Breathing is the Most Powerful Self-regulator in Trauma Recovery

Just Breathe

Our breath is our best friend, in any situation, in any conversation, even in escalating situations on the edge of boundaries of disharmony. Our breath is the most powerful self regulator in trauma recovery, always with us, and always brings us back home in the moment, here and now, not then and there. People who have experienced a traumatic event, which is estimated to be 50-60% of the population in this country, can learn to be intentional about a breath practice.

Take a moment to remember the last time you had that “close call”. In the car, walking across the street, your child walking out into the street. We don’t have to stop and think about what to do next when our life is threatened, or the life of a child, or any other person we love and care about. Our nervous system is wired to survive. The reptilian brain is always on the lookout for danger.

After the close call, we take that deep breath and are very aware of our heart pounding, and the sweaty palms of our hands. After several deep breaths, we become aware that we are safe. Our brains are processing, making sense out of what just happened. Our nervous system communicates that we can now relax. Being safe is crucial for the nervous system’s message that we can rest. Resting, we begin to digest what just happened.

Trauma Recovery begins with feeling safe.

A dys-regulated nervous system feels unsafe. A calm, settled, regulated nervous system feels safe. Breathing with awareness of the body sensations while breathing in and breathing out activates the parasympathetic nervous system, our bodies’ recovery from fight and/or flight and/or freeze. With the dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system, we maintain homeostasis with rest and digest. We have an increased capacity to respond with clarity in the present moment.

Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers on the front line of the pandemic are not feeling safe, on many levels. Many are living with chronic diseases as a result of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) research study revealed many adults, including those who are now nurses, physicians, and teachers, are living with chronic diseases, as a result of frozen residue of trauma in the nervous system for many years.

Understanding the effect of nervous system dys-regulation of those who provide care, increases the awareness of the dys-regulated nervous system of a patient or client. With this increased awareness, the powerful self-regulation with breathing also has an effect on co-regulation and co-synchronization of both nervous systems. One person brings a calm, grounded, synchronized presence.

Collective Trauma needs Collective Healing

Nurses know about the need for self care. Yet, the team that takes a moment to breathe together, co-synchronized breathing, experiences the healing of a coherent group, group care. Trauma causes separation. Healing trauma happens in relationships. Healing invisible wounds through trauma recovery in a coherent group, expands our capacity to understand and serve others. Collective trauma needs collective healing in group care. Teams that take a moment to breathe together, co-synchronized breathing, experiences coherence in the group. A coherent group creates a feeling of safety.

Self-regulation, and co-regulation, offer a feeling of being safe. Too many nurses and social workers share they have found little benefit in activities taught and suggested in self-care classes. Many may be experiencing symptoms of a dys-regulated nervous system, undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Acute Traumatic Stress.

The reported increase of PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression, Moral Injury and Moral Distress occurring in nurses and physicians prior to COVID-19, is expected to increase exponentially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and suicide, also on the rise among nurses and physicians, is expected to increase exponentially in the aftermath of the pandemic. Feeling of being safe, will be a necessary consideration in the effective counseling, psychotherapy, or medications prescribed by a health care practitioner.

Our bodies want to heal.

Being intentional about taking a brief pause for a breath practice, listening to our bodies’ messages, is a necessary first step in trauma recovery. The trauma recovery of each individual nurse and physician is necessary for the healing and trauma recovery of those individuals being cared for. A few minutes of synchronized breathing where two or more gather, in the hallway or break room, or during a team meeting, will bring a synergistic healing energy to the coherent group. Trauma causes separation. Recovery from trauma happens in relationship, a coherent field where all are participating from a place of authenticity and transparency.

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