For Those Affected by the Tucson Tragedy
On this site you'll find some useful, free relaxation and guided imagery audio tools
designed to bring relief for reactions people typically have in the wake of a
violent attack. They've been effective in other communities that faced similar situations.
If you want to skip over the explanation of how and why these tools work the way they do,
Of course, it goes without saying that if you start feeling worse instead of
better, or if you want to talk about your reactions, you should contact your healthcare provider.
Reactions After Such an Attack
After a traumatic event such as what happened at the Safeway in Tucson, even very
resilient, emotionally healthy people can experience some pretty intense
symptoms for a time - typically they might be flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive
thoughts, anxiety, panic attacks, concentration problems, emotional numbness,
insomnia, impaired memory, irritability, temper and startling from sudden noise
and touch. These reactions can even occur in people who were not directly
All About Survival Biochemistry
We used to think this was all "psychological", but now we know
better. After a traumatic event, or even hearing the news of a traumatic event,
there's a biophysical
reaction, related to the massive release of survival hormones that flood the
body. These biochemicals don't dissipate quickly, but instead swing back and
forth, between natural alarm and sedation neurohormones, as the body tries to
settle itself back down to its normal rhythms. People can be furious or
terrified, agitated or panicky one minute - that's the alarm biochemicals - and
numb, emotionally flat and disconnected the next - that's the natural opioids.
We know from studies of typhoons and bombings that these swings can
last in some people from four to nine months. For others,
it's only a matter of weeks. Some people don't get them at all.
A lot depends on your built-in neurological wiring; also how close you were to
the traumatic event, how personally affected you were, and whether you've
suffered previous traumatic experiences.
And because traumatic memories are not stored in the language and thinking
centers of the brain, where normal memories are catalogued, but instead are
stashed in the more primitive, survival-based structures of the brain, as
images, perceptions, emotions, sensations and muscular reactions, they can be
hard or even impossible to access with language.
Traumatic memories don't quickly fade or distort over time the way normal memories do.
Instead they can stay in the survival centers of the brain, as flashbacks,
nightmares, physical sensations and raw feelings, experienced each time with
great immediacy and intensity, as if the original event were happening all over
again. This catalyzes yet another blast of alarm biochemicals, followed by the
alternating tide of natural opioids, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes
these swings can actually gain in intensity for a time. But most people's
biochemistry eventually gets back to normal, even when they do nothing to make
About It Not Always the First Place to Start
Getting someone who was within immediate range of the traumatic event to talk about what happened, right
off the bat, is not always such a great idea - especially if they experienced
"freezing" during the attack (freezing is a commonplace, built-in, biological
response to threat, common to all mammals, along with the better understood
fight and flight reactions).
Either the survivor won't be able to access what happened in spoken words,
or he'll talk about it in a rote,
disconnected way that doesn't help; or she'll try to talk and a flashback or
panic attack gets activated, kicking loose another cascade of alarm
biochemicals that activate the cycle all over again. For many trauma survivors,
journaling or even drawing is easier and more useful than talking about it.
What is most helpful in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event is
learning and practicing simple self-regulation
skills that help settle a disrupted biochemistry. Once a practice of
one or more of these simple, self-calming skills is in place, these biochemical
swings can be coaxed back into balance more quickly and easily. These skills
also makes it easier for survivors to discuss the trauma and integrate it
cognitively in the language and idea-processing parts of the brain - that is,
if they still want or need to. Some do and some don't.
There are many of these self-regulation practices, and they are easy to learn - conscious
breathing (counting to three with each in-breath and each out-breath, for instance),
progressive muscle relaxation, mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, yoga,
qigong, self-acupressure - all are good self-regulatory skills. Of course, for
some, prayer fills the bill and is all that is needed..
Other methods such as therapeutic massage, energy work, Reiki or Therapeutic
Touch, aerobic exercise, listening to music, mindful walking in the woods,
working with art, writing or expressive dance are helpful too.
A Potent Tool in the Kit
Guided imagery - a kind of deliberate, directed daydraming, narrated by a
soothing voice over calming music - is now considered a "best
practice" and treatment of choice for acute and traumatic stress. It's
especially easy to use, because it demands so little of the listener and does
most of the "heavy lifting" - listeners can just drop into an
immersive, receptive state (surprisingly easy for most traumatized people to
do, thanks to those endogenous opioids) and listen or, more typically,
There are many other reasons why imagery is ideal - it acts on the same part of
the brain that's been most affected, countering horrendous images with healing
ones. It's also simple, portable and self-administered.
Click here to
go to the downloads page.
instructions are as follows: once the audio starts, just close your eyes (or
keep your lids at half-mast if you don't want to shut them completely) and
yourself experience the voice, music and images. You don't have to pay perfect
attention for it to work.
as it sounds, repeated listening to guided imagery can speed up your body's
return to normal, bring you back to your basic resilience, and remind an
agitated system that it does indeed remember how to get back into balance.
as often as you like or as often as you can, but once or twice a day for a few
weeks is a good schedule to get yourself on. It's especially effective if you
listen in that already dreamy time, when you're just waking up or falling
asleep. You may get a little teary - that's normal, so don't let that throw
you. And they're pretty relaxing, so please don't listen while you're driving!
offering 5 downloads for you - some recordings that are relevant to these
through Counting the Breath
Imagery for Peaceful Perspective
Imagery for Healing Trauma
for Healing Trauma
Yourself and We Wish You Well!
Please help yourself to these simple but effective imagery downloads and again,
if your reactions persist or intensify or begin to interfere with your everyday
functioning, please contact your healthcare provider.
For questions. comments or more info:
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