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Experiencing a distressing event in our lives can leave us feeling distraught, overwhelmed, and unable to feel relief from the things that would typically bring comfort or alleviation of pain. Trauma, as described by the American Psychological Association, is “any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning” (2022). Trauma can come in the form of sexual abuse, divorce, physical injury or illness, racism, the list goes on and on. Trauma comes in many forms and affects every person differently. Traumatic events usually leave people with a sense of being unable to cope with their circumstances. Fortunately, there are evidence-based tools that can bring even a semblance of peace in the midst of the storms.

Deep Breathing

Many clients express that deep breathing does not work for them, yet this is often because clients are not engaging in diaphragmatic, slow deep breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and parasympathetic system. These parts of our bodies reduce anxiety—also known as the fight-or-flight response—along with emotional reactivity, cognitive control, and stress (Gerristen & Band, 2018). It takes at least 45 seconds to activate the vagus nerve, and it is only activated through diaphragmatic breathing. Practicing for 15 to 20 minutes daily can actually change your brain structure! The time can be done separately throughout the day in increments. 

  • Wonder Woman Pose
    • Make your hands into fists
    • Place hands under ribcage and hold shoulders back
    • Notify patients that eyes can be closed for comfortability
    • Take deep breaths in and out with patients
    • Hold pose for at least 45 seconds
  • Lazy Boy Pose
    • Interlock fingers together in front of body
    • Move hands from in front of body to back of head
    • Ensure that chest is out and shoulders are back to engage the diaphragm for breathing
    • Take deep breaths in and out with patients
    • Hold pose for at least 45 seconds

Finding Hope

Hope can feel impossible to find when trauma comes into our lives. Grieving losses, processing the traumatic event, and navigating life after trauma are an imperative part of finding hope. When you feel ready to search for hopefulness, whenever the time comes in your own journey, here are a few strategies.

  • Highlight Hope – Highlight the positive things you already have. You can journal times of hope in life or discuss with a trusted individual. Invite patient to tell a story about a time in which they felt opposite of what they feel currently in regard to hope.
  • Hope Log – Maintain a Hope Log description of events that fostered hope. Include hope levels (1-10) before event, during event, and after event. Consider what you did to play a part in the hope-fostering event.
  • Drawing a Picture of Hope – Create a picture of what hope looks like to you. You can this creation to make a “hope wall” in which they reflect on in times of hopelessness. This “hope wall” can hold pictures, quotes, or artworks that muster up hope in dark times.
  • Media – Find a song, movie, etc. that symbolizes hope for you. Explore what the lyrics or movie means to you.

Meaning Making

Finding meaning or purpose in one’s suffering is often seen as a useful tool for coping traumatic events. Many people discover their deepest passions, life-giving relationships, or spiritual connection from the most painful and challenging circumstances in their lives. Some individuals find solace in characteristics such as resilience, deeper empathy, and gratitude for life that they gained in spite of their traumatic events.  

  • Rebuild through Action — Many clients have found meaning in traumatic events due to serving others. Some people feel a calling to help people in similar positions that they once found themselves in. Ideas to consider would be mentorship, profession in a field that you are passionate about, advocacy, or volunteering.
  • Imagery of the Shattered Vase – Consider if you were to shatter a vase, would you try to make it exactly the same as before? Would you simply throw it away? Or is it possible to create something new with the brokenness? The goal here is to consider that one can be more strong, unique, and resilient in the aftermath of trauma. Other examples include kintsugi pottery and mosaics.

Gerritsen, R., & Band, G. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in human neuroscience12, 397. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

American Psychological Association. (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology.


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