My father died suddenly and unexpectedly on the same day of the Columbine high school shooting, April 20, 1999. Somehow in the midst of tears, shock and distress, my mother managed to tell me about the high school students in Colorado. She was trying to let me know we weren’t alone in our tragedy and sorrow.
Up until that point, I had heard of post traumatic stress, and thought it mainly impacted soldiers coming home from war. Family crisis taught me otherwise. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is what happens when a traumatic event actually affects how the brain and body function. Trauma occurs when an individual experiences an event, or set of circumstances, that is physically or emotionally harmful, or even life-threatening. This can have a lasting, negative effect on that person’s mind, body, and emotional state.
Trauma can be explained as pain stored in the body. That pain can be current and happening now. Or, it can be buried from the past and never healed. Trauma effects people from many walks of life, and can come from physical, sexual, or verbal abuse; having a parent who is an addict; witnessing abuse or violence; sudden loss; divorce; a traumatic birth – the list goes on. PTSD can be associated with chronic physical health conditions, mental health conditions, and substance abuse. A lot of these behaviors come from how the person went into survival mode during the trauma. These behaviors leave an imprint and very often continue to repeat after the actual traumatic event has passed.
After my father died, I struggled with insomnia, exhaustion, and depression. Day-to-day life was overwhelming. I didn’t think there was a cure for PTSD. Grief slowly led to seeking help, and developing a spiritual practice of meditation. I learned that a person with PTSD is dealing with an out-of-balance nervous system, causing the body to over-produce cortisol, the stress hormone. When cortisol levels are too high on a regular basis, it creates a state of “high stress alert” all the time. This can cause problems with digestion, sleep patterns, hormonal balance, chronic stress, and isolation.
The nervous system has two parts, like branches on a tree. The sympathetic branch is excited, connected to “fight or flight”. The parasympathetic branch is quiet, and promotes relaxation. For optimal health, we need balance between these two states of rest and activity. Experiencing trauma disrupts this balance. The fight or flight branch can become dominant. This may cause the blood vessels in the heart to constrict, get smaller and affect how we breathe.
Meditation and the Harmonyum Healing system are holistic tools that help the body produce oxytocin and dopamine. These hormones help the heart cells to regenerate and improve our ability to recover from stress. They also increase our chance of reaching out socially, instead of choosing isolation. Meditation cultivates a healthy connection between the heart and brain, making a person less reactive. Receiving Harmonyum, a hands-on treatment, instills a deep meditative state while activating the body’s self-healing intelligence. Harmonyum works directly on the nervous system, and helps you disconnect from trauma’s effects on the brain and the entire body. We may not always have control over life’s events, or other people, but we can use tools to develop control over ourselves. You are not stuck, and that is a blessing.
Image Credit: Gerhard Litz