It seems like we live in a world where tragedy and chaos happen every day. Turn on the television, listen to the radio, go on Facebook or Twitter, and it’s the same story: terrible things happen in our country and in the world, and they keep happening.
What, then, can we do not to become numb, jaded, anxious, overwhelmed, and ill from the steady stream of crisis?
Research on survivors of “Ground Zero-scale Trauma”1 found that extreme traumatic experiences can help prompt psychological growth.
Yes, you read that right. People who survive extreme traumatic experience have higher levels of psychological functioning and personal strength because of these events.
“Even when people go through a horrible life-threatening event, or endure huge losses and very difficult circumstances, many of them actually find some positive aspects to the experience and are able to grow from it. (…) That does not negate the pain of what they have been through or the lingering effects in their lives (…) but there is room for some positive changes as well,” says Dr. Lisa D. Butler, a professor involved in these studies.
What makes survivors of extreme trauma most resilient and able to grow?
“Less emotional control, less catastrophic views of the world, social support, less media exposure.”
The study suggests that people who:
- express their emotional pain and sadness
- don’t let the event make them believe that the world is a cruel and unjust place
- reach beyond themselves to find supportive personal and community network
- who don’t watch images of the event repeated over time
…are “more apt to survive their grief and find hidden resources.” They make it through, and stronger than before.
On the contrary, what undermines your ability to overcome the traumatic event?
According to the study, these are correlated with poor recovery:
- tamping down your emotions
- developing a negative worldview
- isolating yourself
- repeatedly viewing the traumatic event
From a neuro-structural perspective, these activities condition your nervous system to sustain a dysfunctional trauma response after the event has ended, which damages you in the long-term.
So what do you do in the face of violence, wars, crime, and crisis?
You can’t pretend effectively that horrible things aren’t happening and turn a blind eye, but you can choose how we are going to engage with these experiences. Rather:
- View the event once, and then turn off the news and online discourse that keeps repeating the traumatic events. Skip or remove posts in your feed regarding the event.
- Express the feelings of shock, outrage, pain, and sadness. Allowing yourself to feel the complicated emotions involved will make you stronger.
- Reach beyond yourself to supportive community in real life – not just online – and choose to let down your walls, because…
- Further studies have show that people who believe that people are trustworthy live longer than those who believe people can’t be trusted2, so do the important work of seeing how, in the face of tragedy, you can learn to more deeply connect with others and trust people. Community, as we mentioned in a previous article, is powerfully healing.
Why, as a neuro-structural chiropractor, am I talking about this?
The more neuro-spinal dysfunction there is affecting your brain, spine, and autonomic operating system, the harder it is to bounce back when these events happen. There’s little resilience left, like the “wiggle room” to adapt to rapid change has been taken out by structural damage and accumulated nerve stress. When your brain and body are stuck in “Repeat”, physically reacting to a previous event, injury, or accumulated damage over and over, it robs you of resilience and energy to adapt to what’s happening. In this state, things are more likely to snap – whether physically, psychologically, or socially.
The positive qualities for healing and growth mentioned in the study are fundamental aspects of Network Chiropractic Care. We correct and optimize the function of the neuro-spinal systems that help you process stress, trauma, and crisis – your brain, autonomic operating system, and spinal motion. That way you can “unplug” from the events that created the damage, reclaim your resilience, and be more resourceful in a crisis.
Rather than being stuck in the pattern of overwhelm and breakdown, your brain and body are actively healing by creating more effective, healthy, and empowering habits of body and mind in the face of challenging events. It becomes easier to express your emotions and transform your relationship to painful events into beliefs promoting greater courage and trust with a functional nerve and structural system.
From that vantage, it is much easier to be a part of the solution, rather than being overwhelmed by the problem.
…which is, ultimately, why I do what I do.
When things are falling apart, it’s essential for our own mental and physical health to find out how to “unplug” from the event, reach out to others for help, express the emotions, and remember that people are innately good. These qualities allow people to survive the trauma and find hidden resources to grow stronger because of the pain. It reveals the truth in the old saying: “That which does not kill you can make you stronger.”
For more information, check:
1. “Ground Zero-scale Trauma Can Prompt Psychological Growth.” 10 September 2009.
2. McGonigal, K. (2015). “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.