Finding A Starting Point For Trauma Therapy

Stocksy_txp05dc7413CZ6200_Small_1671750.jpg

When you're struggling with unresolved trauma, the last thing you may want to do is talk about what happened to you. Many people who've experienced a trauma-who've been sexually or physically abused or assaulted-try to avoid even thinking about what happened, much less talking about it. So it's understandable that asking for help or signing up for trauma therapy is not an easy thing to do.

It's hard to stop replaying the events in your mind, over and over again. Nightmares make it seem impossible to get a good night's sleep. Your body reacts to reminders of the trauma, causing you to feel out of control. Even reading or watching a movie feels risky, because it just doesn't take much to bring back a disturbing memory, to feel like the trauma is happening all over again.

Where To Start

Symptoms of PTSD and trauma can throw you off balance. The smallest thing can set off a chain reaction in your mind and body, overwhelm your ability to function in the most basic ways, and cause strain in relationships. If you have trouble at work, or find it difficult to take care of yourself and your family, the first step is to build on ways to improve your daily life. Before delving into painful or frightening memories it's important to have developed ways to calm and care for yourself when you're in distress. Having the tools and resources to manage your emotions and distressing thoughts connected to trauma will allow you to think more clearly and make decisions more easily--- so that you can heal what's hurting.

Finding What Works For You

In order to heal from trauma, you will need to discover what is best for you. Learning to listen to your own emotional and physical signals, and setting your own pace in your trauma recovery are important skills to learn. Babette Rothschild writes “Trauma recovery involves much more than remembering and processing traumatizing incidents. For some of you, focusing on the past will not be necessary, or desirable. Trauma must, first and foremost, improve your quality of life. Anything that furthers that goal is good for you; anything which compromises that goal is not” (8 Keys To Safe Trauma Recovery, 2010). Very often in therapy, what can help to move you in the right direction in healing trauma and PTSD is to understand how you've been impacted by your experiences, not only what happened to you. It's up to you to decide when to talk about your trauma and in how much detail.

Breaking Your Silence

Trauma and PTSD interfere with your life and change how you feel about yourself and others; and the effects of trauma can show up years after the event is over. Bessel Van Der Kolk writes “As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy, it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down....Only after you identify the source of these responses can you start using your feelings as signals of problems that require your urgent attention” (The Body Keeps The Score, 2014).


If you've been physically or sexually abused or assaulted, reaching out for help is difficult. But remaining silent or trying to keep up the appearance that everything is okay usually just prolongs the problem. The sooner you get help, the more quickly you'll find relief and get back to feeling more like yourself. If you'd like to learn more about how trauma therapy and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can help, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or hollyaevansmft@gmail.com

How to Stop a Panic Attack

What is a Panic Attack?

Stocksy_txp6f57ace8jxt100_Small_866897.jpg

If you've ever had a panic attack, you know they can be terrifying. A panic attack can lead you to frightening thoughts like “I'm dying”, “I'm losing my mind” or “I'm out of control”. They can occur “out of nowhere” or be brought on by a stressful situation.

A panic attack (or anxiety attack) is a sudden and intense onset of apprehension, fear, or sense of impending doom coupled with an overwhelming physical response.  Symptoms of panic are intensely physical, and often mimic symptoms of serious physical problem (such as a heart attack). It's always a good idea to see your doctor if you're experiencing these symptoms to rule out a serious physical condition, and to address your concerns about your physical symptoms. If your doctor believes you're suffering from panic and anxiety, they can help you take steps to find help.

Panic attacks can indicate that you're struggling with Panic Disorder, but panic also accompanies depression, anxiety and PTSD. Having one panic attack does not necessarily mean that you have a diagnosis, but they can be your mind's way of trying to tell you that something needs your attention.

Learning to recognize how you respond to stress and anxiety

The first step to overcoming panic is to recognize your symptoms and the situations that may trigger them. Anxiety and panic have three main parts, affecting your body and mind, and influencing your behavior. It's important to notice how you're responding to stress and anxiety in these three areas, so that you can take steps to help yourself. Knowing that you're experiencing anxiety can help you regain some control and develop a better understanding of what you're going through.

Symptoms of Panic:

  • numbness or tingling
  • racing heart
  • feeling short of breath
  • feeling of choking
  • nausea
  • trembling
  • tightness or discomfort in your chest
  • feeling weak or dizzy
  • fear of dying
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of “going crazy”

Another symptom of panic is avoidance.  It's common to try to cope with anxiety and panic by avoiding situations that may trigger anxiety. For example, you may stop driving on highways, or avoid situations where a quick exit is not easy; or you may make an effort to avoid thoughts and feelings that can trigger panic and anxiety.

What to do if you're having a panic attack

Panic attacks can be scary and confusing, but there are things that you can do to begin to help yourself cope:

Do the opposite of avoidance. Accepting your symptoms helps you get prepared to take preventive and proactive steps to cope with anxiety and stress. Avoidance is a natural reaction to unpleasant, painful experiences. But resisting or fighting against symptoms usually makes them worsen. How you talk to yourself during a panic attack is very important. As difficult as it can be, try to label your experience as anxiety; acknowledge how your anxiety makes you feel; and remind yourself that you've gotten through this before. This is my anxiety making me feel this way. It can really upset my day, but I've gotten through this before and I'm safe.

Concentrate on your breathing. To help you bring your focus to your breathing, experiment with simply counting (out loud or to yourself) as you breath in and out.

Check in with your senses. What do you see or hear? (for example what color is the carpet, how many framed pictures are hanging on the wall,is someone talking, can you hear the birds chirping). Can you hug a pillow or feel the upholstery on your chair? Or chew some gum or a mint and focus on the taste.

Learn some grounding techniques. Grounding refers to things you can do to help you feel fully present in your body in the present moment. Some simple grounding techniques include holding an ice cube in your hand, rub some fragrant lotion into your skin, check the time and date, counting backwards from 100 in a different language, move your body(exercise).

Remember that new skills take time to learn, and it's important to figure out what coping skills are right for you. What works for someone else may not be what's best for you.

Getting Help for Panic Attacks and Anxiety

If panic is interfering with your life, you understandably want relief. The good news is that panic is treatable. I offer therapy for anxiety disorders, and for unresolved trauma and depression which commonly occur along with panic attacks. Anxiety takes many forms and effects each person in unique ways. I integrate traditional talk therapies (Psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as well as EMDR, (a therapy developed for the treatment of trauma) to create an approach that's responsive to your needs and experience.

If you'd like to learn more about how I can help you overcome anxiety, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or hollyaevansmft@gmail.com 

 

 

 

The Pain of Family Estrangement

A strained, distant or broken relationship with a family member is one of the most painful things a person can experience. When your childhood was complicated by abuse, neglect or trauma, the relationships you have with your family in adulthood can continue to be painful, confusing and sometimes difficult to endure. Often, the hurtful or dysfunctional behaviors continue, even after you've left home and established your own life.

Stocksy_txpfec6e9ddYQh100_Small_614128 (1).jpg

From the outside, it can be so hard to understand how family members can become estranged from each other. But the heartbreak of distancing or cutting off contact with a parent or sibling can stem from traumatic events, such as emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect, growing up in a household with mental illness or addiction. According to Kylie Agllias, author of Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective, these particular issues strain family relationships in ways that make families vulnerable to estrangement.

Estrangement takes many forms—efforts to establish emotional distance while maintaining contact, a breakdown of support, or a complete cut off of communication and contact. Trying to figure out what kind of relationship you can have with someone who's hurt, neglected or abused you is a painful process. Many questions arise during the process of trying to determine how to approach such damaged relationships. How much time can you spend talking with or visiting them? How much will you let them know about your life? Do you need to take a break from the relationship for awhile to give yourself time work through and heal from trauma? Or is contact with this person just too painful, damaging?

Many of the people I see in my therapy practice are struggling with this painful issue-either after becoming estranged from family members or as they're trying to find a way to stay connected. When there has been abuse or a failure on the part of a parent to acknowledge or protect against abuse, the adult parent child relationship is often deeply effected. If estrangement has grown out of a history of abuse between parent and child, the decision to cut off contact or find a way to maintain some sort of connection is naturally fraught with having to make decisions that will promote your own well-being and healing.

In her book Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective, Kylie Agllias writes that: “estrangement from a perpetrator of abuse is a legitimate and often essential way to promote health and healing for survivors. There are times when reconciliation is not appropriate. There are other instances where survivors of abuse find some form of reconciliation or forgiveness important to their health and healing. The very personal decision to estrange or attempt some form of reconciliation is one that should always be respected.”

A broken family relationship is often difficult to talk about openly. Trying to explain why you're estranged or distant from your family can add to the distress of your experience- and add to the guilt, anxiety and shame that can become overwhelming at times. It's common for those who are estranged from their family to try to conceal this part of their lives, for fear of being judged, criticized or to avoid stigma. Add to this the fact that abuse is often kept secret, hidden away from others in the family and the community, making it that much more difficult to find the understanding and support you need.

Therapy can be a safe place to thoughtfully explore what you need for your own healing and how to best approach your family relationships-whether you're ready to work toward a reconciliation, to grieve the loss of the relationship that you can no longer be a part of, or to find somewhere in between.

To read more on this topic, check out this recent article from the New York Times:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/well/family/debunking-myths-about-estrangement.html

If you're concerned about how the past is impacting you now, help is available.  To learn more about how therapy can help, please give me a call at (626) 808-5463 or email me at hollyaevansmft@gmail.com.  I look forward to talking to you- Holly

Haunted: Living With Unresolved Childhood Trauma

Stocksy_txp60226418U1i100_Small_789083.jpg

Like a ghost, your traumatic past can come back to haunt you long after that part of your life is over. Disturbing memories may intrude, and stir up feelings about events that you thought you'd left behind. Because of the way traumatic memories are stored, reminders of disturbing events can stir up trouble in your body, your mind and your relationships, and make the past feel ever present.

Ghosts from the past

Common life experiences can bring up reminders of the past. Traumas large and small, issues that you may have already worked through, or that hadn't been bothering you for years can be reignited by a big change in your life or a seemingly minor event.

A situation at work may leave you feeling on edge, wary of others. A health crisis leaves you feeling dependent, or helpless. Changes in relationships can unsettle your sense of security. Life altering events like having a baby, a sudden loss or death, or a taking on a new roles, such as caregiving for a parent- all of these kinds of situations can open up old feelings and memories and bring the past rushing back. And often, like a troublesome ghost, it can be difficult to figure out just exactly where your emotional and physical reactions are coming from, what's causing you to feel this way.

Strong connections exist between childhood trauma and challenges in adulthood.

Unresolved trauma is one of the most common reasons people seek therapy, and early experiences are a common focus in trying to answer questions about why you're struggling right now.

Childhood is a time when we need to experience a sense of security and being loved, to help develop a sense trust in self and others. But when childhood is complicated by abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse), neglect, and other types of traumas (large and small), the ability to trust ourselves and connect to others can be compromised. Common problems linked to childhood trauma include:

  • difficulty handling emotions

  • increased risk for anxiety, depression, PTSD

  • feelings of shame and guilt

  • low self esteem

  • feeling alienated and difficulty relating to others

  • self destructive behaviors, including problems with alcohol/drugs

But this happened so long ago. It shouldn't be bothering me now.”

Adults who find themselves once again dealing with the past often make comments like “I'm a grownup. This shouldn't still be bothering me”. However, study after study has shown that adverse events in our younger years can be linked to problems in adulthood. One recent longitudinal study published earlier this year found that women who experience adverse events during their formative years (abuse, neglect or family dysfunction) are more likely to experience depression during midlife when compared to women who did not experience these kinds of stressors. (Read the study here: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-03/uops-tas032717.php). Another important longitudinal study, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) showed important connections between childhood abuse and neglect and a person's health and well-being later in life.

Overcoming Childhood Trauma

While childhood trauma can make your life more challenging at times, it doesn't have to define you and how you live your life. Therapy can help you establish a sense of safety, and develop the tools and understanding of yourself you need in order to free yourself from the grip that trauma can have on you. So that you can enjoy your life and the people in it. Develop more confidence and trust in yourself. Find peace of mind.

If you're concerned about how the past is impacting you now, help is available.  To learn more about how therapy can help, please give me a call at (626) 808-5463 or email me at hollyaevansmft@gmail.com.  I look forward to talking to you- Holly

When Anxiety Does More Than Make You Worry

What is Anxiety?

Stocksy_txp938c0475B7h100_Small_98566.jpg

There are plenty of reasons to feel anxious these days. Just a quick glance at news headlines can rattle nerves. Relationships can cause us to fret and worry. Careers create apprehension and angst. Managing stress and anxiety is something everyone must do to some extent. It's just a part of life.

But when anxiety does more than make you worry, fearful thoughts and panic can balloon out of proportion, and make it difficult just getting through the day. And if you've survived trauma, anxiety often worsens traumatic stress and PTSD.  Knowing the difference between normal worry or stress and serious anxiety can be a bit confusing.  But if anxiety is interfering in how you take care of yourself and your ability to engage in your life, it's important to try to figure it out.

Good things to know about anxiety

The statistics:

If anxiety is interfering with your life, you're not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is the most common mental health problem in the United States, affecting almost one-third of adults.

(And adolescents. Parents, read this recent article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html).

Why we all have some anxiety:

Anxiety has a purpose. It helps us notice and avoid dangerous or risky situations. But when anxiety takes over, you may begin to avoid anxiety producing situations to try to get it to stop. Anxiety symptoms can feel so intense, you just want to rid yourself of it. Staying within a comfort zone(or trying to appease your anxiety) can feel like a relief in the short term. But this kind of coping strategy usually just leads to worsening the anxiety in the long run.

When anxiety takes charge:

Anxiety can quickly become a bully(as many people have described their anxiety to me), pushing you around and controlling too much of your life. Anxiety can affect the way you feel about yourself,and influence how you go about your day-to-day. And anxiety is very common among those who are recovering from depression, trauma, or PTSD, just making things more difficult.

Help for anxiety:

When you're struggling to manage anxiety, a positive first step is to equip yourself with some facts.

The symptoms of anxiety can be very physical, and can easily be mistaken for something else. Many of the people I've worked with commonly end up in the doctor's office or emergency room with panic or anxiety, thinking that they're having heart or breathing problems. Digestive issues can also worsen with anxiety, requiring medical help. Sometimes, you might feel like you're going “crazy”, or that something is very wrong with you. Getting to know how anxiety is showing up in your life will help you free yourself from its grip.

If you're curious about common signs/symptoms of anxiety, here is a link to a helpful article:

https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/anxiety

 

One last note about anxiety:

If you're suffering with anxiety, you understandably want relief. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable. I offer therapy for anxiety disorders, and for unresolved trauma and depression which commonly occur along with anxiety. Anxiety takes many forms and effects each person in unique ways. I integrate traditional talk therapies (Psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as well as EMDR, (a therapy developed for the treatment of trauma) to create an approach that's responsive to your needs and experience.

If you'd like to learn more about how I can help you overcome anxiety, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or hollyaevansmft@gmail.com