If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is how very precious, and how very fragile, our health is. But all the physical strength, stamina, and well-being in the world mean nothing if you don’t also have peace in your mind and tranquility in your spirit.
Unfortunately, for far too many people, that kind of serenity feels more like an impossible dream than a present — or future — reality. This is especially true for trauma survivors, for whom the horrors of the past never seem to truly go away.
But there is hope. An innovative new treatment is helping to free trauma survivors from the shackles of their past, helping them to begin moving forward to a brighter tomorrow. It’s called EMDR, and it’s already showing very promising results in reducing even the most severe symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, hallucinations, and crippling panic attacks.
What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a multiphase treatment protocol used to help patients suffering from PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
In EMDR, a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist guides the patient through a series of stages in which the traumatic event(s) are recalled and described in detail. A particular focus in this process is on describing the patient’s emotional and even physical responses to those events — and the memories of them.
As the trauma is recalled and the patient reconnects to those sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of that traumatic event, the therapist guides her through sequences of eye movements. And, as incredible as it may seem, those strategic patterns of eye movements actually work to reprogram the brain and to recondition its response to those traumatic memories.
It works, researchers believe, because the eye is basically an extension of the brain. And the electrochemical responses that the eye produces when light hits the retina are immediately conveyed to the brainstem, which also happens to be where the brain processes both memory and emotion.
Asking the eye to process sequences of different visual impulses in rapid succession, while at the same time asking the limbic system to process traumatic memories and emotions, dilutes the force of the memories. Basically, the brain is too busy processing visual stimuli to react with its usual intensity to these traumatic memories.
Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to making such muted responses to these memories because of the desensitization and reprocessing features of EMDR. And, eventually, the memories can arise without invoking the same intensely negative physical and emotional reactions they once produced.
How to Practice Self-Care During EMDR
EMDR is proving to be an incredibly powerful treatment for PTSD and related disorders. However, there are important things you can do to make your treatment easier and more effective.
Recognize the Risk Factors
One of the most important ways to benefit from EMDR is to first recognize that you need mental health care. You don’t have to be a combat veteran or a survivor of physical or sexual assault to suffer from trauma and trauma-related disorders.
Studies show, for example, that young people, especially Generation Z, are at particular risk of anxiety and depression. And you don’t have to be a victim of violence to have experienced trauma. Generation Z is a generation that has grown up amid a culture of uncertainty, anxiety, and threat.
The Great Recession means that many Generation Z’ers witnessed financial hardship in their own homes or communities. Likewise, in an era of school shootings, this is a generation of young people with first-hand experience of active shooter drills in their schools.
So even if you haven’t experienced trauma personally, living, and especially growing up in, a traumatic culture can give rise to the kinds of anxiety and depressive disorders that EMDR is designed to treat.
But it’s not only Generation Z which is at risk. Now, more than ever, healthcare workers and first responders are at particular risk of trauma. Doctors, nurses, and caregivers are facing burdens they could never have imagined. They’re seeing things, they’re making choices, and they’re confronting fears they’ve never faced before. These are, indeed, traumatic times, and healthcare workers are on the frontlines.
One of the most devastating impacts of trauma is that it rarely works alone. In many cases, trauma and trauma-related disorders give rise to the comorbidity of substance abuse and addiction.
It’s not surprising, really. When you’re plagued with fears, with despair, with memories that you can’t escape, you’re going to do whatever you have to to find some relief. For many, that means turning to drugs and alcohol. So if you find yourself increasingly relying on these substances to help you get through the day, EMDR may be what you need to address the underlying disorder.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
As you pursue your EMDR therapy, it’s also important to be proactive in managing stress and minimizing the triggers for your PTSD symptoms. For example, finances are a leading cause of significant stress. Taking measures to manage your finances, such as setting up a household budget, can help you eliminate, or at least reduce, a major source of worry.
There are also a number of things you can do in the moment to help you manage anxiety and even panic when you feel it rising. Grounding techniques, such as pressing your heels into the floor or stimulating your five senses, can help you stop an attack before it can really start, or limit its severity if it does.
Recovering from trauma is a long and difficult journey. In many ways, it is a journey that doesn’t end. But your past does not have to define you, and it certainly does not have to destroy your future. There is help out there, with EMDR proving to be an especially promising treatment for even the most severe and complex trauma-related conditions. With EMDR therapy, you can begin to heal and move toward the life and the tomorrow that you deserve.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer who lives in the Northwest region of the United States. She has a particular interest in covering topics related to good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. When not writing, her free time is spent reading and researching to learn more about her cultural and environmental surroundings.
Image Source: Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/illustrations/face-spiral-eye-stone-structure-2212070/)
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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