Rebound after Trauma: A holistic approach

We are 2 weeks out from my daughter’s fall from her horse, and I thought it would be a good time to post a post-trauma self care list. After a traumatic event or injury, our mind/body experience is complex. While it is important to always communicate your body’s messages to your health care team after an injury, it can be helpful to understand what the mind and body are doing to help you find equilibrium again.

In addition to my daughter’s fall, earlier this year I had two people close to me experience car accidents.  One was pregnant and did not sustain any identifiable injuries but had a long skidding slide on an icy road that ended in a impact with a guardrail.  The other was flipped and rolled and experienced bruising, compression but remarkably walked away.  Both of these women  had physical symptoms that were not ‘dangerous’ but deserved some attention and gave clues to what their bodies needed to heal optimally.  We know that experiencing traumatic events/chronic stress not only creates initial and short-term physical and emotional discomfort, but also puts our bodies at greater risk for other health problems. Self-care and professional support can minimize the impact.

During the Stress Event

When a stressful event occurs catecholamines are released to help us cope in the moment.  This cocktail of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine act to increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure, & create lung expansion.  Metabolic changes occur, allowing the body to rapidly mobilize the glucose stores. Pupils dilate and we are on alert to deal with the event at hand.

Biochemical changes in the aftermath

After the event, our bodies will seek homeostatis.  There are residual waves following, including transient and immediate responses such as a blood sugar drop, exhaustion, shortness of breath, heart flutters, that should subside.

Excess secretion of catecholamines, or the failure of the body to ‘calm the storm’ leads to continued elevated heart rate & blood pressure, increased perspiration and irritability.   Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs in some people after a traumatic event.  The research exploring resilience factors as well as risk factors for PTSD helps us to understand ways for all of us to optimize our wellness during a healing process.

Emotions, Trauma & the Brain

My daughter got through the fall, the ER stay and the trip home before she could really cry.   In fact, those present at the time were sure she hadn’t broken her arm until they saw the bent angle of it.   While she had the adrenaline to get her through phase 1, what followed was a great deal of pain, and release of emotion. Similarly, my friends had a calm ‘holding it together’ time and then moved through emotions ranging from gratitude, to grief & anger.

As a family, we helped my daughter to manage the pain, using as much pain medication as she could tolerate safely as well as using meditation and relaxation techniques.  We allowed her to talk about her experience and to cry as much as she needed to.  We also gave her options to ‘shut off’ and distract herself but stayed away from activities that would spike her adrenaline, like the ‘survival mode’ in a game she’s fond of.

We are now in the next phase of regaining a normal routine, chores, friends and with some modifications, exercise.  We are grateful to the brace! She’s been able to swim, fish and have some summer fun.

Tend to the body and emotions well.  Oxytocin, the healing hormone, surges with loving emotional connection and touch. Cuddling is good medicine!

Neuromuscular changes

The body is pretty jarred when impact occurs, much more than you might imagine.  To avoid long-lasting neuromuscular changes that result from defensive positioning or compensatory functioning, cranial-sacral work, yoga therapy, physical therapy and other modalities can help the body find balance again.  I won’t go into all these now but might in a later post.  This was an important strategy for my friend in the roll-over and I recommend various modalities for infants that have trauma at birth and are exhibiting feeding difficulties or fussiness.

Metabolic changes

Eating a nutrient dense diet during this time is ideal.  It’s estimated that the body needs 5-15% more nutrition to heal a physical injury.  Stress might lead us to ‘carb load’ but there is good evidence that an anti-inflammatory approach is optimal following an injury.  UCLA researchers have found that Omega 3s can even change the course of traumatic brain injury.  We had pizza and ice cream on the first night out of necessity (and comfort) as we left the ER but focused on a nutrient dense and anti-inflammatory diet following that first day.

Some Final Tips for Supporting the Body and Mind

Create Calm

I was glad to have “Peace and Calming” blend in my bag when the fall occurred.  During the entire emergency room visit I was able to use this aromatherapy for my daughter and my own benefit.  As anyone knows, it’s an awful mama moment to be in this situation and I needed my own calm elixer!

I have great success with Rescue Remedy for my daughter.  She palpably relaxes.

Even deep breathing calms the central nervous system and allows greater oxygenation to tissues.   Infants can be calmed by flexing them at the hips or by swaddling. Including restorative yoga poses and meditation can help the body and mind regulate. Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to benefit those with PTSD.  We can calm the mind and change the brain.

If you can minimize additional stressors and take 10 minute restore moments, you’ll be downshifting into a calmer body that can do it’s work of healing. The mind and mood are so interrelated with the inflammatory process and the immune system’s functioning.

Manage inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s response to mobilize healing but it’s also the inflammatory response, when prolonged or chronic, that is associated with health risk.  We use ice on injury to contain the inflammation.  But there are also other strategies to help your body along with calming the ‘flaring’ of tissues and the body as a whole.

Restorative sleep, at least 8- 10 hours but after a trauma you may find that your body ‘crashes’ for a day or two.  If you have difficulty sleeping or are sleeping excessively beyond this initial healing, reach out to your health care team.

An anti-inflammatory diet, including Omega 3s and turmeric aids in healing.  B-vitamins help us to manage stress and Vitamins C & A are cell and tissue builders.

Thoughts, Beliefs and Your Health

Perhaps you feel that the injury could have been avoided, and have an attorney’s phone number in your wallet.  While only you can know what is appropriate for you, there are a number of researchers that have explored how hostility can impact your health or conversely, how positive explanatory styles can help you be well.  We all wish that we could take back that moment of an accident or injury but somewhere between blaming the self or blaming others there is a possibility of peace.  Find the support and approach that is most healing for you and yes, it’s ok to feel anger and all that ‘stuff’ – allow it and let it move through you.  There are mental health practitioners who specialize in trauma and can help you find relief and healing.

Final thoughts…

There are specific nutritional approaches and also homeopathic remedies that might be helpful, given the specific injury or trauma.  I’ll leave that advice to other experts or perhaps will gather some resources to add to TTP over time.

Work on communicating with your health care team. Through supporting clients after birth trauma or injury, I’ve seen that it’s important to listen with care to their stories and to take the time to create a deeper understanding of what the mind/body is experiencing.    Create ease and take in nourishment. Many healing wishes to you!


Dr. DennisCharney’s Prescription for Resilience

Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett:  Psychological Trauma and Physical Health: A Psychoneuroimmunology Approach to Etiology of Negative Health Effects and Possible Interventions

Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet

From the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, After the Injury is a guide for parents (and professionals) regarding a child’s reactions to injury or trauma.

Dr. Liz Applegate’s nutrition for healing after injury

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