Old traumas linger

I turned a corner, and there it was: A big white dog. I jumped back in surprise. But the dog was on a long leash and followed me. All I could think about was how to escape.

There really wasn’t any danger. The dog just wanted to greet me. It wasn’t aggressive, and its owner quickly pulled it back when he saw my reaction.

But my body told me otherwise. As a child, I had unpleasant experiences with dogs. These left me with a powerful fear of dogs. When I had children, I realized that I didn’t want to pass this fear on to them. So, I started working on my fear of dogs.

Today, I can easily walk in our local forest – even the part where dogs can run freely – without being afraid, even if they come running towards me. I’ll be fond of dogs, but I’ve gone from fear to just being extra vigilant.

This day was different because I was surprised. When you know you’re walking in an off-leash area, you’re prepared. When you suddenly encounter a dog in the middle of the city, and you don’t see it coming, the reaction from old traumas can unexpectedly surface.

Traumas settle in the body, and there are many layers to let go of. The last aspect is typically the reaction when you’re surprised. Because I had already worked so much on my fear of dogs, I could quickly relax and continue my walk.

If you’ve had a similar experience where your body suddenly goes into alarm mode, the following exercise may help. You can perform it right after the event while you continue walking.

  1. Consciously lower your shoulders and straighten your back.
  2. Take a few deep, calm breaths. If your breathing is very fast and shallow, take a few minutes to slowly lower the rhythm and increase the depth of your breath.
  3. Think through your experience as if you were telling a story to someone else. In my example, I said to myself, “The dog came around the corner and surprised me. I stepped back, and the dog followed. But when I think about it, the dog didn’t seem aggressive, and the owner quickly pulled the dog back. I could see that the situation wasn’t dangerous, and I could move on.”

Feel how your body settles down. Know that you had a completely normal reaction influenced by your past experiences.

I hope this exercise can help you quickly regain your composure. If you find it challenging to let go of your experience, consider what might be underlying it. If you have my book “Life after Bullying,” check out Chapter 10 and use the tapping method to process your experience. If the experience still lingers, you may need help releasing the old trauma that was triggered. Feel free to book a free intro call with me to learn more.

There are People Who Want to Help You

There are people who want to help you. Along with my professional work as a trauma therapist, I also volunteer in the trauma support group in the Jewish Community in Denmark. We are, of course, busy helping after the terrible events in Israel.

There are many similar opportunities to get help. If you urgently need assistance, there are helplines and psychiatric emergency services in the healthcare system. However, a volunteer organization can be just as good or even better in many other situations. The people in a charity focus on a specific issue, which they often understand better than the psychologist in the emergency room. And the volunteers often have more time to listen.

If you need help, look for an organization that can assist you. If the search becomes overwhelming, seek help from a friend. And if you have the resources to help others, consider volunteering.

Sleep is one of the Foundations

Your body affects your mind. It is tough to change your emotions if you lack sleep, exercise, or proper nutrition. Sometimes, when one of my clients is not progressing at the rapid pace I usually see, I ask about these factors.

Sleep Awareness Week in the USA is this week, and the National Sleep Association has many events and good information. That reminded me to get around to reading Matthew Walker’s influential book “Why We Sleep.” Please check it out from your local library and at least page through it. He explains how sleep is critical for mental health and is vital to fight anxiety and depression, how common sleep disorders are, and how to fight them.

If you don’t want to invest in a sleep-tracking gadget, you can write down when you go to bed, when you wake up, and how rested you feel each morning. Then, when you have at least two weeks of data, make one change to your lifestyle. Keep it up for two weeks, and compare your notes with how you slept before you made the change.

Your sleep is one of the foundations for your health and happiness.

Vote and Let Go

It’s your duty to vote. Once you have done your duty, you need to move on. The election probably didn’t come out exactly the way you hoped. It never does. But it is unproductive to worry about what will happen next. You make your voice heard at the ballot box, and then you leave the people elected to get on with their job.

I am happy that people are fighting to make the world a better place through political campaigning. But it is a demanding task full of struggle, bad arguments and dirty tricks. If you suffer from emotional trauma, you need to take care of yourself and let others do the political fighting between elections. You’ve done your part.

You can Rewire Your Brain

You can rewrite a traumatic memory. Important events are stored in the brain as a combination of the facts and an associated feeling. Scientists are hoping to treat trauma by manipulating neurotensin levels in the brain, but there is another way. Trauma therapists have known for many years that it is possible to regenerate images in memory, and neuroscience is slowing discovering what happens in the brain.

It turns out that every time we access a memory, it gets weaker. Normally, we automatically re-write the same memory. That’s why we don’t notice the process. But when working with a therapist in a situation of emotional safety, we can re-write the memory with a different feeling.

If you want to know more about this process, and how it can help you, I’ll be happy to tell you more. You can book a time to talk at no cost on my website. I hope to hear from you.

Finally an Official Framework for Improving Workplace Mental Health

Toxic workplaces are bad for your health. You knew that, and I knew that. But now even the U.S. Surgeon General has realized it. Normally, the Surgeon General gives advice on smoking, pandemics, and cancer. But yesterday, they issued guidance telling companies to pay more attention to mental workplace conditions.

Some companies take good care of their workers, and they are the ones who have enough employees and low turnover. Others are doing less well, and those are the places that complain about not being able to find workers.

The Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being is a well-written document with both solid arguments for why it matters and what you can do about it. If you are in a leadership position, I encourage you to read it. If you work in an organization doing less than ideally on workplace conditions, I suggest you send a link to HR. You find the report here: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/workplace-mental-health-well-being.pdf

Software Doesn’t Prevent Bullying, But Self-Esteem Does

Can you prevent bullying with software? I’ve just heard of a startup that offers a system to schools with regular surveys and communication features. Their idea is to build a “social graph” and identify the children who have few connections. These are most likely to be bullied. I don’t think this will “solve bullying” as their marketing claims, but it might have a positive effect in directing teacher attention to the children most at risk.

What I know is that you can reduce bullying by building up self-esteem. A child with high self-esteem is less likely to be a victim of bullying. These children can also much more easily brush off any bullying that does happen without suffering long-term effects. Additionally, children with higher self-esteem are much less likely to bully others.

I work with self-esteem in both children and adults. I call this “bullying vaccination,” and this is one vaccination guaranteed to be without side effects. Contact me if you want to hear more about how I can help you, your child, your school, or your workplace.

Netflix is Bad for Your Mental Health

To save your mental health, reconsider your Netflix subscription. A new “true crime” Netflix show is, unfortunately, very popular. And the Netflix recommendation engine will relentlessly promote their most popular shows. If you give in and watch an episode, your mental health will worsen.

Dark and unpleasant content affects everyone, but those who have suffered trauma are affected most. Fictional crime is bad enough, but “true crime” is based on things that actually happened. That makes these shows even harder to shake off.

The painful problem is that most people with traumatic experiences from long ago think that time has healed them. It doesn’t. Time allows the brain to push the memory into the background, but the body still remembers. That’s why some things hit you surprisingly hard. Stay away from “true crime.”

Be Careful How You Use Your Brain

Human mindpower is a double-edged sword. It is inspiring to hear those who power their way to success despite many obstacles. Unfortunately, human mindpower can also be used to bury and ignore traumatic experiences. Because the body remembers, these experiences can hold the victim back for years or decades.

In my practice, I often see clients who insist they just need a little help with one specific thing. Almost always, it turns out they suffer from the after-effects of traumatic experiences. They believed those things were so far in the past they couldn’t possibly matter anymore. But our entire history matters. Get in touch to hear more about how I work and how can help you or someone dear to you.

Seek Diversity

Remember to seek out diversity. In my RIM workshop last week, I had participants from three different countries, and the diversity was very inspiring. People with different backgrounds contribute differently. The more diverse my class is, the more interesting our discussions become, and the more I learn myself.

That’s why enlightened organizations seek diversity: It enables them to make better decisions. Of course, if you are in a leadership position and following me, you already know that. But even if you are not hiring, you can still actively seek out people different from yourself, at work and in your private life. It will inspire and enrich you.