Let’s face it, some of us just got dealt a bad hand and grew up with childhood trauma.
The most severe forms of trauma occur when we are children. As a result of physical, emotional or spiritual childhood trauma during our early years, we may develop some unhealthy ways of reacting to stress as adults.
Being raised in an abusive or traumatic environment can have lasting effects on your ability to manage the stressful situations that others seem to find manageable.
It isn’t our fault that we got wired to protect ourselves as children!
This kind of history can follow us through life and create a lot of roadblocks to joyful living.
Yep, I am also a member of this club
My experience with childhood trauma left me with severe and debilitating anxiety. (you can read my story here)
I over-reacted to every kind of stress, even the so-called ‘good kind’.
It seemed like I had a panic button that lived behind every situation I encountered!
Like me, you may have had trauma after trauma pile up on top of you. If this occurred during childhood, it is especially troublesome!
This can cause hyper-vigilance; constantly on the lookout for disaster.
You may find yourself examining words, expressions and body language with a magnifying glass; projecting the bad outcome in microseconds and preparing for potential damage control like a general in a war zone!
Some of the lingering side effects of childhood trauma
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Using food for comfort
- Misplaced guilt
- Codependent relationships
- Victim mentality
- Self sabotage
The list is almost endless.
Then there are the physical symptoms that can occur, such as:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Digestive issues
- Frequent colds
- Body aches
- Brain fog…..
Are you stress reactive rather than stress responsive?
Reacting to stress is more of a form of self defense, and can be misinterpreted by our loved ones. It can also lead to bad decisions.
Being stress responsive is a much healthier way to manage stress!
The good news is that there are things we can do to make the transition from being stress reactive to becoming stress responsive easier.
Stress provides a valuable service to us as well
There is good stress and bad stress.
The trick is to identify and separate them.
This is where we find out if we are ‘responding’ or ‘reacting’ to stress.
We need the benefits of ‘good stress’ to protect us from danger.
It is built in and without it we could not have survived as a species. Nor could many of us have survived our childhood!
Since history began, we have been faced with the challenge of survival.
While it is not the danger it once was, we still need our ‘fight or flight’ instinct.
The hormones released during an emergency improve our reaction time and create laser focus on the situation. It is essential for us to respond in a way that preserves life!
Another benefit of ‘good stress’ is that it gives us the motivation to complete our goals. Once we set a completion date or time, it is stress that powers our energy resources to actually get it done.
“I still have meltdowns. My emotions get loose and carry me into dangerous territory. but I also have developed skills that save me.”
Some great tools I use to save me from myself
The first thing is ALWAYS to bring focus to your breath.
Breathing is our most basic and primary instinct.
The simple act of thinking about your diaphragm will capture your mind’s attention quickly.
This is also a stress response; your mind knows breathing is essential and will want to know why you are placing your attention there!
Learn this simple breathing routine and use it in emergencies:
The 4-7-8 Formula.
First, inhale deep and exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a count of four.
Hold your breath for seven seconds.
Exhale completely to a count of eight.
Repeat as necessary until you can feel your blood pressure lowering and your body relaxing.
In fact, try it right now! How does it make you feel?
When we use the 4-7-8 formula, this is what happens:
- Our muscles soften; tension starts to melt away
- Oxygen delivery improves
- Blood pressure lowers
- Endorphins are released
Meditating can be very effective.
- First, see the awful outcome you are afraid of.
- Then, allow yourself to imagine the good outcome
- Tell yourself this is a challenge, not a threat
- Be open to recognizing any benefits that can be gained
What happens when we meditate?
We begin to change our perspective.
Events that used to cause panic become manageable..
The Importance of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude as a way to reduce the effects of childhood trauma is not something we need to know about; it is something we need to actually do…
Begin using this 5-minute gratitude practice each day, or as often as you can:
- Take a deep, cleansing breath and anchor yourself in the present moment.
- Picture something that you’re grateful for.
Is it a person, a color, a movement, a pet, a place?
Visualize whatever comes to mind.
- Shift your senses and imagine the smell, taste or touch of it.
What can you pick up on?
Let yourself enjoy the sensation.
- What do you hear? What can you feel?
The sun on your face, the cool grass beneath your feet, the breeze lifting your hair?
Gratitude has a powerful effect on our mood and our attitude.
Remember that feeling grateful is not mandatory!
Simply acknowledging that you have something to be grateful for is enough.
Don’t feed your stress!
We may find ourselves drawn to comfort food during stressful times.
This may give us some instant gratification, but will result in even more stress, especially if we overdo it and end up on a junk food binge!
Try this instead:
Keep a supply of herbal tea handy.
The act of preparing and anticipating the effects of chamomile, lemon balm or passion flower tea can be soothing in itself.
Creating a small ritual of heating the water, smelling the tea as it steeps and enjoying the flavor is a bonus that you will come to appreciate!
Even knowing that you will be doing this can be as effective as the actual experience.
The icing on the cake
Get outside for at least 30 minutes a day.
Go for a walk, enjoy the scenery and visit for a few minutes with people you know.
This doesn’t have to be a fitness routine that is structured.
Just get outside and enjoy a walk!
Eat nutritious food. This does not mean restricting yourself or counting calories.
It means you should make a shopping list and include a variety of healthy choices.
The idea is to make it easy to choose quality meals and snacks.
Nothing scientific here; we are aware of what we should be eating, am I right?
This is not a directive to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
I get so tired of hearing about how lack of sleep is harming me!
What we do need is the opportunity and environment to get enough rest!
If you find yourself counting sheep then you know how impossible it is to command yourself to sleep.
Instead, try this:
Go to bed at the same time each night.
Spend a few minutes reliving the best things that happened during the day.
Savor the memory.
Anticipate that tomorrow will bring equally pleasant experiences.
Sip on some sleepy tea before retiring.
Read something that makes you feel inspired or joyful.
Over time, this practice will lengthen the time you spend sleeping by soothing your emotions. Sleep itself is important, but nobody can sleep peacefully when they are reliving every terrible thought, word, deed or action from the day!
We can reduce the impact of childhood trauma by practicing these easy methods.
Over time, we begin to do them automatically.
The important thing is that we practice them until they become second nature!
Start by learning the breathing exercise.
Add one new thing every day, or every week.
Be amazed at how much easier it becomes to manage stress!