Posts Tagged ‘stress’


School Shootings: An Open Letter to Parents

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Dear Parents,

  I feel your pain and horror.  I, too, am a parent and have two Juniors this year whose finals week was interrupted by the school shooting at Reynolds high school.  They have been so busy just trying to get through finals week that they haven’t even had time or energy to integrate what is happening in their own community.

 Nothing makes us more anxious than a threat to our children’s safety. Nothing makes us feel more powerless, saddened and enraged then when our schools safe walls are breached by murderous rage and terror.

 Some of us are vulnerable to traumatic stress and anxiety already. Events like this can feel overwhelming to cope with, and even moreso to help our kids to cope.  So what can we do?

As a professional and as a parent, I recommend that you put on the metaphorical oxygen mask first.  Please take the time to do whatever you can to take care of yourself in the coming weeks.  If you feel your own anxiety spiraling out of control, please get some help from a qualified trauma therapist or perhaps some other provider that you feel comfortable with such as an acupuncturist, Reiki practitioner or yoga therapist.  If you feel that you need psychiatric medication, now would be a good time to get a consultation. Practicing mindfulness meditation could be helpful or whatever really helps you calm down and integrate.

 If you are like most Americans you are probably going to want to think your way out of this problem and come up with a snappy and satisfying solution (gun control, armed school guards,  mental health interventions etc).  I would encourage you NOT to jump to this just yet.  First we need to calm ourselves down and become really, REALLY present to ourselves and our families.

 Trauma, like grief, has its own pace and rhythm, and some of us are dealing with both.  Our kids may have known the victim(s) or even been the victim. We need to give healing its full due. If our kids see us stopping, processing and restoring ourselves from trauma, that gives them permission to do so as well.  There are many resources for healing out there, including my book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out, which has a whole chapter on first-aid for trauma shock, the first stage of trauma.  Reading it will help you cope with the immediate aftermath of trauma. (You can find it in your local library and in all bookstores.)

 Your children are in shock and grief, too.  Like my kids, they may be in the middle of finishing up testing and not really be available for processing their feelings, or they may have a lot of time on their hands and be inwardly stewing over what has happened.  Lately the world seems to have exploded in violence.  Even if they are quiet, they have definitely noticed.

 Make yourself extra available to them.  Depending on age, gender and temperament our children will have varying needs and ways of moving through their own horror, anger and sadness.  Allow them to find their own mode of expression, which may be very different than yours.  But they do need to express in order to integrate.

 As a child and teen therapist, I know that there are very few children who can just sit down and talk about their feelings to their parents in an adult way.  It is best to find activities to do with your kids and let the conversation steer its way naturally to what is troubling them.  You can ask open ended questions and make positive statements such as, “I’m really interested in what you think/feel about this event.” “What are other people saying about what happened on Facebook?” etc.  Good activities can be throwing a ball, shooting hoops (I got really good at this doing inpatient work with boys), going for a walk together, driving somewhere, listening to music together (their choice),  playing a card or board or video game (not too intense so there is room for conversation).  You need to initiate these activities, especially for kids who tend to isolate when they are upset. 

 Allow your children, and especially teens, an uncensored discussion.  If you have rules about swearing or intensity (such as loudness or sarcastic tone), tell your child that you have suspended these rules, so they can say, freely, whatever is on their mind.  Our kids talk very differently to each other than they do in front of us.  If they need to blow off steam but feel inhibited in front of us, they will blow off steam elsewhere. 

 Sometimes stressful events like this show areas of relationships that are in need of work.  If you have been having trouble connecting with your child, this trauma will not automatically draw you closer. It may, in fact, do the opposite.  If so, consider seeking out professional help for yourself and/or the family.

 Put down your cell phone when you are home.  Stay home and make it clear that you are available when they need to talk, even if that need comes up around 10 or 11 pm as they are going to bed (as if often will). Monitor your own need to engage in avoidance activities and choose engagement.

  If you do not already have a self-care routine, now would be an excellent time to start one.  I am a big fan of progressive relaxation exercises and often prescribe them.  You could find some online or buy a CD and practice relaxing your whole body a couple of times a day, to reset your own nervous system.  Allow yourself more downtime than usual.

  Know these signs of acute stress and monitor them in your children.  If they persist past 2-4 weeks they may be cause for concern:

 

–       repetitive talk about the event

–       
repetitive drawing of the event

–       irritable

–       withdrawn


–       needy and clingy


–       more forgetful than usual


–       having trouble regulating emotions: laughing silly “highs” crash into sullen “lows

–       hair-pulling (trichotillomania)


–       disturbed eating

–       insomnia or frequent awakening in fear or tantrums

–       age-inappropriate behavior such as bed-wetting

–       rigid and perseverative play behavior (in younger children)

 

Lastly, know that no matter how upsetting this event is to your family and child, healing is possible. Human beings are incredibly resilient.  In the process of healing you and your family may wish to take some action in the world.  If this feels right to you, do it.  The wound of trauma often demands some response from us – when the time is right.

Blessings on your journey of healing, Sue




Helping Kids Deal With The Moore Tornado and other Disasters

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Children can be particularly vulnerable to distressing weather and events.  Even children that were not directly affected will be deeply disturbed by these community wide disasters. Most parents have not been taught to look for signs that children are under stress, or even intense stress. This blog, by request, will give you some tips on helping your children recover from the devastating tornadoes in the midwest.

First know that your child is stressed. Some signs that children are stressed include:

– repetitive talk about the event 
– repetitive drawing of the event
– unusually irritable
– unusually withdrawn
– needy and clingy
– more forgetful than usual
– having trouble regulating emotions: laughing silly “highs” crash into sullen “lows”
– hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
– disturbed eating
– disturbed sleep

We forget what it is like to be a child. Under 14 years of age, children have some awareness that they cannot survive without adult assistance; this is especially true for very young children. Children watch their parents very carefully and take their cues from them about whether they should be upset or not. In addition children have losses in the storm that adults may trivialize or not realize the depth of the loss. For instance, a parent may not know that a stuffed animal was more like a best friend, or that a destroyed work of their art has taken away a precious sense of self. Because parents are suffering their own losses and in survival mode they may not feel like children are dealing with anything significant, but, of course, they are. 

Here are some ways to help your child heal in the aftermath:

1) Limit media exposure of the event. Adults tend to watch traumatic events obsessively but we know from 9/11 that this can create traumas in kids who may not understand that they are seeing the same event repeated rather than several different events. TV may make them think the world is ending

2) Set some “processing” time aside every day for your kids where they can express their feelings. Young children (3yrs-8yrs) might be encouraged to color, draw a picture, or engage in puppet play. 8-12 years olds might want more information about storms, or just to spend time playing games. (Experienced child therapists know that most kids need to be occupied with a game or activity in order to talk about their feelings.) Teenagers may be able to sit and talk if they are mature, and are invited to participate in a judgment free zone. Also, ball throwing and basketball hoop shooting are excellent ways to get kids to open up. During this time turn off your phone and your own agendas and create a lot of space to just listen or answer questions.

3) Try to keep a normal rhythm to the day, even if you are in a shelter. Have regular mealtimes, structured activities and a bed time.

4) Speaking of bedtime, be aware that sleep may be difficult at first. Kids may be having unpleasant dreams processing the storm. Be patient and non-judgmental about this, while helping maintain a schedule.

5) Monitor your own reactions. Calm yourself down as much as possible. Do not share horrible new stories with your kids or in earshot of them. They will be alarmed but will not tell you.

6) Understand that quiet kids may not be OK. Invite them to play with you or help you with simple chores. Reinforce any sharing with your attention and love.

7) Provide lots of hugs and affection. Take time for yourself and for them. You both need the contact!

8) If your child has a pronounced behavioral change reach out for professional help ASAP. Red Cross will have referrals for free and low-income therapy professionals.

9) Be active in reassuring your children that life will get better. Hold the optimism for them, even if you are feeling discouraged. This is kind and wise parenting.

10) Lastly, cultivate patience! Be patient with your kids and be patient with the city and be patient with yourself. Stop and breathe as needed. Practice self-care and stay aware of your own needs! Then you won’t resist the children’s needs when they are up.

Know that there are so many of us pulling for all of you and your kids. Our hearts go out to yours. Be well and be safe!




PTSD and the Holiday Season

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Here’s the sad truth. PTSD often worsens during the holiday season. One would hope it was different, that holiday cheer, food, friends and good spirit would pop up like champagne on one of those commercials we see on TV where people are toasting each other, smiling and all looking fit, young and strong. But alas, it is not and here are some reasons why:

1) Holidays come with lots of triggers. We can be around too many people or too few. Even if we want to be with people, loneliness can be enhanced by the inability to connect in the midst of deep emotions such as fear, grief, or rage. There is no lonely like the lonely that comes in the midst of a group of friends or family.

2) We tend to eat foods that aggravate our nervous system. PTSD causes an inflammatory reaction in the body (see my HPA Axis posts). When we pile on the sugar, alcohol, fatty foods and just plain junk that pervades holiday fare our delicate and taxed nervous system can come under a lot of strain. Eating aggravates our anxiety, and anxiety aggravates our eating, repeating until New Year’s Resolutions come.

3) Feelings of self-loathing tend to emerge more strongly in holiday season. Perhaps we are trying to live up to an unattainable ideal of our religious faith or maybe proximity to family reminds us of our (and their) shortcomings. Whatever the reason, the phenomenon is real.

4) There is a lot of stimuli in the environment! Bright lights, flashing lights, loud music, smells, endless holiday music, crowded shopping environments all add to the load on the nervous system. Not to mention traveling on overcrowded airplanes and roads in dangerous weather. Not exactly a good environment for the hypervigilant and stressed.

If you think avoiding the holidays is easy, just watch the hilarious movie, Christmas with the Kranks. A lucky few might escape to Hawaii or a cruise but even then the holidays follow and are on our mind (if not our neighbors).

So, what to do? If you see a therapist and can afford it, scheduling extra sessions can be helpful. For those of us not lucky enough to have that resource, protection from the holiday barrage starts with our own awareness.

Pace yourself. Take some time every day to see what it is you do and don’t want to do. Say ‘no’ as often as you must. Stop worrying about hurting other people’s feelings, and focus on healing your own. Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. For it will.

Better yet, dig down in yourself to find your own meaning of the holiday – whether it is about religion, vacation, or promoting your business, find the meaning that will be best for you.

Move into alignment with the season. In Chinese philosophy, winter is a time to move inside, to become dormant like the plants outside, resting so that our roots will be nourished and the plant flourish in the Spring. This is my favorite meaning of the winter holidays: renewal, self-nourishment, quiet companionship with those you love, sleep. Lots of sleep. 

So here is my wish for you in the holiday and end of year time: Know when you are triggered and move to take care of yourself as needed. Cultivate compassion in your heart for yourself and others. Rest. Eat well. (And read The Trauma Tool Kit as needed.)

Happy Holidays. 







Trauma and Attachment

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Here’s a little known fact about trauma: an experience of extreme stress or trauma always ruptures a sense of connection and secure attachment in the world. 

What do I mean by that?

The world and our sense of safety and connection in it profoundly altered by the sense of disconnection. This makes healing from trauma a doubly hard endeavor.

Here are some examples of common traumas and the ruptured attachment:

Rape: strangers, your own judgment, even a whole gender (men, usually).

War: commanding officers, countries, your own country, people of other races

Child Abuse: authority figures, intimate relationships, justice system, sense of self

Natural Disaster: God, nature, government (if inadequate response)

Car Accidents: other drivers, own judgment, motor vehicles

Major Medical Illness: body, medical system (if inadequate), society (if not able to get insurance or help due to finances)

There are, of course, many other kinds of trauma and endless variations on disrupted attachment and connection depending on the experience involved.

All victims of traumas naturally experience a questioning of and sense of separation from self. Most end up having some sort of spiritual crisis in that their attachment to a higher power is called into question.

Without feeling secure in the world it’s easy to become lost and not know where to turn to for help when you need it the most. Therapists often underestimate the damage done by rupture of secure attachment in the midst of crisis, and patients often end up feeling angry, guilty and paralyzed. 

It is important to not pathologize these responses but to see them as a normal conditioned response to trauma and extreme stress. 

So, easy does it. When you are ready, sit down and think about areas of mistrust that result directly from your trauma. Be good to yourself today!







KBOO Interview on Recovery Zone

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I was fortunate to have Stephanie Potter of KBOO’s show Recovery Zone, in Portland, Oregon interview me yesterday about healing from stress and PTSD. The show is 30 minutes long and features three different callers with excellent questions. I had a blast doing it and am thankful for a chance to help people go deeper in their healing process. Click here, for a link to the downloadable interview.




The Trauma Tool Kit Has Arrived! *GIVEAWAY*

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Hi all,

I’m happy to tell you that The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out is now in bookstores across the United States and is shipping from online booksellers. I had the privilege of finally holding my own copy this week. In celebration I am giving away three copies to the first three readers who link to this blog and comment below. Please be sure to send me your address privately if you see your name in the first three comments! Here’s to healing from traumatic stress! Blessings, Sue




Tool: Progressive Relaxation

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My husband is a cardiologist. He and I have a friendly competition about who can get rid of chest pain faster. If there is nothing he can do he refers his patient to me or another practitioner. Progressive relaxation, twice a day, for 10 minutes a session usually takes care of unexplained angina in under 2 weeks.

If you have taken a yoga class or been in hypnosis or therapy chances are you know what progressive relaxation is. You start at your feet, imagining deep relaxation, warmth and heaviness and then slowly move that focus up the body. The exercise can take as little as 5 minutes or as long as 45 minutes. Sometimes people fall into a restful slumber. In fact progressive relaxation is excellent for insomnia!

I practice progressive relaxation every morning when I wake up. If you have stress in your life (and who doesn’t?) you might be surprised at how much tension you are holding in your body coming out of the sleep and dream state. It resets my body and mind for the day ahead.

It is one of of the best tools for dealing with PTSD and traumatic stress. It is mental floss, which,like dental , is good to practice regularly one to two times/day. You can find videos and CD’s that will talk you through progressive relaxation. Next time you are feeling stressed, give it a whirl (but not in your car!).

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!




POLL UP!

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Hi Friends,

I’ve just put up this poll about ways people handle extreme stress or PTSD.  When you are triggered, where do you go for relief? What’s most reliable for you?  You can check more than one answer.  If your favorite treatment is not on the list, please share it for others in the comments section below!  I look forward to seeing your responses! 

Love and Blessings, Sue




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