Exhaustion in the Wake of Trauma

Reviewed Feb 17, 2016

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Summary

  • Regain your sense of control.
  • Try to give your limbic system a vacation from graphic mental images and imaginary replays of the trauma or disaster.

Everyone has stress, occasional conflicts and even less frequent major crises. Some, however, have had to face trauma of some kind. It might be a catastrophic loss or horrible accident, violence, abuse, etc. If you have been touched personally by trauma, you are likely to experience a normal progression of stress reactions and can expect to feel exhausted mentally and physically. Although recognizing stress symptoms and putting into practice a few stress-reduction strategies may help lift the exhaustion you feel, you need to accept that what you are feeling is not only normal, but also protective.

What is stress?

There are many theories about stress and its effect on the mind and body. It generally is accepted that the limbic system in the brain is “wired” to respond to a real or imagined threat. This is your body’s protective way of preparing you to face the threat or flee it.

As the “fight or flight” response is initiated, chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol act quickly in the body, effecting changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Constant exposure to these bodily events can make you feel terrible—tense, irritable, weepy, more likely to feel ill or in pain, anxious, depressed and, ultimately, exhausted.

It is possible that the trauma, although over, leaves you feeling threatened. Dwelling on what you suffered may continue to keep your stress hormone level higher than normal as you attempt to cope with what happened. The exhaustion you feel is likely another attempt by the body to counteract prolonged exposure to stress. Exhaustion slows you down, makes you rest and forces you to attend to whatever you perceive as the threat.

What can you do?

  • Try to counteract in the body the effects of elevated stress hormones. Exercise, breath work and releasing pent up emotions all help to balance the mind and body when exposed to high levels of stress.
  • Try to give your limbic system a vacation from graphic mental images and imaginary replays of the trauma or disaster. For a while, avoid movies and literature that remind you of what you went through.
  • Regain your sense of control. Many of us feel threatened by our lack of control after suffering a trauma. One way to cope with these normal feelings is to do what you can to help someone else who suffers. Volunteer your time, resources and prayers.
  • Examine your thoughts about what happened to you as well as your worries about what will happen next. Negative and catastrophic thoughts can cause limbic changes just like actual threats can. Recognizing the power of thoughts to influence stress levels is a start. Next, try meditative techniques that teach you to “detach” from thoughts and let them drift by.
  • Nurture any possible positive light in which to see your suffering, whether it pertains to your growth and strength, the support you received from loved ones, the mere fact that you did survive, or something else that lifts you up.

Perhaps the most therapeutic thing you can do is to accept rather than fight the exhaustion. Don’t add more trouble to this difficult time by fretting over the myriad thoughts and feelings spawned by the trauma.

Exhaustion is a signal that you need a reprieve from the too many demands placed on your limbic system. Honor the signal and slow down! Find a way to rest, relax and refresh.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Stress & Tension Reduction” course

Summary

  • Regain your sense of control.
  • Try to give your limbic system a vacation from graphic mental images and imaginary replays of the trauma or disaster.

Everyone has stress, occasional conflicts and even less frequent major crises. Some, however, have had to face trauma of some kind. It might be a catastrophic loss or horrible accident, violence, abuse, etc. If you have been touched personally by trauma, you are likely to experience a normal progression of stress reactions and can expect to feel exhausted mentally and physically. Although recognizing stress symptoms and putting into practice a few stress-reduction strategies may help lift the exhaustion you feel, you need to accept that what you are feeling is not only normal, but also protective.

What is stress?

There are many theories about stress and its effect on the mind and body. It generally is accepted that the limbic system in the brain is “wired” to respond to a real or imagined threat. This is your body’s protective way of preparing you to face the threat or flee it.

As the “fight or flight” response is initiated, chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol act quickly in the body, effecting changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Constant exposure to these bodily events can make you feel terrible—tense, irritable, weepy, more likely to feel ill or in pain, anxious, depressed and, ultimately, exhausted.

It is possible that the trauma, although over, leaves you feeling threatened. Dwelling on what you suffered may continue to keep your stress hormone level higher than normal as you attempt to cope with what happened. The exhaustion you feel is likely another attempt by the body to counteract prolonged exposure to stress. Exhaustion slows you down, makes you rest and forces you to attend to whatever you perceive as the threat.

What can you do?

  • Try to counteract in the body the effects of elevated stress hormones. Exercise, breath work and releasing pent up emotions all help to balance the mind and body when exposed to high levels of stress.
  • Try to give your limbic system a vacation from graphic mental images and imaginary replays of the trauma or disaster. For a while, avoid movies and literature that remind you of what you went through.
  • Regain your sense of control. Many of us feel threatened by our lack of control after suffering a trauma. One way to cope with these normal feelings is to do what you can to help someone else who suffers. Volunteer your time, resources and prayers.
  • Examine your thoughts about what happened to you as well as your worries about what will happen next. Negative and catastrophic thoughts can cause limbic changes just like actual threats can. Recognizing the power of thoughts to influence stress levels is a start. Next, try meditative techniques that teach you to “detach” from thoughts and let them drift by.
  • Nurture any possible positive light in which to see your suffering, whether it pertains to your growth and strength, the support you received from loved ones, the mere fact that you did survive, or something else that lifts you up.

Perhaps the most therapeutic thing you can do is to accept rather than fight the exhaustion. Don’t add more trouble to this difficult time by fretting over the myriad thoughts and feelings spawned by the trauma.

Exhaustion is a signal that you need a reprieve from the too many demands placed on your limbic system. Honor the signal and slow down! Find a way to rest, relax and refresh.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Stress & Tension Reduction” course

Summary

  • Regain your sense of control.
  • Try to give your limbic system a vacation from graphic mental images and imaginary replays of the trauma or disaster.

Everyone has stress, occasional conflicts and even less frequent major crises. Some, however, have had to face trauma of some kind. It might be a catastrophic loss or horrible accident, violence, abuse, etc. If you have been touched personally by trauma, you are likely to experience a normal progression of stress reactions and can expect to feel exhausted mentally and physically. Although recognizing stress symptoms and putting into practice a few stress-reduction strategies may help lift the exhaustion you feel, you need to accept that what you are feeling is not only normal, but also protective.

What is stress?

There are many theories about stress and its effect on the mind and body. It generally is accepted that the limbic system in the brain is “wired” to respond to a real or imagined threat. This is your body’s protective way of preparing you to face the threat or flee it.

As the “fight or flight” response is initiated, chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol act quickly in the body, effecting changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Constant exposure to these bodily events can make you feel terrible—tense, irritable, weepy, more likely to feel ill or in pain, anxious, depressed and, ultimately, exhausted.

It is possible that the trauma, although over, leaves you feeling threatened. Dwelling on what you suffered may continue to keep your stress hormone level higher than normal as you attempt to cope with what happened. The exhaustion you feel is likely another attempt by the body to counteract prolonged exposure to stress. Exhaustion slows you down, makes you rest and forces you to attend to whatever you perceive as the threat.

What can you do?

  • Try to counteract in the body the effects of elevated stress hormones. Exercise, breath work and releasing pent up emotions all help to balance the mind and body when exposed to high levels of stress.
  • Try to give your limbic system a vacation from graphic mental images and imaginary replays of the trauma or disaster. For a while, avoid movies and literature that remind you of what you went through.
  • Regain your sense of control. Many of us feel threatened by our lack of control after suffering a trauma. One way to cope with these normal feelings is to do what you can to help someone else who suffers. Volunteer your time, resources and prayers.
  • Examine your thoughts about what happened to you as well as your worries about what will happen next. Negative and catastrophic thoughts can cause limbic changes just like actual threats can. Recognizing the power of thoughts to influence stress levels is a start. Next, try meditative techniques that teach you to “detach” from thoughts and let them drift by.
  • Nurture any possible positive light in which to see your suffering, whether it pertains to your growth and strength, the support you received from loved ones, the mere fact that you did survive, or something else that lifts you up.

Perhaps the most therapeutic thing you can do is to accept rather than fight the exhaustion. Don’t add more trouble to this difficult time by fretting over the myriad thoughts and feelings spawned by the trauma.

Exhaustion is a signal that you need a reprieve from the too many demands placed on your limbic system. Honor the signal and slow down! Find a way to rest, relax and refresh.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Stress & Tension Reduction” course

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