Techniques for processing trauma and stress

On Monday I posited that we need to teach people to better process trauma and stress.

How do we do that?

Being present, being familiar with being present, and being able to bring oneself back into the present are a good place to start. Every time you ground and center yourself, you bring yourself more fully into the present (there are other techniques, but this is the one I use most). The more time you spend in the present, the easier it is to identify what it feels like when you are taken out of the present (by having old trauma triggered, or by fear in general). If you already have a solid grounding practice, you already have the tools to bring yourself back into the now.

From a Shamanic point of view, when your have unprocessed trauma, you have left a part of yourself in the past, at the point in your timeline of that trauma. Every time something happens that has a similar feel to the originating trauma, you rubber band back into that time-space, and react to what is going on now like it is what happened then. Your reactions are of someone at the age, and you are responding to the old event, not the new one. You are, in that moment, reactive rather than responsive, and your higher mind is not active. The only way for you to recognize what is going on is through the sensations of the chemical reactions in your body. Luckily, focusing on the sensations in the body will also bring you back into the present AND help you start to process the trauma.

* When you focus on sensations in the body, you have to be here with your body.
* When you focus on the sensations in your body, you stop focusing on whatever unhelpful noise is going on in your head.
* When you focus on the sensations in your body, you start to deprogram the mental attachment to your reaction to those sensations. As a basic example, the sensations for most people associated with fear and with excited anticipation are virtually identical. If you can deprogram that part of your mind that says that feeling is fear, you can choose to react to it differently.

Focusing on the sensations means just that. Is it hot or is it cold? Is it tight or is it loose? Is it smooth or is it prickly? Is it dull or is it sharp? Is it steady or is it throbbing? Does it feel empty or full? Don’t interpret, just stay with the sensations. Your mind will grab your attention repeatedly, just keep pulling your attention back into the sensations. Your mind, for the most part, is going to be unhelpful here.

People frequently have interesting ideas about what it means to process trauma. All it is, literally, is sitting in the feelings about the thing. Not wallowing, not pushing them away. Just allowing them. If you focus into the body to be present to it, it’s just easier. When you push them away, the chemical reaction to the stimulus gets stuck in the body (per a Shamanic view). When you allow them to take their natural course, you’re no longer stuck with them.

How does this translate into dealing with stress? Stress is a decision or choice, unconscious but still a choice, about the importance of something. Sometimes the stress comes from the fact that we think we have to do something. When faced with a stressful situation, it’s okay to do nothing. Just breathe, feel your feet, let go of any negativity, and relax. If you can get away with not even saying anything, so much the better. If you do have to give a verbal response, try non-committal ones, like “I’ll have to get back to you” or “I hear what it is you’re saying” and leave it at that. When we get rid of the idea that there has to be an immediate response, we at the very least stop the stress that we’re putting on ourselves. Sometimes we think we have to do things that are way out of our comfort zones. It’s a better idea to know your limitations, own them, and honor them, than to push yourself into situations that make you feel worse. Avoid imbalance.

When you feel stressed, take a moment and focus on the sensations of the chemical reaction. That’s all stress is anyway, a chemical reaction. When you feel like you’ve gotten yourself back, ask yourself (1) what is the nature of this stress – is it about internal or external expectations, and how realistic are those expectations, (2) how important is the thing really, (3) can you actually do anything about it right now, and (4) how you can break down any actions that need to be taken into more manageable bits? This will at least give you better perspective on what’s really going on. The more you practice these things, the more you’ll be able to sidestep stress.

Practicing the tools for taking the power away from trauma and stress is important, not just for yourself, but so that you can teach them to others. As the emotional imbalance in the community is righted, people balance out individually. And we’ll be surrounded by less and less self-entitlement, greed, and selfishness, and compassion will increase.

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