I was not proud of my angry response to an inflammatory post from someone in my WordPress feed over the weekend. I was temporarily unable to step away and I got side-tracked from the intention I had for that morning. It made me want to fight, defend and debate.
In reflecting on this phenomenon later, I realized that I had been “triggered” but that I had a choice about how to respond. Eventually, when I realized I was not going to get anything productive out of the interaction, I stepped away and disengaged. I re-directed my attention and moved on to more fulfilling and satisfying endeavors.
In truth, someone who has been through trauma has a much more difficult time dealing with a situation that triggers them. I cannot recall any specific trauma that led to this response, so I was able to bring my frontal cortex back online relatively quickly from that amygdala “hijack” by telling myself there was no need to add fuel to the flames. There was clearly high emotion on both sides, and we were not able to “hear” one another arguments.
I also realized in hearing the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, and the humiliation she endured after her assault, I deeply empathized with her story. I could feel viscerally that shame she must have felt, even though I am one of the fortunate few who has not suffered assault.
It occurred to me that so many women who have similar stories are likely feeling a little more vulnerable and emotionally rocked by the testimony. And it is good for those of us with empathy to be there to reassure our friends that their reactions are valid, and that we are willing to sit with them during their process.
Some time ago I became intrigued by some research on trauma and PTSD by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who was featured in the On Being podcast episode. He explains that trauma leaves an imprint on the body, not just the brain, in sensory and hormonal systems. Of the treatment options, body-centered practices like Yoga help develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable.
In an article published at the Trauma Center, explains that “Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses.”
“Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches use – and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations – that things come to an end…
The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to and end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.”
Yoga also teaches us to use the breath. Western culture tends to solve our issues through means from the outside, rather than teaching us how we can master our own physiology. This is where the intersection of these practices can and should be used in conjunction with “modern” medicine in the treatment of trauma and its effects.
Perhaps this is why I am such a big “evangelist” of yoga and why I am developing a course on “yoga and mindful leadership.” Based on my own consistent practice of yoga and meditation, I have seen the effects in my own life. I am always grateful when I also come across strong research to back this up.
So, what to do when we are triggered? The first thing is to breathe deeply a few times and slow down. We can realize that our physiological response is real, but that it does not reflect present danger. We honor that part of our primitive brain that is trying to keep us safe, and recognize that we need timely self-care to calm our nervous system. Over time, with practice, it is possible to heal with the right support.