The recent shooting in Las Vegas is a shocking reminder of how life can change in an instant. A happy moment can suddenly turn horrifying and traumatic. When these traumatic incidents occur, our brains and bodies spring into action, doing whatever it deems necessary to survive by activating the hyperarousal system. Once the traumatizing situation is over, our brains are often left struggling with how to process what we have just seen and experienced. Different people will cope in different ways: some will avoid bringing up what has happened to them and will state that they are “fine” or continue on as if nothing ever happened. Other people will be frozen, unable to function in daily life as they their brains are overstimulated with what has happened and shuts down as a result. And still some people will recognize that something has happened that they are incapable of dealing with on their own and they will seek professional help. There are some who will endure a traumatic situation and they are able to process the trauma without any professional intervention, but these tend to not be the norm.
Regardless of what leads people to respond in different ways, not dealing with trauma when it happens can lead to brains and bodies getting “stuck” and re-experiencing the trauma over and over. Most people know of the diagnosis of PTSD, but don’t consider what they have experienced to be “bad enough” to cause PTSD. However, PTSD doesn’t only happen in combat or extreme situations and what may cause PTSD for one person may not cause PTSD for another person. When the brain and body gets “stuck” in re-experiencing the trauma, it often needs help to break the cycle. One of the most effective ways I have found to break this cycle is with a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I am including a link to a website that explains what EMDR is and how it works (http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/). I have been utilizing this model of therapy for over three years and have found it to be highly effective in reducing anxiety, hypervigilance, racing thoughts, and disturbing memories. I have also found it to be highly effective in increasing the amount and quality of sleep, which is very important as traumatic incidents and PTSD can lead to an inability to sleep and a lack of sleep affects all areas of functioning and our quality of life. It is important to get help when we experience the abnormal and the sooner we get help, the sooner our brains and bodies are able to go back to their normal functioning because they have been able to process the trauma that we have experienced. Without help, the brain and body tends to adapt around the trauma and this tends to be unhealthy and have negative outcomes. Most people who get into serious car accidents do not think twice about getting physically evaluated at the hospital, but not often think about getting evaluated mentally for possible trauma from the accident. It is my hope that it becomes as automatic for people to seek counseling for traumatic incidents as they do for physical traumas.
-Naomi Cooper Martin