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How to Hold Space for yourself as you Navigate Trauma

Trauma is an inevitable experience that most human beings will experience at least once throughout their life. A state fear-based response to life or a situation when everything is too much, too soon. It causes the functioning of our prefrontal cortex to turn off - which controls our ability to make conscious, rational decisions, to override instinct and make choices and to engage with life logically - and turns the primal ‘reptilian’ brain on, meaning we react and respond to life from a fight or flight kind of way, which is involuntary, and that can often seem irrational to those who exist outside of our own minds and bodies ( Finding out that your newborn baby has a congenital heart defect, or that your parent, partner or loved one has developed an acquired heart defect can be a traumatic ordeal, immediately shifting our functioning from conscious to unconscious reactions and brain patterning, where our thoughts and behvaiours can feel out of control. As a heart-mom shared with us earlier this year, simplifying trying to take in all of the information linked to your baby’s CHD can be too much, too soon. Trauma often reigns the way loved ones of patients receive the news of diagnosis, which often results in debilitating anxiety, stress and a sense of hopelessness, which leaks into the waiting period of a loved one’s operation and often grows throughout the ICU healing process, specifically if the healing period is unstable. As stated by, “When trauma takes place, automatic survival mechanisms pave a kind of emergency highway in the brain… once created, an emergency highway doesn’t go away. It remains as a neural pathway with a variety of quick entry ramps, all of them from the body. The instinctual brain can be easily triggered to re-enter it by any signals from the senses, perceived or real, that remind of the original threat. These could be a smell, a taste, a sound, a sight, a body motion or sensation, anything that we associate with the trauma.” When our trauma is not faced or met with compassion, we can discover difficulty in regulating our nervous system, meaning we end up approaching life from our sympathetic nervous system where we are always on the lookout for threats, acting in survival mode and constantly choosing whether we should fight or flight. Our trauma responses vary largely, from an acute stress reaction, where we develop a short-lived condition in response to the trauma we encounter, or our response and experience can develop into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can present even six months to one year following on from the traumatic event which caused it. Self-regulating practices to assist you in navigating your trauma: 1. Breath Modulation Conscious connection with our breath invites the mind into the present moment, and helps to shift our brain activity from ‘primal, reptilian’ brain to our prefrontal cortex, where we can act with rationality. A longer exhale also allows us move into our parasympathetic nervous system, where we feel more calm and at ease with ourself. Breathing Practices: 1. Take a deep inhale for 4 counts, pause briefly, exhale for 6 counts (good for social situations where you would like your regulation to be discreet) 2. ‘Honey Bee Breath’. Bring your tongue to the roof of your pallet. Inhale deeply, and on your exhale, hum out your breath. You can watch a video here. The vibration created with your hum stimulates the vagus nerve (at the back of your throat), which runs through all of the main organs in the body, causing them to relax, which in turn relaxes the nervous system. 2. Interoception Practice This is best practiced with a partner, but can still be practiced alone. Become aware of the body. Notice any feelings that are present and see if you can give words to the emotions you feel, and where you feel them in the body. Interoception helps us to reinhabit the body with the presence of our mind, which counteracts the ‘Trauma belief’ of dissociation - namely, it is not safe to inhabit the body. 3. Co-regulation (you will need a partner / friend to practice co-regulating) Sit back to back with one another. Take three deep breaths in and out together. Decide on who will begin with speaking. Once decided, the first person names what they are aware of in or on their body. For example: I feel my hips touching the ground. The next person then names what they are aware of. Continue for as long as needed. Notice how you gently begin to calm down as you speak and invite your awareness into your body.

Image supplied by Unsplash, by Engin Akyurt

Signs you may be struggling with trauma: - flashbacks / recurring dreams of the traumatic event

-anxiety, sadness and feelings of being ‘alone’

- avoidance of activities and situations that remind you of the event

- tense muscles, headaches, constant tiredness

- loss of interest in activities that used to bring you joy

- difficulty falling asleep, or waking up midway through sleep

- difficulty concentrating or constantly thinking about the traumatic event

- unable to control feelings, thoughts, images and behaviours


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