How to Cope in Times of Stress and Trauma

How to Cope in Times of Stress and Trauma

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This post is the third in a 3 part series on Resilience. In Part 1, we talked about building resilience in kids. Part 2 about becoming a resilient parent, and Part 3 is how to deal with those times a crisis or tragedy strikes and how to call upon our resilience muscle to cope.

Dr. Peter Levine defines trauma as: "When we are frightened or overwhelmed beyond our capacity to rebound." There is no question that traumatic events change our lives. Some of us experience more trauma than others and we each internalize, cope and recover from trauma differently. We each have varying levels of support and protective factors embedded in our lives to help us during difficult times. Generally speaking, we adapt well over a period of time to toxic stress, crisis, and trauma. 

Resilience is our capacity to adapt and rebound from trauma and stressful life events.

Actively building resilience helps increase our threshold for stress, recover more quickly, and actually improves the structure of our brain (neuroplasticity) and our biology (epigenetics). Dr. Levine suggests that the key to recovery from stressful life events is to have new experiences in the body that contradict those of threat or overwhelming helplessness. With his clients, he recommends a  technique he calls pendulation, invoking the image of a pendulum swinging back and forth. In every upsetting or overwhelming experience, there are sensations in our body of intense contractions and we are afraid of getting stuck there. But there are also moments where our body expands briefly and if we can follow those out swings we can begin to integrate an experience in our body that contradicts those overwhelming feelings.

Every time we work through something, every time we come to a more embodied place, we are building our own resilience capacity.
— Peter Levine, PhD

I am including many resources for dealing with trauma and stressful life events, but I wanted to offer you some quick actions you can take when you need them most:

  • When you notice yourself feeling stuck, change whatever you are doing to something more active. Whether you get up off the couch to wash one dish or go for a run, put your body in action and your brain will follow.
  • Say to yourself, "I'm Alive. I'm Alive and I'm Here."
  • Call someone supportive.
  • Avoid seeing this as a permanent state. Remind yourself that this is temporary and manageable and look for any evidence in your body that you have felt moments of relief.
  • Move towards a goal. Set a small, achievable task for yourself that gets you closer to that goal today.
  • Take care of yourself and speak kindly to yourself. Examine what you are telling yourself and ask "Would I say this to my best friend?"
  • Develop some sort of mindfulness practice, even if it's just for 5 minutes a day. Find what works for you.

Two-thirds of the population are reported to have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Event (ACE).

While there are many significant adversities in childhood, there are 10 ACEs that are shown to make our stress response system overactive increasing the risk of disease, mental illness, and addiction. These events include those related to physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; mental illness, substance abuse and incarceration of a family member; divorce and domestic violence. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has created a movement for prevention by pediatricians and awareness and screening for adults by their primary care physician. Along with her book, The Deepest Well, there are two great resources, The Center for Youth Wellness and www.stress-health.org, for information on toxic stress and ACEs. You can also take a quiz to determine how many ACEs you or your child have experienced.

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When it comes to violence in our world we need resources to know how to talk to our children about it 

Common Sense Media has a great resource for explaining the news to our kids. which they break down for kids by age groups.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has resources for many traumatic events including

Purdue University has an amazing resource called The Purple Wagon focusing on war and terrorism through the lens of peacemaking.

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Finding help for a crisis in your home

The American Psychological Association has a great resource on how to talk to children about difficult news.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has helpful videos on how to talk to a child about a suicide attempt in your family broken down by age groups.

Inside Out Connections provides a free ebook on how to explain jails and prisons to children.

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Unfortunately, the incidence of mass shootings and violence is pervasive and requires immediate attention

Along with many other resources, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a Disaster Distress Helpline.

The American Psychological Association has a great resource for managing your distress after a shooting.

Sesame Street in Communities has fantastic resources on several topics including traumatic experiences, incarceration, divorce, and even resilience.

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Natural disasters are unpredictable so it's important to know where to find help when you need it

Bright Horizons offers a free ebook to help children cope with natural disasters.

The Red Cross offers a resource on recovering emotionally after a disaster.

The University of Minnesota has a video series on financial recovery after a disaster as well as a financial recovery tool-kit.

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Lastly, the National Institute of Mental Health has an amazing free ebook on what parents can do to help children through trauma.

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In the words of Dr. Peter Levine, "Trauma is a fact of life, but trauma doesn't have to be a life sentence. Trauma transformed takes us toward greater mastering, wholeness, compassion, and resilience." 

What I am hoping you take away from this series is that we have the power to shape how we think about the things that happen to us. We can determine what life events mean to us. We can find inspiration in those that have had bigger struggles than our own yet go on to live amazing lives. We can be resilient parents and raise resilient children. We can find joy and meaning in our lives. We can continue to grow every day.

If you have any questions or would like resources on a specific topic please email me at colleensims@guidancewithlove.com

Please share this with others, let's create a resilient society! And if you have any resources that have helped you, please share them in the comments!

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