Monthly Archives: March 2011

More on trauma and disaster

Because in these situations we have to act quickly, effectively while under a great deal of pressure, trauma can make worse our ability to focus, think clearly, be calm and effective.

Its important to understand that trauma is what happens when the brain’s survival system get stuck on “red alert” and can’t return to normal. We can’t return to normal just by wishing to do so or talking ourselves out of our feeling.

In this condition, it can be hard to focus. We become highly sensitive to sounds, lights, even other people’s behavior. We might have strong emotional reactions to little things or become upset easily.

The brain’s survival system needs to be rebalanced so we can return to normal.

Trauma can be prolonged by any number of means–just watching something traumatizing can activate the brain’s survival center and create the feelings of being under threat.

Other causes include:

*the potential for additional disaster, like the anxiety of waiting for after shocks or other potential threats.

*watching disaster footage on TV

*replaying traumatic situations in your mind

*hearing sounds associated with the original trauma–like sirens, sounds of water or other loud sounds.

Its important to rebalance the nervous system as quickly as possible. Slow, deep breathing tells the brain to calm down. The grounding and visualization methods I wrote about earlier are others. They are simple and easy to do.

Self Management for Disaster Situations

We have all been watching with great concern the events in Japan.

I want to share with everyone some simple but effective methods for managing stress of living through an extreme situation like an earthquake. Please feel free to distribute this message widely.

Its important to understand how the human nervous system deals with trauma and what to do about it. Experiencing a major event like an earthquake can put the brain’s survival centers into a state of high alert. The trouble comes when it gets stuck there and doesn’t return to normal functioning.

Some signs that this is happening include:

physical tension, like tense jaws, shoulders, and other large muscle groups
irritability or short temper
inability to sleep
sensitivity to sound or light
a sense of being overwhelmed
lack of appetite
easily feeling fearful, panicked or anxious
feeling unbalanced
feeling “not like myself”
persistent worry
social withdrawal
inability to move or act effectively
physical pain

There are some simple methods you can do to help return the nervous system to normal.

The simplest is to take long, slow, deep breaths in through your nose. This
stimulates the calming response in the nervous system.

Another method is called “grounding”. Here are the steps:

1. Find a comfortable position, whether it is sitting or lying
down–whatever is comfortable for you.

2. Put your attention to where you feel a sensation of support–like your
body touching the chair or the floor or the bed. You don’t have to think
about anything special, just put your attention where you sense support.

3. Keep your attention on the sense of support and notice what happens in
the body. Most people will notice an increasing sense of calm. You might
also notice tingling sensations, warm sensations, bubbly sensations,
emotional releases and even shaking. These are all signs your nervous
system is rebalancing. This is a good thing.

4. If you start to feel overwhelmed, open your eyes and look around the
room. Focus on concrete objects like whatever you see in front of you.
Breathe slowly and deeply.

5. Repeat the process as often as necessary.

A third method involves visualization to stimulate the calming response. An easy method is to imagine your favorite calming piece of music–Like
Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ or whatever you like.

1. Imagine you’re in a concert hall listening to this music.

2. While you are listening put your attention on the calm spots of your

3. Notice what changes. Again you might notice the signs of release I
mentioned in #3 above.

Please give these a try and share with others.

I hope you are all safe and well.

Jeremy Hunter