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Barrister Bits by Debra A. Newby

Tips for Dealing with Trauma

Oct 23, 2017
by Debra Newby, Newby Law

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[Note: Next month’s column will resume with Part Two of the new cannabis law. This month I am addressing a topic I see often in my personal injury law practice, which may be prompted by the recent fires…PTSD].

Trauma: 1. Any physical injury resulting from force. 2. A severe emotional shock having a deep effect upon the personality.

Webster’s Dictionary offers a rather basic definition of trauma, yet says it all. None of us are immune from trauma. It can raise its ugly head from a childhood experience. I witness trauma often in my law practice…a horrific motor vehicle crash that leaves one paralyzed or crippled. Trauma often shows up when our veterans return from a war zone.

Peter Levine, a well-known psychological trauma theorist, views trauma not by the event, but by one’s reactions to it and the symptoms that arise. No matter the source of the trauma, as it washes through the individual’s psyche, it can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Yes, our community has been assaulted by relentless and fierce fires. I suspect every one of us has either been directly impacted, or knows someone whose home has been burnt to the ground or damaged (or heaven forbid, lost a loved one). Perhaps you are tired of reading and hearing about the disaster by now. That is fine. Certainly, a normal reaction. But, for those of you who wish to
immerse yourself in information, I’d like to share a checklist of common
symptoms of trauma, as noted by the American Psychological Association:

1. Feelings become intense and are sometimes unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety and depression are common manifestations.

2. Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event.

3. Confusion or difficulty making decisions.

4. Sleep or eating issues.

5. Fear that the emotional event will be repeated.

6. A change in interpersonal relationship skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality.

7. Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and chest pain.

According to Susanne Babbel, Ph.D, M.F.T., survivors of natural disasters are recommended to seek professional guidance if they suffer from PTSD symptoms for more than 4-6 weeks. Time is the best healing partner. This we all know. But for those who cannot turn the corner toward healing, may I offer a few practical tips that have assisted my personal injury clients over the years (with the disclosure that I am a lawyer, not a mental health professional, so you should always seek the help of a licensed therapist if need be):

Tip #1: Start small by resuming your “normal routine”. That morning protein shake or the quiet walk in the wood. You do not have to reconnect to
“normalcy” all at once. 

Tip #2: Nourish your senses: Invest in a diffuser with your favorite essential oils to help relax and calm. Or walk on the beach and take in the salty breeze. Listen to uplifting music.

Tip #3: Find a family member or friend who you trust…and pour your heart out. Cry. Talk. Cry some more. For those of us on the receiving end, our job is difficult yet powerful--Listen. Just Listen.

Tip #4: Reflect and give thanks for all that you have. Gratitude is a convincing therapist.

Tip #5: Hug a child. Your neighbor’s dog. Touch with loving and good
intentions reconnects us to that which is meaningful.

Tip #6: Be smart when you file your insurance claim. Know it will be a long process, driven by paperwork that you will need to complete and provide. Invest in a binder/notebook with pockets so you can keep everything
organized (or create a separate e-file on your computer so it is all in one place).   

Tip #7: Dance. Hula-Hoop. Stretch. Do Yoga. Go fishing. Whatever reminds your body that it is designed to move, which may naturally lower your
cortisol (stress) levels.

Tip #8: Ask for help...those who love you want to help.

Continue to be brave and supportive, dear Sonoma County neighbors. Be decisive. Our obstacles will eventually melt away, along with our collective remnants of trauma.

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