Fight, Flight, Freeze: My Story of Processing Trauma


As I sat with a client at the local public library, deeply concentrating on what was being said, I felt a hand plant on my shoulder. Without a conscious thought about what was happening, I froze. I could not breathe or move as thoughts of panic flooded my mind. My heart began to beat wildly as I felt the surge of cortisol flood my veins. In my mind I imagine this scene followed by me, the bad-ass super-strong fighter, grabbing the person’s hand, standing up, and flipping them onto their back with a flick of my wrist (as they do in all the amazing Kung Fu movies). Yet, here I am, catatonic. Helpless. Fearful.

8 seconds later (yes, only 8 seconds has gone by, my mind moving faster than the speed of light) I hear a familiar soft voice utter, “Hey Caitlin”. Another client of mine interrupts my irrational reaction, enabling me to break out of this fixed, frightened mindstate. “How are you?” she continues.

With as calm of voice as I am able, and a half cocked smile, I reply, “Oh, hi. You scared me.”

Oh the joys of unprocessed trauma.


This is one of many instances when unprocessed traumatic events momentarily take over my nervous system and cause me to become reactive. My on-going mindfulness practice creates pause in these moments, which allows me to act in socially appropriate manners (i.e. not decking a person in the face at the public library), but it does not address and dissolve the root of the problem. For this reason I sought out help in the form of counseling, coaching, meditation and yoga to process the events which lead to this immediate and unnecessary reaction of flight, fight, freeze.

Below are helpful practices, resources, and information I have found on this journey to process traumatic events and situations. Somewhat clinical and cold upon introduction, the process is rich, insightful, and well worth the 5 minutes of scientific explanation. 


When an event or experience takes place, the brain encodes the information and sends in through the nervous system. The nervous system processes the information and decides if the experience should be disposed of or stored. This occurs several times throughout the day and takes place during differing states: level, equanimous states, meaning they are neither overly pleasant nor unpleasant, or during distress. The latter of the two creates a trauma response. Trauma, which is held in the tissues of the body, is defined as an event or situation which occurs and is not processed normally.

During the trauma response the brain and body are flooded with cortisol, activating  fight, flight, freeze. If this occurs, the events are not processed and recorded as usual, creating gaps in memory. If this happens often the amygdala, a gland regulating chemical distribution in the brain, gets sensitive and reactive to this small signals of danger, fear, or elation, releasing abundant amounts of chemicals when it’s not necessarily needed.  

It should be noted that the amygdala cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional distress and when the amygdala is activated, physical symptoms present themselves. This allows one to conclude that to release this trauma one must process it physically, using the body.

To address both the cognitive and physical aspects of trauma, one might find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy), which supports deactivating the changed thoughts which lead to chemical releases in the brain, along with mindful physical practices, helpful. Mindful physical practices reconnect the present focused mind to the body support the processing of the event. These practices might include yoga, tai chi, qigong, walking, swimming, or any other movement which is done mindfully (meaning paying attention to the movements, on purpose, non-judgmentally and with kindness).

If one is able to watch their thoughts and combat them by coming back to the present moment, checking their truth, rationality, and importance, combined with reconnecting to mind and body, watching the body sensations while processing the trauma, a person can help their mind and body understand it’s not in danger, and therefore can processes the event. Mindfulness practices support this process by means of practicing present minded focus while not in a trauma response, making the present focused awareness more accessible in heightened states. To begin this process, identify the location in the body where the trauma is held, create a visual representation, identify thoughts connected to the sensations, and process with the help of a professional. Below are steps aligned with this process.

Steps to Visualize and Process Trauma

  1. Outline your body using drawing paper, a journal, or large piece of butcher paper.
  2. Get colored pencils, markers, paints, oils, or a No. 2 pencil.
  3. Listen to the the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Body Scan Meditation (optional, but very helpful) https://palousemindfulness.com/meditations/bodyscan.html
  4. Draw what you feel in your body.
  5. Write any thoughts connected to the sensations and their location.
  6. Process with a professional.

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The map outlining trauma held in my body, overlaid with the 7 chakras, represented by the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and yellow.

Remember, the process of identifying and processing trauma in the body is ongoing. Utilizing a professional counselor, mentor, yoga teacher, and/or coach is helpful when moving through this process. After processing a certain trauma, do the activity again to reassess progress, supporting the ongoing nature of healing mind and body.

For questions please feel free to email me personally at Caitlin4Wellnes@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

 

Communication 101: Addressing Charged Issues

A quick google search on the topic will connect you with a long list of strategies on how to work with angry clients, civil rights disputes, workplace disagreements, student problem behavior, and more. What the list doesn’t provide are insightful and useful strategies for identifying and communicating our most intimate and/or valued thoughts, feelings, and emotions with the people closest to us.

What is a charged issue?

charged

We define it as any emotional reaction stemming from communicating needs, wants, desires, or opinions. In essence, it is touching into what we believe and sharing that with others. When we do this we are vulnerable and risk rejection. Being vulnerable goes against our evolutionary instinct. But this instinct also holds us back from communing and creating relationships with others. We must move past this instinct in order to live happy, healthy, rich lives in communion with others.

Situations a charged issue might occur:

  • Asking an employer for a raise, time off, or to change positions.
  • Asking someone on a date.
  • Communicating the feeling of rejection from a friend, partner, or parent.
  • Explaining an important opinion or decision which one perceives as negative to another.

The sensation related to addressing and communicating charged issues:

  • Tightness or tension in the shoulders or hands
  • Clenched jaw
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Sweat
  • Shortness of breath

Ineffective, yet common, strategies for communicating charged and emotional includes:

  • Avoidance or distraction
  • Indirect communication in the form of complaints and/or gossip.
  • Emotional reactions in the form of yelling, shouting
  • Righteousness – “I am right and good” “You are wrong and bad”

Applicable and effective strategies  for communicating charged, emotional issues.

Decoding and understanding problem, face to face explanation concept

  • Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as well as how they influence your actions. Having a contemplative meditation practice, journaling routine or close friend or counselor with whom you discuss and process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions supports the ability to pay attention and respond accordingly and with care.
  • Take a tactical pause. Communicate with the other individual that you need some time to think before responding. Setting this boundary tells the other you are choosing not to react in the moment, but rather you value what they are saying and want to fully process before responding. A 5 minute “break” or walk around the block can be all you need for a smaller decision. Use the 24 – 48 hour rule for bigger, more charged issues.
  • Consciously decide how to respond to a conflict or charged situation. After having recognized your thoughts, feelings, and emotions and how they are influencing your actions and taking a tactical pause, you can consciously decide how best to respond. Keep in mind the impact of what is being communicated by asking yourself the following questions: Is it in your best interest? The other persons? It is coming from a place of fear, anger, regret? A place of love and care for yourself or the other person involved? Simply put: it is going to benefit your own personal growth or that or the other person?
  • After complementing thoughts, feelings, and emotions, taking the tactical pause, and deciding how to respond, remember to use “I” statements during the conversation. Talking from your own individual experience is safe, and makes no assumptions. Experiment with the sentence frame “When ___________ happens, I feel ____________”.

Want to Work on These Skills in More Depth?

JOIN CODY LEE AND CAITLIN HEGWOOD

OCTOBER 4TH, 11TH, 18TH, AND 25TH

5:30-7:00 PM IN KETCHUM

This workshop teaches skills to create healthy relationships in every context of life, whether seeking support and information to develop your relationship with your partner, family members or co-workers. There is something for everyone! We will focus on communication as a foundation for everything, mindful listening/ speaking skills, sexual communication, addressing charged issues, and developing a plan to co-create life.

For more information or questions, email Caitlin at Caitlin4wellness@gmail.com or call her at 208-30-1948. Reach out to Cody by emailing mannavprocess@gmail.com.

Register HERE for the Relationships Workshop

Creating and Sustaining Healthy Relationships Workshop 2018

Register HERE for the Relationships Workshop


September and October Movement and Meditation Updated Schedule

September and October Schedule 2018 (4).jpg

Thank you + Fall Class and Workshop Schedule … Be Well with Me!

Thank you!!

I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who came to the workshop Saturday at Pure Body Bliss is Hailey! It was a truly wonderful morning filled with intention setting, mindfulness tools, yoga, and relaxing the mind and body through meditation.

I also want to thank all of you who were unable to be present in a physical sense but support me (family, friends, the Wood River Valley and beyond) on this path toward conscious living, radical acceptance, and love. I continue to feel amazed by each individual I meet along this path. I learn so much from each one of you! I am forever grateful.


Some Exciting Opportunities Coming Your Way!

September – I am super jazzed to be bringing the Movement and Mindfulness Donation Based Class taught in Hailey Monday nights to Ketchum on Wednesday nights beginning September 5th. The space is located near Lizzy’s Coffee on N. Main St. in Ketchum in Unit 991-13 (more information below).

October – 4 Week Relationship Workshop October 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th from 5:30-7:00 PM. with Cody Lee and Me! Cody Lee is the co-creator of ManQuest and founder of the ManNav process Helping Men Create A Life Worth Living (TEDX Talk below). Together we will discuss communication, provide tools and skills for developing and maintaining healthy relationships, and a process on how to co-create life. This workshop is geared toward supporting you in every relationship; intimate relationships, family, co-workers, and friends. Find out more by scrolling down or clicking here.

YOGA AND MINDFULNESS SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER

September and October Schedule 2018


CREATING AND SUSTAINING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS WORKSHOP

JOIN CODY LEE AND CAITLIN HEGWOOD

OCTOBER 4TH, 11TH, 18TH, AND 25TH

5:30-7:00 PM IN KETCHUM

This workshop teaches skills to create healthy relationships in every context of life, whether seeking support and information to develop your relationship with your partner, family members or co-workers. There is something for everyone! We will focus on communication as a foundation for everything, mindful listening/ speaking skills, sexual communication, addressing charged issues, and developing a plan to co-create life.

For more information or questions, email Caitlin at Caitlin4wellness@gmail.com or call her at 208-30-1948. Reach out to Cody by emailing mannavprocess@gmail.com.

Creating and Sustaining Healthy Relationships Workshop 2018

TO SIGN UP FILL OUT THE REGISTRATION FORM BELOW!


The beautiful photo of the Boulder Mountains belongs to Mr. Steve Dondero.

Ground, Align, Breath: A Yoga Sequence

Ground, Align, Breath

These three words are not only meant to center one in their yoga practice, but in life. With each decision, conversation, career change, financial choice and interpersonal interaction one might ask themselves the following question and acting accordingly.

Ground yourself by asking, What are my values?

Align and Act from those values in your thoughts, actions, and words.

Breath with what happens next.

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If you’ve asked yourself these questions, your actions will match your values, which will in turn create a life authentically in line with your values. We also do this in each posture throughout our yoga practice. Utilize these principles as you move through the following sequence.


Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Training Begins in Hailey April 23rd!April 18 MBSR Poster (2)

Register now at www.CaitlinRenz.com/mbsr


Begin seated in a dignified posture, focusing on breath and body sensations, 3-5 minutes.

Move through cat/cow focusing on opening the front and back body, shoulders, hips, spine, and chest.

Tuck the toes and move into Downward Facing Dog. Press into the hands firmly, pull the triceps together energetically, and lift up and out of the shoulders, opening the chest and creating space in the spine. Allow the breath to be deep and smooth. Read More

Mindfulness Training in Hailey beginning April 23rd

I am excited to be teaching another Mindfulness Training for Stress Reduction at the Flourish Foundation beginning Monday April 23rd – June 11th from 6:00-7:15 pm. This is an 8 week program that teaches mindfulness as a means of learning greater balance and effective strategies for an improved sense of wellness in one’s own life. Rates are based on a sliding scale and there are MBSR graduate rates as well for those of you that have already done the training with me!

Sept 2017 MBSR Poster (1)


 Register Here!