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, click here.  

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.

Typical 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 involved.

It's 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.

It Takes Time
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.

Atypical Memory Storage
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 it so.

Talking 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.

Self-Regulate First
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.

Simple Practices
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.

Imagery: 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, half-listen.

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.

Free Downloads
Click here to go to the downloads page.

General 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 let yourself experience the voice, music and images. You don't have to pay perfect attention for it to work.

Simple 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.

Listen 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!

We're offering 5 downloads for you - some recordings that are relevant to these circumstances.

Relaxation through Counting the Breath

Guided Imagery for Peaceful Perspective

Guided Imagery for Healing Trauma

Affirmations for Healing Trauma

Help with Sleep

Help 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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