If you were traumatized in childhood, you probably have trouble managing your fight, flight or freeze response, your body’s reflexive reaction to perceived threat. We share a limbic system with the rest of the animal kingdom and the racing heart of the panic attack is meant to help us survive physical danger. We are getting prepared to run or to fight. The animal strategy is not very effective management in the 21st century when we are seldom in physical danger.
Hyperarousal and dissociation are two ways we respond when we’re triggered.
Hyperarousal: For the person whose limbic system has not been changed by trauma, a car backfires outside on the street, the person startles, realizes it was just a car and returns to normal. However, the person who suffers from trauma, will startle and stay in an aroused state for a long time.
Dissociation is our way of disengaging from the scary external world and retreating into the internal world. We’re hopeless and helpless. When a cat is playing with a mouse, what does the mouse do? It feigns death. The cat may lose interest, giving the mouse a chance to escape. We do the same thing. We freeze like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
People who have been traumatized tend to bounce between hyperarousal and dissociation with no healthy in between. We need strategies for managing uncomfortable emotions effectively.
Exercise helps. Use the response nature gave us – the fight or flight. Get your heart rate up. Release the tension through cardiovascular workouts.
Learn to relax through breathing, yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, or any of the other ways that work.
We need to retrain our brains so that we deal with stressful situations in a way that serves us well.
Do you have some helpful ways of relaxing and balancing your emotional state? Perhaps you’d comment below.