Trauma and its consequences can make it more difficult–but not impossible–to create a meaningfully productive life.
Productivity during trauma
I was talking recently with a coaching client who shared that in preparing a presentation about the effects of trauma, she realized that she is experiencing trauma, as many of us are. Our conversation got me thinking about how our response to traumatic events can affect our ability to accomplish the things that are important to us.
What is trauma?
One dictionary defines it as a “deeply distressing or disturbing experience”; another source notes that:
“Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.”
The American Psychological Association describes trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event,” while an article published by the Missouri Department of Mental Health tells us:
“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that can have lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional well-being.”
The Missouri Department of Mental Health article identifies 3 main types of trauma:
- Acute trauma, which results from a single incident
- Chronic trauma, which is repeated and prolonged
- Complex trauma, which comes from exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature
In addition to those types of trauma, as one therapist tells us, “Trauma that affects a community or a country is called collective trauma.”
What are some of the common signs and symptoms of trauma?
Whatever the source or type of trauma we might experience, it can lead to emotional, physical, and psychological consequences. For example, according to What Is Trauma? trauma can lead to:
- Emotional signs, such as sadness, anger, denial, fear, and shame, which may lead to nightmares, insomnia, relationship difficulties, and emotional outbursts
- Common physical symptoms like nausea, dizziness, altered sleep patterns, changes in appetite, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems
- Psychological disorders that may include PTSD, depression, anxiety, dissociative disorders, and substance abuse problems
Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill, a trauma therapist, says: “Traumatic injury shocks and changes all systems,” including cognitive, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social.
How does trauma affect our productivity?
Not surprisingly, the emotional and physical effects of trauma described above affect our quality of life and make it hard to get things done–distraction, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, etc., all impact our productivity.
Responding to trauma
If we’ve experienced trauma–whether personal or collective (like the effects of a worldwide pandemic that turns our lives upside down)–there are steps we can take to address the effects of trauma and improve our productivity. Establish routines that work for you as a way of asserting control in a situation where you might feel like things are out of your control. Lean on your support system–friends, a coach, or a therapist that you can talk to.
Learn new tools for recognizing and processing feelings and managing your mind
1. Learn to be more present and aware of what you’re feeling and how you’re manifesting those feelings. You may be losing your temper, maybe even overreacting to certain events, maybe what’s underlying the anger is fear or helplessness.
One Psychology Today article refers to “body awareness” as “learning to detect and trace what is happening in the body. It’s particularly important to understand what sensations are associated with various triggers, emotions, movements, associations, images, etc.”
Dr. Kraybill, mentioned above, says that when we’re suffering the effects of trauma, especially the over-stressed nervous system that can cause so many symptoms, we can benefit from both mindfulness and intentional mindlessness:
“Both are practices that can increase the ability to quiet an alerted nervous system. However, mindfulness is a mental state that focuses on awareness of what is here and now (present moment sensations, feelings, thoughts), whereas mindlessness brings attention to focus on a task or activity and seeks to be fully absorbed by it. . . . [On the other hand [i]ntentional mindlessness that incorporates creative activity can be just as calming to the nervous system as mindfulness, and engaging in it enhances the ability to be spontaneous. When practicing intentional mindlessness, we want to engage in activity that fully absorbs us (and during which the mind doesn’t flit to other thoughts or to what we are thinking and feeling), and that increases our sense of joy. Typically activities: playing games, scribbling and doodling, exercise, and so forth.”
Journaling, meditation, even just 60 seconds of mindful breathing a couple of times a day, and physical movement are all good ways to practice intentional mindlessness. With respect to movement, one source recommends trying to fit in 30 minutes or more of exercise on most days (if it’s easier, three 10-minute sessions work just as well), and particularly try rhythmic exercise that engages both arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, basketball, or dancing. Add a mindfulness element: focus on your body and how it feels as it moves; if you’re walking or running outside, notice the feel of the wind or the smell of flowers or the sound of birdsong.
2. Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep and a well-balanced diet, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
3. Practice self-compassion. Dr. Kraybill says it’s “one of the most effective practices to manage the aftermath of trauma and an essential requirement for sustaining progress after trauma.”
What do you think?
How do you cope with the effects of trauma that might interfere with your ability to accomplish the things that are important to you? Share your questions or thoughts in the comments section below this post or on The Productive Woman’s Facebook page, or send me an email!
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- Trauma and Shock
- Emotional and Psychological Trauma – HelpGuide.org
- Trauma | dmh.mo.gov
- What Is Trauma? – Definition, Symptoms, Responses, Types & Therapy
- What Is Trauma? | Psychology Today
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Kara Mostowy says
I just started listening to your podcasts and am so glad that I chose this one as my first listen! I’m working through past trauma and this postcast was incredibly affirming and soothing to me. I’ve shared it with several friends already.
I’m so glad that I found your resources – thank you!
Thank you, so much, Kara. I’m honored to know you’re listening and truly grateful to hear you found this episode helpful.