Trauma is becoming a household concept in the past decade, as we see the many atrocities that are going on around our world and in our own communities. Now many organizations are placing a significant focus on raising awareness of how trauma affects individuals, families, and communities. We hear a lot about trauma and PTSD, they have become buzz words we use to describe war scenarios, domestic violence, and other tragic life events. We hear the word and maybe we have a clear concept of what it is or what we think it isn’t, but the surprising reality is that trauma can be present anywhere at any time. How so? Well, it happens on a continuum.
In the mental health community trauma takes two forms, Big “T” and Little “t”. It’s fairly intuitive, the Big “T” traumas are the classic examples of trauma, it’s the BIG events, like car crashes, sudden death of loved ones, natural disasters that sweep away communities, sexual or domestic violence. Makes sense right? These are the jarring events that leave us questioning, searching, lost, confused, and angry (all at once or in progression). They are the events that are readily recognizable as overwhelming, the events that have awareness groups rallying in line to support survivors of the tragedy. There’s an outcry to help these survivors and an increasing inventory of programs and services available to inform, normalize, and process the aftermath of the Big T.
Little ‘t” traumas are often overlooked. Its death by a thousand cuts… it’s the little inconveniences that send you into a sneaky hate spiral (click here for a hyperbolic explanation of the sneaky hate spiral). It’s all the little jarring things that happen throughout the course of the day, week, or month that progressively add up. Without the necessary skills or supports in place to counter or process these “mini” stressors our systems (mind, body, spirit) get overwhelmed. Little “t” can be things that are recognizably stressful like a new assignment at work or be the minutia that builds and ultimately overcomes us, leading to the same mental chaos as the Big “T”; the problem is that we don’t realize our systems are overwhelmed by all these “small” things until our health or sense of peace suffer.
The beauty of it is that solutions are available. Since this is a therapist writing for a therapy blog, I’ll bet you are thinking I’m going to recommend it as a first line of defense. Surprise, that’s not the case! What I would recommend is slowing down, easier said than done, but give it a try. We spend so much time and place so much emphasis on being perfect and having it all together all the time that we forget to step back and appreciate the little positive moments or don’t take time to process and rebound from the little negative ones.
Try the tips and tricks below to help manage the Little “t’s”; if that isn’t enough, therapy is always an option. There is no shame in asking for help or in seeking new tools and resources to get you over a hump.
• Breathe – use the power of breath to literally breathe life back into yourself
• Body Check – keep an eye on where you hold your tension, the more aware you are the easier it is to see when your body is feeling overwhelmed, even if your mind is telling you to push through it. When you feel it, take a step back and let yourself recover.
• Find an Outlet – everyone’s is different. If you don’t find joy or peace in running don’t run, if yoga isn’t your thing don’t do it. The goal is to find a thing that works for you.
• Put it in Perspective – it takes a little practice but try the rule of 10’s. When you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed ask yourself what impact the outcome of whatever you are focused on will have, really… will this matter in 10 minutes (the guy that cuts in front of you on the freeway), will it matter in 10 days (the balloons you forgot to pick up for the birthday party), will it matter in 10 months (the exam you did poorly on or the job interview that didn’t go so well), will it matter in 10 years (the relationship with your friend or significant other that is in a rocky spot).
o In short, put the level of energy you give something some perspective. Life isn’t perfect and it doesn’t have to be. Some of the best moments are in the mishaps and I am pretty sure no one is on their death bed commiserating over the person that cut them off in traffic 40 years ago. Essentially, let the small things, be the small things.
• Find a Friend – countless studies have been conducted showing how social support mitigates the negative impacts of stress. Meaning the Little “t’s” don’t build as quickly or as uncontrollably when we have healthy social supports to help us process (or vent) our stressful days. Side note: don’t let the venting become the premise of the relationship, that doesn’t do anyone any favors. Allow yourself one cup of coffee and one conversation, then move on.
When you feel like these basic tactics aren’t enough, it might be time to seek professional help. When Little “t’s” overwhelm us we often become anxious or depressed, which can skew our decision making and behaviors, which in turn keeps us in a rut. This is where a professional can help you peel back the proverbial layers and help you reverse or counter the things in your life that aren’t working for you. It’s always OK to ask for help and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and keep it moving.
More Information on Trauma:
Written by Ashley Steelman, MSW