Emergency Preparation: Coping with Emotional Trauma
Experts have determined the most essential preparations to make for an emergency are actually mental. Just as having a working flashlight on hand can make all the difference in an emergency, preparing your mind and knowing mental coping strategies before an emergency occurs is just as important. The following was written for our neighborhood by Troy Young, a Clinical Therapist with a Master’s Degree in Social Work:
Coping with Emotional Trauma
We have all experienced trauma of some kind. If you have been in a minor car accident, argued heatedly with someone, or broken a bone, all of those experiences can make us feel afraid. These are “little t” traumas. However, some traumas, such as surviving a natural disaster or witnessing violence can cause longer-lasting emotional effects. We call these “big T” traumas. In both instances, it is nice to understand how the brain reacts to trauma so that we can more effectively manage our emotions and our daily functioning.
The Prefrontal Cortex and Limbic System
Our brain has many parts, but for this purpose, we will talk about only two:
- The prefrontal cortex
- The limbic system
The prefrontal cortex is in the front of our brain right behind our forehead. The limbic system is in the center of our brain at the top of our spinal cord. The prefrontal cortex has three main functions: reason, judgment, and morals. The limbic brain has three main functions:
- avoid pain,
- seek pleasure, and
When we become so afraid that we feel our life is threatened, the prefrontal cortex goes off-line and the limbic system reacts with fight, flight, or freeze. Because our language center is in our prefrontal cortex, we often cannot speak. This would not be a good reaction if we had just survived a natural disaster. It would be good if we could gather our loved ones together, assess the damage, and make a safety plan.
Grounding Techniques for Coping With Trauma
1. Deep Breathing
I would like to share two techniques called “grounding techniques” that help us stay engaged in our pre-frontal cortex when the limbic system wants to take over. The first is simply deep breathing. Sometimes we take our breath for granted because we automatically do it every day without thinking about it. However, inhaling slowly and deeply for a slow count of 4 to 6 counts and exhaling just as slowly and deeply will calm the brain and oxygenate the prefrontal cortex–giving it more strength.
2. The 54321 Technique
The second technique is to engage the five senses. This helps our nervous system and the rest of our body stay engaged in the present moment so that we can take action. This technique I call the 54321. First, find five things that you can see, and name them in your mind.
Second, find four things you can touch–engaging your sense of touch feeling different textures.
Third, find three things you can hear.
Fourth, find two things you can smell. When you get to number one, say to yourself, “I am at one with myself.”
Managing Emotions Every Day
Not only will these techniques help us to mentally and emotionally prepare for disasters, but they can help us in our everyday lives to manage our emotions. For more information, go to http://peirsac.org/perisacui/er/educational_resources.10.pdf