mindfulness Matters Flyer PNG
If this group looks like a good fit for you, contact me for more details.

 

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

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How Would You Save Your Life?

Have you thought about what your Iife depends on? Or have you thought about the things that you do on a day to day basis that keep you going and preserve your safety? How about any situations you might have been in where you have thwarted danger?

If you’re asking yourself these questions and reflecting on the answers, you might have noticed that you have a set of default and automatic things that you say to yourself. You might also have a pattern of criticizing yourself or thinking that you can’t handle what comes next or that you’re just not good enough to get through. You might find it hard to focus or feel like you’re being judged.

It can be overwhelming and we might find ourselves shutting down even further.

There is a more effective way for us to find clarity so that we can maneuver difficult situations in a way that’s helpful to us. With the confidence and clarity to navigate terrifying situations, we give ourselves permission to show up and shine in our lives!

I share openly in my Mindfulness groups that I believe Mindfulness can change the world. Now I can say very frankly that Mindfulness can save our lives. I’d like to share an example of how this played out for me recently.

Of course, Mindfulness has physiological benefits that not only extend our lives but that also improve the quality of our lives. Yet, there is a more immediate impact that refers to a way that use of a variety of Mindfulness skills can help us escape terrifying and even, in the case of my example, potentially life-threatening situations in that moment it’s happening.

Recently, I attended a training in Fort Lauderdale. As a lover of the water, I was happily practicing Mindfulness skills while enjoying my time in the beautiful, calm, and warm waters along with several other trainees on the evening of the first day.

We noticed the water begin to move very differently along with a very distinct shape appear next to me just a few feet away. The thoughts running through my mind were that there is no way it could be possible for a shark to to be so close to me in water that is less than four or five feet deep.

Yet, my Mindful observation clearly depicted the one, along with the shift in the movement of the water.

I quickly removed my awareness from the judgments in my thoughts and looked to observe again. It was unmistakable – both the shark fin and body as well as the flow of the water with such a buoyant creature so close by.

In the next second, I observed where the water was easier to move through. Now drawing upon Mindful movement skills, I quickly and deliberately led the group of us laterally away from the shark before we began to Mindfully wade our way back to the shore.

In doing so, we struggled a bit and one of the other trainees began falling. Our Mindful focus helped us to keep taking steps forward while the LovingKindness mindset of Mindfulness allowed me to reach out to help steady the falling member.

When we finally reached the shore safely, we started to feel the full scope of what a potentially terrible situation we had just escaped. Rather than panicking, we reached for our Mindfulness of feelings skills and began notifying other beachgoers calmly.

Several commented that our calm approach helped ward off their panic and help others take responsive and effective actions. We also notified the property staff so additional safeguards could be taken.

Once all the appropriate actions had been taken, I spent a bit of time reflecting on what had happened:

+I realized that I had made use of the Wise Mind, where an integration of both Reasonable and Emotional Mind informed my interpretation of the situation and the actions we took

+I knew that a reaction embedded in the Emotional Mind, while understandable could have put me in greater jeopardy

+I also knew that everyone’s safety was of paramount importance, a mindset that has been nurtured with the compassionate Mindfulness practices of nonjudgment and LovingKindness.

+I also remembered both my initial wave of shock and panic along with the exhaustion in my legs as we were working our way back to shore and knew that my practices of Mindfully noticing my experience without judgment and coming back to the present helped me, rather than getting stuck in them and struggling more, to instead choose with awareness a set of actions and responses that would best serve me in this moment.

THIS is the essential benefit of Mindfulness of our lives.

Luckily, I was not harmed – nor was anyone else – and I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for the reminder of the value of Mindfulness in my life.

Each of the skills I drew upon are ones I teach and practice in my Mindfulness Matters group. I even shared this story in our final session of the most recent round of the group and am looking forward to sharing it in the upcoming cycle of the group beginning in just a few weeks. Of course, my hope is that no one is in such a jarring situation but that they have the skills to take the kinds of actions that will best serve their lives no matter what kind of shocking, scary, or upsetting situation they are in.

If you are curious about what skills you can learn to help you keep moving toward what you want to celebrate in your life, hit reply and let me know! Or click on the button below to learn more about it.

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The Vicious Cycle of Trauma and PTSD

As a Good Therapy Topic Expert, it is important to me to share information about the impact PTSD. In particular, with June the month of PTSD awareness, it is crucial to help provide accurate information about the struggles with this challenging experience.

Posttraumatic stress is characterized by intrusion, arousal, avoidance, and cognitive shifts—a cyclical experience that impedes the natural recovery process. You can read more about these experiences in my Good Therapy article here.

What did you learn in reading this? I’d love to hear your reactions and realizations – hit reply and let me know!

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