Understanding Traumatic Stress & Restoring Resilience
Humans are resilient creatures. Just like every other life form in nature, we have evolved capacity to learn, adapt, and grow stronger following challenging and stressful experiences. The systemic stressors humanity faces in this time including systems of oppression and climate change, combined with the absence of many of our necessary supports including connection with nature, ancestral wisdom, close and continuous family and community ties often leave us feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable to traumatic stress.
When we experience a threat to our well-being, the autonomic nervous system automatically responds with self-protective responses of fight, flight or freeze. In a well-regulated nervous system, fight, flight and freeze are time-limited states that come to completion after the threat has passed. Unfortunately, for many people, we experience chronic stress that can prevent us from returning to a felt sense of safety as a home base. We develop embodied management patterns to cope with the experience of unrelenting challenge. These patterns develop momentum and become a new disorganized norm both in our individual bodies and in society. Rather than living in the here and now and responding appropriately to the challenges of these times, we can become lost in fight (irritation, anger), flight (worry, anxiety) or freeze (immobility, hopelessness).
The process of healing, resolving trauma, and moving toward vitality requires coming to our senses, restoring our ability accurately perceive here and now. Because accumulated stress reinforces our inclination to focus on the negative, potential threat, or what could go wrong, we develop addictive patterns of negativity. We get good at what we practice. In order to emerge from the imbalance of negativity bias, we must cultivate an orientation to and embodied awareness of that which supports life. We are then able to meet personal and global challenges with creativity, capacity, and resilience.
Many of us have become so disproportionately preoccupied with self-protection and avoiding potential threat, that we neglect our experience of healthy non-addictive pleasure, or our felt-sense cues to approach that which nourishes us and sustains life.
As we retrain our attention toward accurate perception of the current moment and environment and a balanced focus on both what to approach and what to avoid, we build resilience. As we do so, our innate biological wisdom begins to process the back-log of unprocessed stress and trauma with ease. We then can integrate the resource from previously overwhelming experiences, thus increasing our capacity to creatively and powerfully respond, rather than react, to future challenges.