As I write this, my thoughts are with those who were affected by the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
In my 20 years living in the Boston area, I cheered on the runners on many occasions and now, even from far way, these events feel close to home.
Experiencing trauma can have a dramatic effect on our bodies and our minds. And although it’s a different experience to witness a trauma on television, it still can affect us.
When you perceive a threat, the body activates the stress response that occurs in both your body and brain.
The body’s response to acute stress is a preparation for emergency. Adrenaline and other hormones are released. The body shuts down processes associated with long-term care. When under immediate threat, digestion, reproduction, cell repair and other body tasks related to long-term functioning are unimportant.
Of immediate importance is survival. Increased blood sugar can provide extra energy for muscles. Increases in cortisol counter pain and inflammation. Blood pressure increases. Blood is diverted from our extremities to our major muscles to provide us with extra strength. Increased endorphins can help us ignore physical pain.
You can see the effects of these changes to the body in many of the symptoms of stress, such as racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking, feeling hot and flushed, and sweating.
But it is the impact of trauma on the mind that is often the most disturbing. Traumatic events can leave us feeling unsafe. They can disrupt our beliefs and assumptions about the world. Your sense of your ability to control your life may be shattered. You may question how much influence you have over your life and your life choices.
A trauma, such as the one the occurred at the Boston Marathon, can leave us distrustful of other people. You may question your basic trust of other people in the world. Trauma can affect your ability to be intimate with others and may impact your feelings of self-worth. Those who survive the trauma often feel guilt and wonder why they lived when others were less fortunate…