What is an Acute Stress Response?

I recently sat with a client who had been a witness to a serious car accident. She had been involved in helping those injured and at the time of the accident was in full swing action mode. Three weeks later, she was still struggling with some of the after effects of that incident.

When we have an especially upsetting experience or trauma, we will often experience an acute stress reaction. Very often, that will include a re-experiencing of the event with intrusive images or flashbacks. It can also include a state of hyper-arousal in which we may feel irritable, have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and feeling on edge. And lastly, an acute stress reaction can lead us to purposefully avoid thoughts and feelings, people or places that are linked to the event. For example, she was avoiding going along that stretch of road to get to work.

Typically, almost everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event will experience an acute stress reaction. Although the reaction may vary in its intensity, it will usually resolve within a few weeks. As we began working through some of the client’s symptoms, she was able to identify that she was sleeping better, not thinking about it as much, and was not quite so consumed with the images that were left behind.

When we are aware that we can experience such a reaction, we can also reassure ourselves that it is a typical response to a stressful event and that a normal recovery will take place. Sometimes, however, the symptoms remain and this is when we are at risk for developing post traumatic symptoms. Tomorrow’s post will look at 5 facts about PTSD.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@thenewmalcolm



A Reminder About Invincibility

I have noticed that during this pandemic, there is an ebb and flow to the attention we must give to Covid-19. We face a change, settle in for the ‘long haul,’ and then we are faced with another change. Those are the times when heightened feelings are up and you can feel a palpable shift in anxiety. With children returning to school in the next couple of weeks, we are in such a state. Decisions have to be made, differing opinions flood social media; we feel braced for the numbers to go up.

I came across this poem by Albert Camus that gives us a reminder about the strength we have within ourselves:

In the midst of hate, I found there was

within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was,

within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was,

within me, an invincible calm.

I realized, through it all, that in 

the midst of winter, I found there was,

within me, and invincible summer.

And that makes me happy.

For it says that no matter how hard 

the world pushes against me,

within me, there’s something stronger –

something better, pushing right back.

– Albert Camus

The world these days often feels as though it is pushing against us. With our invincibility, we can push back 🙂

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@veradavidovaphotography

“Something Bad Is Going to Happen”

Over-estimating danger is a common thinking trap. Often tied to a core belief or learned from past experience, we can fall prey to believing that something bad is going to happen. For some people, it can be an accompanying thought to a low-level feeling of anxiety that is often described as “a feeling of dread.”

If your childhood was filled with uncertainty or chaos, you most likely live with low level anxiety. Our fight-or-flight system responds to this low level anxiety as “something is wrong.” The same will occur if you have been triggered to a past trauma. This can create a loop of feelings, thoughts and behaviours; therefore referred to as a thinking trap. When we over-estimate danger, we exaggerate the chance that something bad will happen.

We are much better served when we begin to realize that these thoughts are tied to the past and are now misplaced anxiety. We can challenge the thought by asking ourselves “Am I confusing the possibility with certainty?” It is about using our rational brain to comfort our emotional brain; focusing on the facts of “I am safe, I am in charge of me, I have choices.”

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@mitchel3uo



How We Stand In Our Own Way

Sometimes we create our own roadblock to change. This is not always obvious; after all, denial is a big line of defense. It can happen consciously – we verbally deny observations or questions brought to our attention; and it can also occur unconsciously, where the pull is stronger and it usually involves ‘forgetting’ elements of what has taken place.

Typically, when we sense that there is something we hold back from ourselves, this represents our sore spots, our fears, our deep insecurities. It is usually tied to something from our childhood, and the thought of facing it is too frightening. The result? Self-sabotage. We find it in addiction, patterns of behaviour, automatic thoughts. It weaves itself into our relationships and can affect its functioning.

In therapy, we often reach the point of exploring the resistance; usually when the therapist begins to feel compelled to convince. The first step is to come to the realization that we have created our own roadblock to change, and by sticking to old patterns, thoughts and behaviours, we are now perpetuating the cycle.

From there, we can be curious. Where did this develop and why? Having these answers often makes it okay to give ourselves permission to ask ourselves “Does it have to be this way? Can I push past my comfort zone? Learn new ways of coping?” 

Sometimes, we have to step out of our own way 🙂

Like this post? Consider subsbribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@jannerboy62

Common Roles we Carry from Childhood

Dysfunction in families shows up as does everything else – on a continuum. Sometimes the chaos and abuse is obvious, other times the dysfunction is more subtle. Through my work with clients, I have learned that the roles we are given in childhood, based on some level of dysfunction, has the ability to be carried into our adult lives as it begins to weave itself into our identity. Here are some common roles we carry from childhood:

  1. The Caregiver. Most often, this role is created when an older sibling is expected to care and look out for younger siblings. Sometimes this may happen out of necessity (single parent), other times from neglect. It can also occur when children feel they must take care of their parent, either physically or emotionally. In any case, the child is placed in this role with little say on the matter.
  2. The Golden Child. This occurs when a family either directly or implicitly deem one child in the family as “the child that can do no wrong.” Parents will deny it – yet all the kids in the family will easily identify who the golden child was.
  3. The Overachiever – Sometimes this role comes from a parent’s need to associate love with success. For the type A child, combining the two can easily lead them into overachieving as they seek their parents approval in order to feel accepted and loved.
  4. The Black Sheep – in large, dysfunctional families, you always tend to find the black sheep – the “child that does everything wrong.” Unfortunately, this child is also the scapegoat for everything the family senses is wrong within its walls.
  5. The Mediator – when there is conflict in the family, one child is usually drawn to being the mediator or peace keeper. This can lead to leaning into being a fixer.
  6. The Sacrificer – this is the child that learned it was safer to fly under the radar, not rock the boat, ‘do as you’re told.’ This can often lead to the feeling that your opinion or needs didn’t matter as sacrificing your own needs was tied to survival.

Childhood roles can become an engrained part of how we function as adults. But they don’t have to be. Once we have identified a role that was given to us as a child, we can begin to give ourselves permission to re-identify ourselves. We can begin to see ourselves in a more objective light, while choosing new skills to avoid defaulting into our old roles. After all, the story is ours and we are free to write a new narrative 🙂

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@kyleunderscorehead

Managing Change During the Pandemic

We are experiencing a time of change; the pandemic is still rolling along, ebbing and flowing in accordance with society’s adherence or lack thereof. We have reached a point where getting back to “normal” has proven to bring lots of mixed feelings that runs the spectrum –  from those who are outraged about having to wear a mask in public places, to those who experience paranoia and panic. There are those who feel returning to work and life is necessary and those who have settled into a slower pace and are attached to the feeling of comfort that their social bubbles have created.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has brought consistently to the table it is the element of the unknown. From one day to the next, there is very little to rely on in terms of knowing when we are no longer going to be at risk of spreading Covid-19.

From a psychological perspective, this can be experienced as the difficulty in managing change. We tend to fear what we can’t control. Change is inevitably going to show up at our door, and it comes packed with apprehension, discomfort and anxiety. It induces avoidance.

Yet change also comes with possibility, opportunity and growth. It can strengthen faith and courage. It induces development.

We may not be able to fully know what the future brings where the pandemic is concerned, but we can manage change. We can be good citizens and follow the rules; we can aim for a balanced approach to media absorption, we can take it one day at time. We can count our blessings, we can take a deep breath when the worry strikes, we can remind ourselves that we are all in this together.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@adamsky1973

Can a Relationship Survive Infidelity?

When one person in the relationship has had an affair, the effects of that betrayal can be devastating. When we are blindsided by the knowledge that our partner has been unfaithful, it can throw us into a vortex of raw feelings and we may wonder if the relationship can ever survive it.

In order for a relationship to survive infidelity, some things need to be considered:

  • Are both parties wanting to move towards reconciliation? Very often, the choice to have an affair is based on wanting to leave the relationship. In order for the relationship to heal, both partners have to commit to wanting to repair, heal, and grow.
  • Is the transgressor willing to 100% end the affair? Not only does the affair have to end, so does all contact. No friendship, no texts now and then, nothing, nada. Allowing friendly contact only puts more weight on the shoulders of the person who was cheated on and they have too much to sort through already.
  • Are both parties willing to get professional help? Because of the extreme sensitivity of infidelity, seeking couples therapy is a safe bet in trying to move forward and heal from the rupture.
  • Are both parties willing to commit to re-building trust? For the transgressor, that means earning back your partner’s trust. If they want to look at your phone, you do so willingly. If they need to talk about it, (as much as you may want to forget about it), answer their questions. Be in a position of empathy. For the partner on the other side of the transgression, it is important that you give your partner the benefit of the doubt that they are remorseful and wanting to earn back your trust. The requests you have of your spouse need to be reasonable – you are working towards forgiveness, and although on a roller coaster of emotions, constant attacks or incessant phone checking will not be helpful in the overall repair of the relationship.
  • Consider individual counselling as well. In addition the the couple’s work, sometimes it is beneficial that both parties have their own therapists. Deeper exploration into personal issues and feelings, as well as an increased sense of support, can help both parties get through the process of reconciling after an affair.

A relationship can survive infidelity; it may take time and invested effort, but it can also put the couple in the resilient position of having weathered the storm.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@kellysikkema

The Power of Uncertainty

We tend to like to know what is going on. We feel safe when we have a sense of direction, less anxiety when there is movement, we like to know the plan.

Uncertainty threatens our levels of safety; it throws us into limbo which is always a tough place to be. If we happen to come from a childhood that was chaotic or in any way emotionally unsafe, uncertainty can create even greater anxiety levels – to the point where the discomfort feels unbearable.

Uncertainty keeps us stuck. We may feel “okay” in a job but not happy, “fine” in a relationship but not fulfilled. We stay because it feels familiar and comfortable, and the unknown keeps our doubts high and our movement stagnant.

Uncertainty has the power to derail. Sometimes, the fear of what we can’t be sure of threatens to derail us and we begin to ruminate. The overthinking cycle takes over, and our desperate thoughts begin to spiral.

And yet, where would we be without change? What would happen if we never experienced variability or chance? What if we never experienced the healing properties of letting go? We can’t get to certainty without some uncertainty. We can’t get to stability without some degree of risk.

When uncertainty is a part of world, we can remind ourselves that it is temporary; that it is a necessary part of the process. We need to go through it, not around it. We can have faith that it will all work out, know that limbo can be an important time for growth, and work towards movement with what we can control in times of uncertainty. We can be brave.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@mgshannon


Building Resilience; Post 2

Yesterday’s post looked at the importance of our mindset when building resilience. Today, we look at well being and how it can contribute to the overall level of resilience we have in dealing with stress, a situation out of our control, loss, trauma.

One of the greatest factors that contributes to our well being is when, upon examination, we feel good about our lives. Paramount to feeling an overall sense of satisfaction is the amount of personal control we have within them. When we are actively and purposefully designing our life by contributing to choices in our work, spirituality, social life, relationships and self-care, we are building a stronger foundation for handling a stressful situation.

Let’s take our current situation into consideration as we have needed to practice social distancing and staying at home due to the pandemic. Here are some examples of how well-established habits and well being can help in building resilience:

  • Going to yoga class once a week was not possible. Two weeks into lockdown, my friend found a youtube channel she could watch and is doing yoga every morning before the world gets up (in her house anyway!)
  • Can’t attend church. God loves your prayers no matter where you say them; live church services are in abundance online.
  • It has been absolutely enjoyable to watch people’s inventiveness in trying to increase their ‘shared, social experiences’ from home. Musicians posting songs (both famous and not),  free virtual museum tours, art lessons online, resources to help the kids temper boredom.
  • In our family, we have all felt the loss of not being able to attend my sister’s Sunday dinner. A few weeks into lockdown, we established a Sunday evening video chat (and included my aunt Rita who lives in New England.) We have done a family trivia night, played Scattegories, had a theme night where we had to dress up like celebrities (using what we had at home!), and just this past week, we had to make a structure out of graham crackers and icing.
  • Sleep habits, exercise, eating healthy. If those were a part of your well being goals before the pandemic, you are probably more dedicated to adjust and continue on track.

These are just a few examples of how, when faced with a stressful situation, we can adjust our sails. When we are purposefully contributing to a healthier life in general, we will lean into those coping strategies when times get tough. Our overall well being plays an important role in feeling resilient. 🙂

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by Félix Lam on Unsplash

Building Resilience; Post 1

Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” It is a psychological quality that allows us to recover from challenges, and in hindsight, to acknowledge those challenges as times of personal growth.

How is it that some people seem to be more resilient than others? Although there are contributing factors such as early life experiences and genetics that can’t be modified, we can build resilience. Today’s post will feature building resilience through mindset; an important element in our ability to be open to change.

  • Objective thinking. There are times when we lean into the “why me’s?” when something in our life is challenging us. Although this is a natural response, the trick is in how long we stay there. Being able to look at a situation objectively allows us to take into account all contributing factors, and we are able to accept the situation and move towards managing it.
  • Accepting that we make mistakes. When we have the overall attitude that sometimes we make a mistake and our best way to accept that failure is to learn from it, we are building resilience. Leaning into shame or ascribing to perfectionism can hinder that process.
  • Positive reframing. We all know that life happens – good and bad. Positive reframing allows us to move forward in such a way as to heal from the trauma or the grief. It is the understanding that although it may change us in a way that is permanent, we also retain the ability to manage it.
  • Problem focused thinking. Working through tough emotions that accompany life’s challenges is part of the process. When we have the mindset that there are things that we can do to temper those emotions in healthy ways, we ascribe to looking for solutions, albeit temporary or in the context of goal setting.
  • Focus on acceptance. Unfortunately we can’t outrun change, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and we can’t get through life without some degree of suffering. When we take a deep breath and remind ourselves that “it is what it is,” we move towards trying to find what we can control in the situation. Generally, this brings us to an action that will help us process the grief, trauma or loss.

Having a mindset that promotes resilience is possible. We can work on developing this type of a mindset at any time in our lives. Tomorrow’s post on resilience will examine well-being and how it can contribute to building resilience.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash