The Best Ways of Releasing Trauma

The Best Ways of Releasing Trauma

I recently read one in five Americans have experienced some degree of sexual abuse as a child. Even as a therapist, that statistic shocked me. Yet, even though sexual abuse is more common than we want to realize, it is by far only one of many forms of trauma individuals endure.

My main message; trauma comes in many forms and with that, varying degrees of intensity. In fact, I like to reserve the word trauma for what we all once believed the word trauma to mean. War, genocide, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. Events that are extremely sudden and unpredictable. To be honest, I am not even sure if I would include the pandemic in this category. Afterall, none of us starved, saw mutilation in front of our eyes, or experienced other simultaneous instant loss. We could still order Amazon Prime for goodness’ sake.

I would instead describe these events, and other long periods, both intermittent but consistent at the same time, comprising of insidious strain and angst, as stress. Some therapists call this ‘tiny’ traumas or trauma with a small ‘t’. To me this is just simply stress. Children are experiencing stress when a parent can’t get out of bed because they are hungover. Their little minds are perplexed as to why mommy or daddy doesn’t want to play with them. Can’t feed me, wash my clothes, or clean my face? The parent that is not available because of ‘needing to work’. The mom that isn’t interested in my drawing because she seems more interested in her phone, the ‘weapon of mass distraction’.

Children and teenagers experience stress when they are ridiculed by their ‘friends’, or not invited to the event everyone else is talking about on Snapchat. When their photo or post is not liked, or when they dress differently. Young adults experience stress when their peers all seem to know exactly what they want to do in life, while others remain stuck in ‘I don’t even know who I am or what I am supposed to be doing’ or ‘I don’t feel smart enough to do what I truly want to be doing’ instead of following one’s gut instinct. Relationships are inherently stressful at times.

Many of us feel stuck in life and don’t know why, while others seem aware of why they are stuck, but have no idea how to move ahead.

For this reason, over the years of practising psychotherapy, I felt the need to not only use a hammer from my toolbox, but several interesting tools. Afterall, not everyone that walks into my office is a nail.

“Over the years of practising psychotherapy, I felt the need to not only use a hammer from my toolbox, but several interesting tools. Afterall, not everyone that walks into my office is a nail.”

via @luellajonk

So how do I help people heal? I treat every client as a system. There simply is no better way to heal unless you treat the person as a whole. To treat the mind and rid self-limiting beliefs, I practise psychotherapy – but this is just one tool. I also use hypnotherapy for trapped emotions, but the main purpose of my FYI program is to build new neuronal pathways. This, along with continued psychotherapy, builds new habits of thought, which results in new habits of action or behaviours. Clients become more accepting of themselves and can start living a life free of uncomfortable thoughts.

For others however, the ongoing stress or trauma is stuck deep in their tissues. These individuals seem to have difficulty expressing their feelings and emotions openly in front of others or those they trust. Vulnerability is difficult. After years of suppressing feelings, the negative energy becomes stuck. For this I like to refer out to body work, such as massage, osteopathy, acupuncture, etc. to release the muscle tension. However, for those whose central nervous system is constantly ‘turned on’ as if they need to protect themselves from danger, I work at lowering the inflammation in their body. As I mentioned in previous posts, thoughts cause inflammation just as much as a viral infection or a sprained muscle would. Our entire system slows down to compensate for this low vagal tone read by our central nervous system (CNS). As one example of ‘system breakdown’, the liver becomes stagnant and can no longer produce enough adequate bile, which is secreted by the gall bladder to digest food, thus depleting us of nutrients. The stagnant liver can no longer do the job of detoxifying hormones and toxins in our body. We become constipated and our blood becomes thick because of decreased ability to clear and breakdown the fats. This leads to plaque build-up in our arteries and high cholesterol. Our blood pressure rises because of constriction of the arteries, in hopes of adequately delivering blood supply to tissues.

Alternative therapy
Natural supplements

I could go on and on explaining how stress affects all organs of the body. Chronic stress will lead to physical breakdown; it is just a matter of finding the weakest link within the system, which is normally determined through environment and genetics.

A few more tools I commonly use are high grade nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin B, D, and C to replenish and nourish an overtaxed adrenal system. Calming herbs, such as ginseng, rhodiola, and ashwagandha are also used short term to help calm and stabilize the system. It is important to regain a natural rhythmic cycle of cortisol production, otherwise the CNS will continue to remain in low vagal tone. However, one needs to work with a trained practitioner to do this correctly. Do not think you can just take a trip to your local pharmacy and pick up some generic brand of a multivitamin. It is more delicate and intricate than this.

Finally, another tool I have recently discovered is the use of homeopathy. For now, I am referring out, but I hope to gain further training in this area. Combined with psychotherapy, revamping lifestyle factors, such as healing the gut through diet, optimizing liver function, replenishing the lost nutrients, and renourishing a taxed adrenal system with herbal formulations, one can see incredible changes in a relatively short time.

In summary, healing the mind and body should be done concurrently for maximum results in the shortest amount of time. I want my clients to be open to the use of various tools when it comes to feeling better. Once you open your mind to all the possible ways of regaining the happiness you once had – even if those memories are as far back as childhood, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at how good you will feel.

You deserve a healthy fulfilling life. Start taking control of it today.

New Ways of Dealing with Stress

New Ways of Dealing with Stress

By now I think we have all heard something about the gut/brain connection. That is, how the food you eat affects your thoughts and emotions and how your thoughts and emotions affect the health of your gut.

How is this possible? There are a few ways.

One of the main vessels of communication is via the vagus cranial nerve. It travels from the brain and innervates the digestive tract. You can now probably relate – at some point in your life you may have received some bad news, followed by a terrible sensation in the pit of your stomach. Have you ever heard of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS? This is a common bucket term in medicine for when a patient comes in describing bouts of loose stool or constipation. Well, it turns out this condition has a lot to do with your thoughts, emotions, and feelings you are experiencing.

How about the messages from the gut to the brain? If things are not right in the gut, such as bad bacteria or inflammation due to toxins or food sensitivities, our head doesn’t feel right. The vagus nerve also secretes cytokines (chemicals that carry information) into the intestines, which impacts the health of the bacteria and lining of the intestines.

The second way the gut affects the brain is through inflammation. The gut will send out pro-inflammatory cytokines (again, informational molecules) – which activate the stress response by signalling to a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then starts communicating to our pituitary gland to help regulate hormones (again, informational molecules) so it can start doing the work it needs to do. In the case of inflammation, the hormone cortisol will take priority. This intricate system communicates so well, it prioritizes an urgent response by setting off vagal tone. When cortisol production is in high gear, the vagal tone is low. It is the vagal tone that ‘reads’ the health of your microbiome, which then modulates inflammation. Overall, a low vagal tone will impact not only your mental health, but also blood sugar regulation (contributing to high cholesterol), autism, migraines, diabetes, heart health, and autoimmune diseases. Therefore, as the frequency of cortisol (stress, trauma) increases, our health decreases. It is important for you to understand this delicate ‘wiring’ and method of communication is our body’s way of protecting us from danger. If our bacteria are not balanced (more bad bacteria than good) then it will want us to ‘wake up’ by secreting more cortisol and take action.

“Inflammation can be sourced via gut health (through food choices) just as much as it can be from the brain (through uncomfortable thoughts).”

via @luellajonk

The PROBLEM is if we make this more of a chronic condition (ongoing) rather than an acute condition (how it evolved to be) we are going to slowly adapt to this condition. This is an important point for both your overall mental health, as well as for your physiology.

Let me provide you with an analogy. If you often have joint pain or headaches, you might be a frequent user of an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve, etc.). The more you mask the inflammation, the more you will normalize the inflammatory response and the more drug you will need to get the same ‘effect’ from the drug. Sadly, this is how addictions start taking over your life. Dampening the response system (remember that alcohol and nicotine are toxins), the more you will need this drug to feel a response (whether that be a sense of calm or a sense of excitement). Similarly, if you continue to ignore the stress (toxic thoughts) in your life, the more you tolerate the stress response and the more this becomes your normal.

Our bodies have an amazing way of adapting (surviving). We naturally adapt to small amounts of stresses to be resilient. The problem (toxic thought) is sometimes so small (think of it as a tiny leak behind a wall), we don’t even realize it is there until it is too late. Your thoughts are following a trend over the long term and that trend is not going in the right direction. Your contentment, or happiness, is trending down. Think of adverse child experiences (ACE). Every client who sees me needs to fill out an intake form on ACE. I have seen it myself and literature shows it as well, the higher your ACE score, the more your health suffers.

Thus, the moral of this story is … pay attention to what signals your body is sending. Do not ignore. Remember acute cortisol from time to time is normal – chronic is not. However, I understand how it is not always easy to detect low lying cortisol – just as it is not easy to detect low lying inflammation. If we pay more attention to what we are putting in our bodies every day, the puzzle becomes less difficult. If you want more information on what foods you should be choosing, I can easily help you out. A lot of this is not rocket science, as you know. Despite what you hear out there, this is not about choosing a certain ‘diet’. As Michael Pollan stated so well, eat food (a.k.a. nothing made in a production plant). Not too much. Mostly plants.

Then there are the other lifestyle factors we can easily modulate to keep our stress in check. These include sleep optimization, securing healthy relationships (this includes with yourself), exercise, and a strong sense of community. I interchange community with spirituality. The more you feel you are not alone, the healthier you become.

In summary, inflammation causes disease. Today I explained how inflammation can be sourced via gut health (through food choices) just as much as it can be from the brain (through uncomfortable thoughts). How you choose to perceive your thoughts and how you pay attention to your thoughts will affect the health of your microbiome. It will either cause your healthy bacteria to thrive or your bad bacteria to increase, causing downstream effects. The vagus nerve will sense the health of your gut and start communicating to your hypothalamus to choose a high or low vagal tone.

As a functional medicine practitioner and therapist, I simplify inflammation as having four sources: Food, bugs, toxins (environmental), and traumas.

On the next blog post I will provide you with tips on how to improve vagal tone. Until then, if anyone wants to get a head start on bringing down body inflammation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.