Posts

Some people seem to have it all together. They breeze through life with little stress and few problems. But for others, even everyday tasks can be a challenge and overwhelming. Life may feel like a never-ending balancing act for people with high functioning anxiety.

High functioning anxiety is a term used to describe people who experience many symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) but can continue functioning in their daily lives. People with high functioning anxiety may feel anxious all the time, worry about things that may not seem important to other people, or have trouble focusing on anything else other than their worries.

Even though they may impress others with their poise, self-confidence, and ability to handle stressful situations, high-functioning anxiety sufferers often struggle with the same issues that people with GAD experience. Many people with high functioning anxiety are successful in work or school, but most often, they live in fear of doing something wrong or being evaluated negatively by others.

The good news is that individuals with high functioning anxiety can learn to manage their symptoms of anxiety and live with reasonable levels of anxiety. The bad news is they are often unaware of how debilitating their anxiety is and feel stuck. There are many reasons why people with high functioning anxiety often aren’t aware of their mental health condition.

What are the symptoms of high functioning anxiety?

For many, the term “anxiety” is interchangeable with the term “stress.” And while stress is a common experience for most, it can be debilitating for those who suffer from high functioning anxiety. Individuals with high functioning anxiety may appear to have it all together. They’re often seen as high-achieving people who are always organized, efficient, and driven. But looks can be deceiving.

Beneath the surface, these individuals are struggling with a constant sense of worry and fear. They have an intense desire to control their excessive anxiety but find it difficult and overwhelming to do. They’re often plagued by a feeling of impending doom. They live in constant fear that something terrible will happen and that they’ll be unable to cope with the crisis.

women with anxiety

High-functioning anxiety often takes the shape of one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling constantly anxious or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Racing thoughts or mind going blank
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty falling asleep or poor sleep
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Headaches, stomach upset, rapid heart rate, or heart palpitations

What’s the difference between anxiety and high functioning anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting 40 million American adults in the US each year. There are different types of anxiety disorders, but the most common are generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Many people don’t know the difference between anxiety and high functioning anxiety. Anxiety is what most people experience when they have to give a presentation or speak in public. It’s that feeling of butterflies in your stomach or racing thoughts you get before stressful life events. High functioning anxiety is a more severe form of anxiety that can make it difficult for people to function in their day-to-day lives.

People with high functioning anxiety often have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and making decisions. They may also experience intense feelings and often worry about things that some people would not worry about.

Normal anxiety is usually a healthy response to being anxious. It keeps you on your toes and gives you an extra energy boost when needed. However, if your anxious feelings are so severe that they affect your ability to get your daily tasks done at work or at home, it may be important to work with a therapist to process your feelings and find the best treatment for anxiety.

woman with anxiety

What causes high functioning anxiety?

High functioning anxiety is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle. While scientists are still learning about the specific causes of high functioning anxiety, they believe it may be related to a malfunctioning in the portion of the brain that regulates fear and stress. Thus, high functioning anxiety may be caused by a specific genetic mutation or a combination of factors that trigger the brain to over-respond to stress and fear.

There are many different causes of high functioning anxiety, but some of the most common include:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Brain chemistry
  • Learned behavior
  • Coping mechanisms
  • Medication

One theory suggests that people with high-functioning anxiety are perfectionists who strive for excellence in everything they do. This constant pressure to be perfect can lead to a high stress level. Another theory suggests that people with high-functioning anxiety are hypersensitive and constantly scan their environment for potential threats. This constant vigilance can also lead to bad stress and severe anxiety.

What are the treatments for high functioning anxiety?

Although high functioning anxiety can be frustrating and debilitating, various treatments available can help lessen symptoms and improve quality of life. Behavioral treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation strategies.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal is to teach patients how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can affect their anxiety symptoms. CBT is often used to help patients overcome fears, such as fear of failure or rejection.

To reduce the fear, the patient works on identifying the triggers for these feelings and learning more effective coping skills. CBT can be used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, high functioning anxiety, social phobia, and panic disorder. Relaxation strategies help patients learn to relax and cope with stress. Relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, and meditation.

People with high functioning anxiety benefit greatly from a self-care plan. One of the most common self-management activities is social support. Social support can include family and friends, as well as professionals. These people can provide the support and encouragement a person needs to get through the challenges of high functioning anxiety.

family support

Your self-care plan should also include eating well, exercising, and taking breaks to relieve stress. These strategies can be as simple as working through a difficult situation by telling a friend or family member about it. It is also important to make time for hobbies and friends to distract the mind from negative thoughts and feelings.

A mental health professional can suggest self-care strategies and teach you how to manage stress and difficult situations. There is no one “cure” for anxiety disorders, but with the right help and treatment, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and find strategies for high-functioning anxiety. It’s important to seek professional help to have a therapist in your corner while working through this.

Prefer to watch? Below is the full interview with special guest Caitlin Harrison that served as the original inspiration for this article.

Religion has always played an important role in many communities. Some people find comfort and peace in religion, while others cling to the hope it provides when tragedy occurs. Religion was meant to bring people together, provide a safe space for like-minded individuals that have a shared belief system, and create rituals to encourage togetherness, the feeling of belonging, and unity.

However, things take a turn for the worse when religion becomes indoctrination. This is when religion forgoes its original purpose of providing love and hope and becomes a reason for psychological and physical abuse. When members of a congregation experience a loss of sense of autonomy, shame associated with their emotions, and a constant fear of punishment from a religious leader, parent, guardian, or even the divine itself, religion turns into a source of trauma and mental disorders.

sad guy

What are the causes of religious trauma?

Religious trauma is the result of different experiences that occur in a religious community, within a church, or spiritual community that exposes the members to indoctrination messages, coercion, humiliation, embarrassment, and abuse. Here are some of the instances that may lead to religious trauma:

  • Exposure to religious leaders who insist on being the only source of authority in the life of congregants and base their preaching on cultivating fear and shame
  • A religious institution that requires financial participation or sacrifice for members to access blessings or eternal life from a god or deity
  • Individuals in positions of power who force members to participate in religious ceremonies or use fear of hell or punishment to earn their abnegation
  • Suppression of normal child development through limited access to information and the teaching of dysfunctional beliefs
  • Stifling independent thinking and creating self-doubt, to diminish the agency of members
  • Victimization through physical and/or sexual abuse, as well as constant exposure to unhealthy sexual views and applying punishment to achieve discipline, obedience, and purity of soul

sad

What are the symptoms of religious trauma?

Religious trauma manifests in different forms, and just like with any other type of trauma, it needs to be acknowledged before it can be treated. The support of therapists with knowledge in the field of trauma-informed care is essential for the well-being and health of religious trauma survivors who often find themselves experiencing symptoms like:

Cognitive deficiencies – confusion, perfectionism, lack of self-confidence and self-respect, and difficulty with decision-making skills.

Emotional challenges – anger, difficulty with pleasure, overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, lethargy, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Social obstacles – difficulty forming healthy relationships, sexual difficulty, loss of social network, sense of isolation, and impeded social development.

PTSD symptoms – nightmares, panic attacks, fear, flashbacks, dissociation, etc.

depression

What is religious trauma syndrome?

Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a consequence of religious trauma. While it is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it’s a term that has been gaining traction. RTS manifests in most people who have suffered religious abuse or have been exposed to dysfunctional beliefs due to their religious affiliation.

People struggling with RTS are usually individuals who have left a dogmatic religion or have abandoned a belief system that led to their indoctrination. This major step marks the beginning of their new life outside a controlling environment or religious figure and opens the door to freedom, but also to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finding themselves in a world without an “official” leader and guidance, where they need to rely on their own independent thinking, people with RTS are often exposed to a roller-coaster of emotions where the beatitude and excitement of being free alternate with an overwhelming state of fear, grief, rage, panic attacks, and depression.

trauma syndrome

The effects of religious trauma

Religious trauma can emotionally paralyze an individual and significantly impact their mental health. Authoritarian religions equip individuals with a set of negative beliefs that have no practical use in the real world. Furthermore, religious beliefs founded on emotional and physical abuse may continue to impact lives for a long time after the individuals have found the strength to release themselves from the yoke of damaging spiritual beliefs and traumatic religious experiences.

The effects of religious trauma may make their presence felt in different aspects of life. From the feeling that they don’t belong in the real world and the belief they are detached from everything that happens culturally around them to the constant guilt, shame, and fear that rule supreme. People who have experienced religious trauma may face an avalanche of emotions.

While people suffering from RTS may feel relieved and hopeful to be free of the religious dogma, they may continue to feel ostracized by the community they left behind and experience a constant fear of being punished by the superior being they used to worship.

The impact of religious trauma on LGBTQ individuals

The contradictory emotions brought on by religious trauma are often experienced by members of the LGBTQ community. The members of this community who have been raised or exposed to toxic religious beliefs may find themselves stuck in shame, rejection, and fear of divine damnation. Some folks may even be forced into conversion therapy which can cause long damaging effects. It has been proven that this unethical treatment is ineffective and harmful. Toxic indoctrination can be overcome with the help of mental health professionals, but it requires work and the belief that while the road ahead is long, you have the tools you need to conquer all obstacles.

LGBTQ

Some LGTBQ people find a way to overcome fear and shame by rejecting organized religion and learning to accept and love themselves exactly as they are. Others find different faith communities that cherish their individuality and refrain from judging or using fear and shame as weapons. Whether they choose to lose their faith or embrace healthy spiritual beliefs, the damage of religious trauma will continue to linger if they do not take the time to process it accordingly.

If you need help processing the nightmares, fear, and guilt associated with the negative conditioning left behind from religious trauma, working together with your therapist can be immensely helpful. It will give you access to the necessary tools to learn to internalize love, detach yourself from dogma, overcome mental illness, and find a new path towards emotional, mental, and spiritual balance.

Resources for Folx Wanting Support and Community

Books on Religious Trauma written by White authors:

Books on Religious Trauma written by BIPOC authors:

Books on Religious Trauma written by Queer authors:

Books on Religious Trauma outside of Christianity:

Books on Religious Trauma and Sexual Healing:

Books on Religious Trauma and pursuing non-religion afterwards:

Podcasts:

  • Latter-Day Lesbian: an ex-Mormon gay woman who tackles religious trauma and later-in-life LGBTQ issues with her friend.
  • This Little Light of Mine is an LGBTQ+ tale of terror (growing up as a closeted Gay Christian in the Evangelical church) that led to trauma (cPTSD, religious trauma, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, addiction) to what I intend to become triumph.
  • Marie, Myself, & I: Marie LePage D’Elephant talks about neurodivergence, ethical non-monogamy, sexuality, religious trauma, secular spirituality, and all things deconstructive.
  • Heal Religious Trauma: Religious Trauma Syndrome is real! And with it comes symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD, ranging anywhere from mild to severe. Join Advanced Life Coach, NLP Practitioner and Hypnotherapist Stevie Noah (a religious trauma survivor) as she navigates the challenges and helps other survivors heal and reinvent their lives!
  • Queer After Religion: The QAR Podcast seeks to celebrate the incredible stories of queer people who have left authoritarian religion and are finding a new way. Ex-religious and former fundamentalist host, Derek Matthew Miller, offers up intimate questions and topics for his guests as they discuss the intersection of religion and queerness, life lessons, and how to find peace, love, and progress through it all.
  • Dirty Rotten Church Kids: Millennial dads figuring out life, art and culture on the other side of the evangelical bubble

Anxiety per se is not a mental health issue. It is a human feature that has helped humanity survive and evolve as a species. Anxiety has often proven to be a useful emotion that helped us be cautious, identify potential threats, and avoid being deceived. It is important to remember that anxiety, as a primary emotion, is not a bad thing or a fault. Society is actually benefiting from wary people who think about what could go wrong and come up with adequate measures to prevent potential tragic situations. However, things change when we are talking about anxiety disorder. Anxiety left unchecked can easily take over our lives and snowball into a profound mental health issue.

How do people with anxiety feel?

Anxiety disorder is a mental health issue that can consume the individual. People with anxiety disorders may feel irrational fears and anxious thoughts that can transform into obsessions. Furthermore, they can often experience panic attacks that can eventually prevent them from living normal lives.

Whether we are talking about, social anxiety – when the person has an overwhelming fear of embarrassing themselves in social situations, or health anxiety – when the person is obsessed with the idea they may develop health problems, a person with anxiety finds it very difficult to take control of their emotion and rationalize their thoughts and fears.

anxiety feel

The most common forms of anxiety include:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – constant worry, fears, and emotions related to everyday activities; it lasts for at least six months.
  • panic disorder – recurrent unexpected panic attacks that manifest as intense fear or discomfort and last for a few minutes.
  • social anxiety disorder – the intense fear of being judged or rejected in a social situation.

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

Many people fail to notice if their friend or loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder because the anxiety symptoms may be misinterpreted. However, upon a closer look, you will be able to notice clear signs when anxiety is a constant presence in someone’s life.

Physical symptoms include sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a persistent feeling of restlessness. When talking with anxious people, you’ll often notice they are overwhelmed by excessive worry and always believe the worst will happen. Individuals with anxiety have often an all-or-nothing approach to everything and tend to overgeneralize.

Moreover, their worries and fears contribute to an anxious behavior that leads to the avoidance of the situations they fear the most, as well as increased frustration and irritability. People with anxiety tend to be consumed with indecisiveness and may fall into the trap of compulsive or obsessive behavior or phobic behavior.

What to do if you want to help people suffering from anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States which means chances are you already know someone struggling with its effects. While it may not seem as dangerous as depression or other mental health conditions, anxiety can significantly impact someone’s life and can open the door to more serious mental health issues.

suffering

Learn about anxiety

First and foremost, it is important to educate ourselves regarding anxiety disorders and the toll they may take on our loved ones. Take the time to learn about the different forms of anxiety and try to identify the type of anxiety your friend or family member is trying to overcome. Familiarize yourself with the signs of anxiety and start recognizing them to better understand what triggers the fears and when it is the right time to intervene.

Be there for them

Telling someone you have noticed their struggle and want to be there for them may make a world of difference to them. People with anxiety often welcome help because this means they are not alone in their battle with their fears. The burden they have been carried up until that point suddenly feels lighter. Talk to them and express your concern and availability to listen.

Provide the support they prefer

Talk to the person who needs your help and see what type of support they prefer. For example, anxious people who struggle with an avoidant attachment style respond better to strong displays of practical support, while those who battle the fear of being abandoned may need emotional support. Understand their needs and patiently respond to them.

Encourage self-help and/or professional help

Calmly discuss the appropriate help they think they need. If the person wants to try and overcome their anxiety on their own, you can suggest meditation, self-help books, exercise, or relaxation training while encouraging them to always ask for help when they feel overwhelmed. Whether they ask for help from their loved ones or a professional, they need to feel validation and find that their feelings are acknowledged and treated with sensitivity.

What not to do if you want to help people suffering from anxiety?

Learning what is not helpful when you try to be there for anxious people is just as important as the things you do to help them heal.

Don’t encourage their anxious behavior

While helping people with anxiety plays an important part in the healing process, taking over for them and allowing them to rely on their avoidance behavior can do more harm than good. Stop doing things that may enable their anxiety and avoid providing constant reassurance. This will only make their anxiety worse and encourage them to remain stuck in their anxious pattern.

Don’t force them to face their fears

While anxious people need to face their fears and break the avoidance pattern, this needs to be done on their own terms or with the help of a psychologist or therapist. A person with anxiety will not react positively when forced to deal with a difficult situation if they haven’t taken the time and necessary steps to properly prepare mentally and emotionally.

Don’t judge or stigmatize them

One of the most frequent reactions anxious people get from their friends and family is the trivialization of their fears and worries. Even if you feel like their fear is not a big deal, avoid telling them that. This will only belittle their emotions, affect their self-respect, and will amount to nothing constructive. Also, avoid defining them only through their anxiety and reassure them that your opinion about them hasn’t changed even if they are now struggling with a mental health issue. Remind them about the positive aspects of their identity and spend time with them doing what they like and helps them feel better about themselves.

support

Do not let their anxiety take over your life

Helping someone with anxiety may have an impact on your mental health too. You may from time to time feel frustrated, tired, or even scared, and these emotions may affect your well-being. Set clear boundaries and try to deal with all these emotions rationally, so you can avoid turning them into your own anxiety. You are there to help them, but the healing process needs to be supervised by a health professional who can prescribe appropriate treatments for anxiety.

Often the holiday season is seen as a wonderful time of the year, however that doesn’t have the same joyous impact on everyone. People struggling with mental health issues and unaccepting families may find the holiday season quite difficult to manage and at times, triggering. The media portrays the holidays as a magical season where families get together around the tree, sing carols, and share laughter. The pressure to rise to the expectations of the season combined with the stress of family gatherings may bring mental health struggles to the surface.

Additionally, people who spend the holidays alone may experience increased feelings of loneliness and sadness when faced with society’s “demand” to have a joyous time. While many enjoy making holiday plans, 64% of people living with mental health conditions report that the holiday season makes their mental conditions worse.

Spending time with family can turn into a very stressful time and become a source of anxiety, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. Many LGTBQ and non-binary individuals are exposed to homophobic and transphobic sentiments and rejection by family members throughout the year and may be exacerbated during family reunions. Family time may become a reminder of feeling “othered” by your family. Feeling “othered” by family can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. And even if members of the LGBTQ community choose not to return home for the holidays, the expectation of spending the holidays with family in a cheerful setting may loom over them which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

loneliness

Even people who have no history of mental health challenges may at times experience anxiety, frustration, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness around holiday time, particularly when associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you are living with a mental health challenge or not, the holiday season can bring an immense amount of stress. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage through the holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings

Every holiday season has a different emotional charge. Take a step back and analyze your emotions. Listen to your mind and soul and see what they need to feel better. Is the holiday spirit reservoir empty? That is fine. Accept that this year you lack the enthusiasm and capacity to get all caught up in the traditional cheeriness. Happiness can’t be forced! Embrace your emotions and remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Bring a Reminder with you

If you are at a family event that may bring added stress, bring something with you. This could be a picture of a loved one, an essential oil to ground you when overwhelmed, a piece of paper with a mantra on it, a funny animal video online, etc. Step away at times and look at these reminders.

woman in therapy

Communicate with your partner ahead of time

If you are bringing someone with you to a holiday event create a plan ahead of time regarding the type of support you may need. It’s important to strategize in order for you to feel support, connection, and security. Remember that you are on the same team as your significant other. If you feel you need to leave an event early or buy one less gift it’s important for your partner to be supportive and attuned to your needs.

Be realistic about shopping and hosting

Ask others to help with the burdens of holiday shopping, decorating the house, and cooking meals. Spend only the money you can afford to avoid the stress of having to think about ways to save money next year to cover the debt. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of appearances. Admit if you can’t afford to buy presents this year. No one will judge you. And even if they would, your mental health is more important than anyone’s opinion.

woman sitting drinking coffee

Be honest with yourself and connect with a safe community

If possible, try to avoid forced celebrations that you do not feel comfortable attending. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and don’t force unrealistic expectations. Connect with your loved ones, your support group, a therapist, or simply start a conversation with some of your friends. A simple walk with a friend can plant the seed of hope and joy you can experience in the years to come.

Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment, but it is known to be a depressant. Try to not rely on alcohol or drugs to make it through.. Both may only make your mental health condition worse. Numbing your feelings is not the only way to work through the holiday blues and manage your mental health needs. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and depression.

Yoga

Prioritize self-care

Include healthy habits in your schedule, and do not sacrifice them to make time for others. Your physical health is very important. Exercise, eat healthy meals, and try to relax as much as possible. If you need a break from all the merriness, take a break. Set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. You can go out for a walk, watch a movie, practice deep breathing, or meditate. Whatever takes you back to yourself and helps you soothe your feelings of anxiety or stress! Remember that winter also comes with less sunlight and this may have an impact on your mood. Try to include outdoor exercise in your routine to get your share of natural light.

Be assertive (if safe to do so)

No one feels comfortable during tension created by conflicts and sometimes we avoid confrontations but sometimes, especially for LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, assertiveness may be necessary. CAUTION- assertiveness is only healthy to utilize if there are no safety concerns, please assess for any safety concerns first. If there are no safety concerns, here some helpful ways to be assertive. Speak up for yourself if you feel hurt by certain comments or you believe to be the victim of microaggressions, such as snubs or insults, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional. You do not need to change for anyone, and this should be your mantra. Set gentle yet firm boundaries to stop any potential toxicity. Repeat to yourself whenever necessary that you have the right to be who you are and you deserve everyone’s respect.

 

As current generations open the dialogue about mental health issues, the word trauma keeps popping up in conversations. We keep hearing it so often that, I’m concerned at some point, most people will get used to it and trivialize it. We should never be dismissive of trauma. Unfortunately, 70 percent of U.S. adults have experienced trauma, of which, 20 percent developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With this prevalence of trauma, it has become for many, an unseen life companion casting a shadow over their wellbeing.

Undiagnosed and untreated trauma ravages people’s mental health despite an appearance of high functionality and an “everything is fine” facade. They may be a seemingly innocuous occurrence away from having all the emotions associated with past traumatic experiences resurface. Without any warning and usually without explanations.

What is trauma and how do you identify it?

Psychological trauma is an emotional response to a stressful event or events that interfere with one’s sense of security and safety. Trauma is the consequence of terrible events like sexual assault and other forms of abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or wars. It can cause a variety of emotional symptoms like:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of trust
  • Inability to focus

But it can also trigger physical symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Body aches
  • Nausea

Woman crying

It is important to remember that not everyone who experiences traumatic events develops trauma. Nevertheless, different types of trauma can manifest in a variety of ways:

Acute trauma – the result of a single distressing or potentially harmful event that creates a long-term impression and manifests itself through one or several trauma-specific symptoms.

Chronic trauma – the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to toxic stress and highly stressful events, such as bullying, domestic violence, and childhood abuse. Untreated acute trauma may develop into chronic trauma.

Complex trauma – the result of constant exposure to multiple traumatic events, usually negative experiences within interpersonal relationships, such as neglect, domestic violence, childhood abuse.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will experience rape at some point in their lives, and 12% of these women and 30% of these men were younger than ten years old when the aggression happened. The impact of trauma in children can last for a lifetime. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and addictions, and it can prevent people from accessing proper healthcare services. That is why the need for trauma-informed care is imperative and essential for patient wellbeing.

What is a trauma-informed care approach?

Trauma-informed care acknowledges that the patient may have suffered trauma in the past and creates a safe environment when providing the necessary healthcare services. Healthcare providers need to build trauma awareness and create a deep understanding of trauma at each organizational level, including employees that don’t have a medical role but still interact with patients. The goal of trauma-informed care is to allow the medical establishment to provide optimal treatment strategies while preventing any possible re-traumatization that may stop patients from seeking care in the future.

When treating a client in a trauma-informed environment, healthcare professionals focus on understanding what happened to the patient instead of what is wrong with them. The therapist, nurse, or doctor doesn’t necessarily ask the patient to talk about the traumatic events they have experienced or adverse childhood experiences, but when in the presence of symptoms of trauma, they should assume the patient may have a history of trauma and act accordingly. Healthcare professionals need to create an environment that exudes emotional safety and inspires trust.

sad face

Trauma-informed systems may improve patient engagement and treatment adherence to encourage better health outcomes. When treating patients in trauma-informed organizations, the medical care team considers the complete picture of a patient’s life and provides a treatment process that centers around comprehensive healing.

What are the principles of trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care demands broad organizational culture change. It needs to be adopted at clinical and organizational levels and offer staff access to knowledge about trauma and the effects of trauma. Everyone from the front desk workers to the medical staff should familiarize themselves with the principles of trauma and work together to provide a safe environment for patients. The foundation of trauma-informed care has six principles:

Safety

Patients should feel physical, emotional, and psychological safety when they are in the care of medical professionals. Both the interior and exterior of the medical organizations should inspire safety (e.g., enough space for patients to avoid sitting too close to strangers, well-lit parking lot, security guards close by to offer protection, nurses open to interact and address concerns).

Trustworthiness and transparency

Nurses should create a transparent environment and build a relationship based on trust. Decisions and the reasons behind them should be discussed and made openly and the care process should be explained in detail to patients.

Peer support

The medical staff must learn and understand various traumatic conditions and the effects of trauma. They need to acknowledge that their patients may have suffered exposure to trauma that prevents them from being open about their health issues and understand their needs. Medical professionals who have experience with certain types of trauma may be able to establish a connection with patients with similar trauma and approach the patient as a “peer”.

Collaboration

Patients should be a part of the conversation when it comes to their healthcare. Therapists, nurses, doctors, and medical organizations should work together with the patients to deliver the best treatment plans. In an environment of trauma-informed care based on mutuality, patients get to participate in healthcare decisions and feel a sense of security that enables them to trust the treatment and follow it through in their daily life.

Empowerment

An organization that delivers healthcare services based on trauma-informed principles gives patients a voice – a voice to tell their stories and have a say in healthcare decisions that concern them.

Cultural Issues

For trauma-informed care to be efficient, the medical professionals and staff members need to identify and eliminate any potential cultural, racial, or gender issues. Biases and stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. should be recognized and addressed to create a more comfortable environment for patients who have had traumatic experiences. The patient’s cultural needs should be accommodated so that they feel seen, heard, and understood.

therapy-session

Trauma-informed care encourages getting proper healthcare and achieving healing through compassion and open-mindedness. Trauma-informed organizations treat all patients as individuals with a past and present and personalize their care approach to echo their unique needs encouraging them to return to benefit from proper healthcare.

“Take a deep breath!” How many times have you heard this whenever you were feeling anxious, stressed, worried, or even annoyed. So many people around us encourage us to take deep breaths, but why? Why is deep breathing important for our emotional health? How does deep breathing help us calm down and regain control over our minds? Can deep breathing really help us with our emotions?

We breathe in and breathe out all day, every day. We’re not thinking about it and we surely don’t see breathing as a self-care activity. It comes naturally because it is our source of life. But how many times do we stop to take deep breaths? Deep breaths have the power to help us through the claws of tension, stress, and anxiety.

Why is deep breathing important?

Deep breathing practice is one of the tools humans have to improve their mental and physical health. Deep breathing techniques can help us reduce our stress levels, combat anxiety, lower our blood pressure, and even improve our posture. No drugs, no expensive aids involved or required. Just deep breaths!

breathing practice

 

Also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing is often connected to meditation and relaxation techniques. Even though it is one of the ways to work on various mental health conditions and a powerful tool against stress, deep breathing is rarely used to its full potential.

When you take a deep breath, you breathe in air through your nose, fill your lungs, and your lower belly rises. Not many people enjoy the feeling of having a belly full of air. However, chest breathing to maintain a flat stomach limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. This deprives the lower part of the lungs of oxygen and can lead to shortness of breath and higher levels of tension and anxiety.

When we take deep breaths, we increase the amount of oxygen we take in and the amount of carbon dioxide we let out. And this has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health.

man taking deep breaths

How can deep breathing help your mental health?

The main benefit of deep breathing is the impact it has on our stress level responsible for so many of our health problems. Harvard Health explains that stressful thoughts are usually associated with the “fight or flight” response when faced with what our brain interprets as danger. The stress response results in an adrenaline burst that creates increased blood pressure and heart rate. This may often result in shortness of breath and shallow breathing.

While the stress response has its purpose in times of real danger, when it appears often as a result of generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, it can cause harm to your body. That’s because your body doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats, and it always reacts as if it were in real danger. This leads to daily adrenaline bursts and an increased level of stress.

Deep breathing techniques can help you reverse the stress response by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Moreover, it calms your mind and induces a relaxation state.

couple doing breath exercises

How can deep breathing improve your physical health?

People who master the art of deep breathing enjoy a series of physical health benefits. Deep breathing helps improve core muscle stability and allows the body to better tolerate intense exercise. It’s an important tool for athletes who learn various deep breathing techniques to improve their stamina and increase energy levels.

Deep breathing can also lower the chances of your muscles wearing out. Breathing exercises help with the release of the air buildup in your lungs and allow for more oxygen to get to your blood. Moreover, studies show that deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins that help alleviate pain and, according to Smithsonian Magazine, can even improve immunity and digestion due to healthier blood flow.

Deep breathing is often recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease decreases the diaphragm’s efficiency and affects oxygen intake. With the right breathing exercises, people suffering from COPD can strengthen their diaphragm’s muscle and help the lungs regain their elasticity. More elastic lungs facilitate diaphragmatic breathing and combat the tendency to stick to shallow breathing.

What are the most popular deep breathing techniques?

Deep breathing may feel unnatural at first. We are used to shallow breathing, and we’ll need to practice to learn how to allow the air to fill our lungs and belly. The most popular type of deep breathing requires you to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

Sit in a comfortable position. Put a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in calmly, through your nose, for about five seconds. Feel the air traveling through your nostrils to the abdomen. Allow for your stomach to expand outward while trying to keep your chest still. Hold this breath in for three seconds and then slowly release the air through your mouth for five seconds or more if that feels comfortable. Follow this breathing pattern five times or more.

 

Woman doing yoga

 

The 4-7-8 breathing technique adds counting to the steps mentioned above allowing you to gain more control of your breathing. Inhale while counting to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale while counting to eight. Use your hand to push the air out of your stomach. Repeat the pattern for as long as you consider it to be necessary to achieve a calm state of mind.

You can also try rib-stretch breathing. For this exercise, you need to stand up straight with your back arched. Breathe out until you get tired, and then inhale the air slowly and gradually. Breathe in as much air as you can. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Release the air slowly through your mouth.

Deep breathing should always be slow and gentle. Don’t be afraid to fill your abdomen with air. Keep your hands on your stomach and chest. Make sure your stomach is rising, and pay attention to your breath and heartbeat. Be aware of everything that happens in your body.

Remember though that sometimes deep breathing may not be enough for your mental health in order to feel better. Sometimes they need guidance from professionals who can help them externalize their most intimate fears and manage their emotions. This is when deep breathing techniques should be associated with therapy and counseling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You are not alone!

We were taught to be kind to others, turn the other cheek, and work hard. Helping others has always been seen as a noble and praiseworthy thing to do. The thought of putting oneself first was unbearable for many and an act of selfishness for others. We had chores to do, families to care for, and bills to pay. There was no room for silly things like mindfulness and self-compassion!

Fortunately, times are changing and, with them, the idea that we deserve less attention and care than the people we care for and love. Millennials have found the courage to talk about the power of self-care and there is no going back. We know the truth now! We know that self-love is the shortest path to follow if we want to live happy lives. We know that self-care is not selfishness, indulgence, or a trend. Self-care is a necessity!

As a matter of fact, studies have shown that self-care practices have a major impact on the successful management of diseases like diabetes mellitus. Patients with diabetes manage to have better glycemic control when they include self-care activities in their daily routine. From healthy eating and exercising to monitoring their blood sugar levels, everything contributes to the reduction of complications and a better life for patients with type 2 diabetes. However, you don’t have to be diagnosed with something to start exercising self-care.

If before the COVID-19 pandemic, we associated self-care with yoga classes, gym sessions, going out with friends, and spa treatments, given our current situation, we should think about self-care at a smaller scale but not lose sight of the big picture. There are plenty of self-care activities we can do in the comfort of our home that will invite self-love, peace of mind, relaxation, and motivation in our hearts and minds. We just need to make self-care a priority and treat every day as a mental health day!

 

lady exercising

Exercise daily

You can exercise as much or as little as you want and can, but do it regularly. Whether you take a short walk around the block, do yoga in the courtyard with your dog, or jog for 15 minutes, you will feel the difference. Any exercise is better than no exercise at all. There’s no need for me to tell you about the importance of staying active. It’s common knowledge. However, I will remind you that exercise has the power to improve your mood, well-being, and mental health. It boosts your energy levels and invites positivity into your life. Moreover, exercise helps you achieve better sleep. In other words, exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have against anxiety, depression, or simply a bad day. And of course, it helps you maintain a healthy weight and improve your body image, both important aspects for a healthy relationship with yourself.

 

woman taking a bath

Take a long and mindful bath

Forget about showers on the run once in a while. We know, the world needs you but it will not crumble if you decide to immerse yourself in a world of fragrances and calming music. Your bath can easily become an aromatherapy session if you add jasmine, lavender, or ylang-ylang to your bathing ritual. A 2009-study discovered that fragrances can affect our mood, physiology, and behavior, so include essential oils in your life for indulgent self-care experiences. Try to relax during your bath and focus on the present. Mindfulness is about focusing on the moment and experiencing everything it has to give. Keep any worry away from your bathtub. Focus your attention on yourself and all the positive feelings you exude on your self-care journey.

 

chamomille tea

Make time for tea

Tea time is not reserved only for royalty. It can be the best excuse to take some time off from your daily duties and enjoy a few moments spent all by yourself. Tea time is not necessarily about drinking your tea, although it has been proven that green tea may lower your LDL levels and black tea can lower the risk of heart disease. Tea time is about the ritual of mental self-care. You can savor your tea near a window or in the courtyard while reading a book or eating a piece of cake. The idea is to create a corner of serenity and inner peace. Silence the outside world and think about yourself for a moment or two while spending time away from your phone, to-do list, and everyday life.

 

friends talking

Talk to your friends

Humans are and always will be social animals. We need to interact with each other to protect our mental health. Whether we do it for support or simply to say hi, it’s important to make time for friends. We don’t necessarily need to meet face to face for our interaction to have a positive impact on our mood and state of mind. Hearing the voice of someone we care for floods our body with positivity and oxytocin, a chemical in your brain that boosts the feel-good sensation. Some time alone is a great way to reconnect with yourself but so are conversations with good friends. We often listen to ourselves better when voicing out our thoughts, hopes, and worries. Healthy and smart conversations may reward you with a clearer picture of your life.

Studies show that about 60% of the US population has reported experiencing at least one trauma symptom in their lifetime. The good news is that this is not a permanent condition, there are effective treatments! Read on to learn more.

What is Emotional and Psychological Trauma?

Emotional and psychological trauma occurs when a person is exposed to very distressing circumstances that leave them struggling to function normally afterward. The emotional response can range from extremely upsetting emotions and anxiety to feeling completely numb and disconnected.

Typically, when most people think of emotional trauma, they associate it with life-threatening events such as military combat, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. However, there is a very broad range of situations that can yield traumatic experiences.

What is a Traumatic Event?

A few elements that are commonly present in traumatic events are:

  • The person was not prepared for the situation or it was completely unexpected
  • The individual felt incapable or powerless in preventing the event
  • The stressful occurrence happened during childhood
  • What transpired was associated with extreme cruelty

Even though we typically associate trauma with a single event, it’s not always necessarily the case. Though people can certainly experience trauma from a single occurrence, it can also be the result of continual exposure to unrelenting stress. It may be the cumulative toll of living in a dangerous neighborhood, daily bullying, years of domestic violence, etc.

Whatever the source, its magnitude or perceived severity is less important than the effects on the individual. There is no shame in experiencing trauma from stressful events that others may not perceive as severe. Every person is different and their causes for, and reactions to trauma are also different.

 

girl experiencing emotional trauma

Symptoms of Emotional Trauma

Emotional reactions to trauma vary from person to person. Though there are many common reactions, each person may exhibit their own subset of symptoms of trauma. They encompass a wide array of emotional and physiological responses. We won’t cover all of them here, but among them are:

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Easily or frequently startled
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive alertness, always looking for threats, low sense of safety
  • Racing Heartbeat (Tachycardia)
  • Constantly agitated or on edge

Psychological Symptoms

  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating, loss of memory
  • Disorientation
  • A persistent sense of fear
  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Guilt and/or shame
  • Numbness, feeling disconnected
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Mood swings, irritability

Remember, people don’t need to experience all of these symptoms in order to qualify as a trauma response. However, if some of these symptoms persist for at least a month, it is very likely the case.

Effects of Untreated Psychological Trauma

If emotional trauma is left untreated, it can continue to worsen and slowly make the world of the affected individual smaller and smaller until they’ve completely isolated themselves. These individuals can manifest avoidance behaviors, aggressive behaviors, and various self-destructive behaviors that can worsen over time. Effective treatments for trauma are available and it’s important to get help. If left unchecked, common effects can be:

  • Substance Abuse
  • Depression
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Alcoholism
  • Compulsive behavioral patterns
  • Hostility
  • Sexual Problems
  • Self-destructive Behaviors
  • Dissociative Symptoms

When to get Treatment for Trauma

When you begin to feel that your past or current traumatic experience is interfering with your life, you should get help. Particularly, if your symptoms are worsening; even if the event was months ago. There are many effective treatment options available and trauma recovery is possible.

A licensed mental health therapist can assist you on the path to recovery. Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful for trauma. This is a type of talk therapy where negative emotions and thoughts are identified and then discussed. The goal is to replace them with healthier ones.

For Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t always as effective. However, there are other treatments like computerized treatments or animal-assisted therapy. A mental health professional can help you find the right treatment for you.

Immediately I can hear some of you asking, how long does it take? Though unsatisfying, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Every person is different and their journey to recovery and restoring their sense of security is different. It can take weeks or months. No matter how long it takes, it’s worth it. It’s also important that you understand that anyone guaranteeing that you can recover in x number of days is either uninformed or more interested in your wallet than your mental health.

 

Girl by the ocean

Tips for Recovery

Though there is no substitute for the help of a qualified mental health professional, there are several things you can do to help promote healthy behaviors and reduce the frequency and development of unhealthy ones.

Exercise

The physical symptoms of trauma can put your body into a constant state of hyperarousal. The fear spikes your adrenaline and it’s healthy to engage in activities that help burn through it. Exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days can provide relief. Rhythmic exercises where you can involve your arms and legs, for example, walking, running, swimming, or dancing are best.

Connect With Others

As time goes by, you may feel the urge to isolate yourself. It’s important that you don’t give in to that and instead connect with your friends, family, loved ones, meet new people, etc. Needing some time alone is healthy, but too much time alone dwelling on your traumatic event is counterproductive. Try to cultivate hobbies that you can do with others, accept lunch invitations and spend time with other people. If interacting with others is uncomfortable or creates anxiety seek help from a counselor or therapist that can help you work through it.

Meditate

The traumatic event can generate a lot of stress and anxiety. Meditation is a great way to alleviate some of that stress. Your goal during meditation is to bring your focus and attention to the present moment. Focus on your breath instead of engaging with your distressing thoughts. It can be difficult, but with practice, it can help reduce the stress you are feeling.

One More Thing

We covered a lot about emotional trauma today. We discussed physiological and psychological symptoms, treatments, and even a few helpful tips that you can practice on your own. The last thing I want to add may also be one of the most important.

Remember that even though it may not feel like it, your feelings are normal. It’s the event or circumstances that created the trauma that is abnormal. It’s critical to understand that, so I’ll say it again, your feelings are normal. During this time, remember to be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion, you deserve it.

There are many great options to help you manage and overcome your trauma-related symptoms. If you’d like my help dealing with trauma, feel free to reach out to me. I’d be honored to take this journey with you.

What is Mindful Self-Compassion?

Why do so many people stumble or struggle with being kind to themselves? Why is it often easier to be kind to others and not to ourselves? A common fear around self-compassion is that it’s merely a form of self-pity.

Self-pity comes from a perspective of “poor me”, feeling sorry for yourself. Compassion involves recognizing the difficulty of the situation and research shows that those who practice it, focus on their situation or circumstances less overall. For this reason, they usually have better overall mental health than those that do not practice self-compassion.

Mindful self-compassion is the combination of two critical practices that should be applied in daily life — Mindfulness and self-compassion.

What is mindfulness?

Let’s start with the term mindfulness. You’ve probably heard about mindfulness, maybe even seen some books, or heard a podcast on the subject. Mindfulness requires that you bring your attention to the present moment. Being fully conscious and aware of all that is happening right now. This means letting go of those issues you have to deal with at work tomorrow, the bills at the end of the month, the dinner you have to cook for your family, etc. Release everything that is not of the present moment.

Through mindfulness, you replace all those thoughts keeping your mind busy, with all the feelings and sensations you are experiencing right now. Feel each breath as it enters and leaves your body, listen carefully to the sounds around you, focus on all the signals your body is sending you from head to toe. Thoughts from the past or the future may enter, but don’t hang onto them. Let them go with your breath and return to silence, simply experiencing all the sensations within and around you.

Don’t be discouraged, it takes practice to hone the skills of mindfulness. Initially, you may get only a few seconds before thoughts about the past or the future rush back in. Treat yourself with kindness, don’t engage with them, don’t deny them, let them be, and patiently let them go. Welcome to the conscious present moment.

Girl with her eyes closed and smiling

What is self-compassion?

The second piece to mindful self-compassion begins with understanding what is compassion. Imagine that your best friend, or your child, came to you because they had a rough day. Maybe teachers or friends had some harsh criticism for them and they are experiencing some difficult or challenging emotions related to this.

In this situation, most people would show their best friend or their child some degree of compassion. This would entail acknowledging their painful emotions and responding with warmth, caring, and kindness. We’ve all been on the other side of this situation as well, it might have been a parent, a friend, or a skilled teacher, but we’ve all been shown compassion at some point in our lives.

I can already hear the chorus of “this is obvious” and that’s good. But let me ask you, when was the last time you extended that same warmth, caring, and kindness to yourself?

That is precisely what self-compassion is. When faced with our own personal shortcomings and struggles, most people are quick to judge, condemn, and punish themselves. Even now, some of you are defending that behavior. I can hear you, “my struggles occur because I made a mistake”, “I have high standards”, “there’s no excuse for not achieving my goals”, etc.
The people that treat us that way in our personal lives, we usually don’t keep around for very long. So we should make it our goal to practice self-compassion and focus on achieving that goal so that we can be kinder to ourselves.

The 3 Elements of Self-Compassion

Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgement

Compassion emphasizes being kind to yourself. The world is a difficult place, and it’s not always possible to be or achieve what you want. It’s great to pursue ambitious goals. The key is when we fall short, to recognize the difficulties and our imperfection, to realize that a shortcoming does not make us inadequate or incomplete. Judging ourselves for the failure creates suffering that is expressed as stress, frustration, and self-criticism.

Common Humanity vs Isolation

In the face of our defeats, many have a tendency to feel like they are the only ones who have failed. That they alone are damaged in some way and that’s the reason for the failure. The truth is the opposite. All humans are imperfect, fragile, and have many shortcomings. It’s not something to be ashamed of or a reason to judge yourself. Those experiences, those areas for improvement, those failures are shared by all of humanity, not just you.

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification

The last piece is the mindfulness element. This requires that we recognize our fears and emotions when faced with our struggles and hold our attention on keeping them in perspective. Approach the situation and your feelings with openness and clarity. Be fully present in your emotions without suppressing them or amplifying them. This takes focus and practice, but it’s something that once you learn will be beneficial in your daily life.

Self-Compassion Training Exercises

Compassion is like a muscle, the more you practice it the more it develops. So to help you get started on your compassion journey, below are 3 exercises you can do to start leveling up your self-compassion skills.

How would you treat a friend?

As mentioned earlier, we’re usually much better at showing compassion to others than we are to ourselves. So reframe your situation and imagine how you would treat a friend experiencing what you are going through. What would you tell them? How is it different than what you have been telling yourself? Should it be different?

Changing your critical self-talk

The way we talk to ourselves has a profound effect on all areas of our life. Identifying negative self-talk and replacing it with more positive communication is the foundation for improving the way you relate to yourself. This one takes a lot of practice, stick with it.

Keep a self-compassion journal

For some, writing down your feelings can help you process them. Doing it from the perspective of compassion can enhance your mental well-being. Sometimes reviewing our thoughts later when we have a cooler head can reveal issues in the way we reason or communicate with ourselves.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror

Want to Learn More?

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) was developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff. They have written books on the subject and have a mindful self-compassion program and workshops. As authors and teachers, they have developed and taught a variety of self-compassion practices. They have videos, courses, workbooks, compassion training programs, and are a tremendous resource for all things related to compassion.