We all experience scary events, some are traumatic and shake us to our core. Our bodies may have a strong reaction to what happened and hold onto it. We receive reminders from our environment of the trauma and upon reception, the body may react with a symptom or maybe more. A way to address this reaction is to change your relationship or the way that you think about the scary event. Our bodies can physically carry trauma, causing symptoms for years. It’s vital to seek treatment from a mental health professional who has experience working with trauma.
This article isn’t going to dive deep into the full topic of trauma (though there is some solid information and research out there), I’m only going to cover one aspect, and that’s changing your relationship with what happened to you. I’m going to share an acute traumatic experience that happened to me while trail running and how I’m striving towards changing my relationship with what happened, so that I can continue to do what I love without lugging around fear and physical symptoms.
My goal of sharing my story with you is that something will be relatable and something I say you can take with you. Everyone has had something scary happen to them, we need to have some understanding of our reaction, we need to know what to do with this information, how to process it, and how to grow from it.
– Keep in mind that we find different things frightening, for example, many people are afraid of spiders, but I really like them. Someone might have been in a car accident and may panic or feel fearful the next time they get in a car, another person may not.
A few Fantastic resources to learn more about this topic
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma By Bessel van der Kolk, MD
Somatic Psychotherapy Toolbox: 125 Worksheets and Exercises to Treat Trauma & Stress By Manuela Mischke-Reeds, MA, LMFT
Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists By Janina Fisher, PhD
— Cool fact: a while back, I took an online course on trauma taught by Janina.
NOTE: This article is not medical advice and I am not your mental health counselor.
I FACED A PRETTY BIG FEAR [10/10/21]
I returned to where I came across the mountain lion back in June and I ran that section twice (because out and back).
My mind was on high alert, telling me that it was too dangerous to be out there. My heart raced, I experienced tingling and warmness on and off in my legs, hands and face. Anxious and catastrophizing thoughts occurred, but were well-managed. I replaced the thoughts with realistic ones and was mindful of my actual environment. – It was a beautiful day, I was blessed to be out there, hikers were enjoying the trail (not freaking out like I was), and keeping my goals in mind. I knew I had to be out there, in that spot, facing my fears. I was doing it for myself and doing it for Oil Creek 100, which was the next Saturday. [This was helpful for Oil Creek, I wasn’t fearful of the dark and wild animals attacking me until about midnight or so, and that was just because I was tired.]
I sometimes think of my mind as a volume knob when I experience these symptoms or anxiety is too loud. The volume needs turned down. It is okay to experience the noise, but it doesn’t need to be loud. The reason that it is okay to experience the noise is because it is natural for our bodies to have a survival instinct and to be on the lookout for danger. The instinct keeps us safe and alive. It is also okay to sit with our emotions. We shouldn’t avoid them, they need addressed. As I faced my fears, I was able to be with these emotions. I processed them and noted anxious thoughts.
After being with my feelings and thoughts, I then took notes on my environment. I was present with it and noticed how pleasant it was. As I looked around, I searched for a mountain lion. Yes, terrifying, but I reminded myself that it would be an extremely small chance that I’d see one. My reasoning for not seeing one even though the last time I was there there was one? It was not around 1:00 AM; there were a few hikers out and they were not concerned; I was wearing a bear bell and making other noise, which would help scare it off; I had trekking poles in case I needed a weapon or something to wave around and make myself look big. These were my facts and I was sticking to them.
The next thing was rewriting the story or script of what’s happening. The current story was that I could never return to that spot until Glacier Ridge Ultra, which was almost a year away. I could also never fully enjoy trail running as I once did because all trails equaled danger, since that’s where the wild things are. To go deeper into the story, I was almost beginning to believe that this was my new norm, being afraid. I needed to squash these beliefs that my mind was creating and recreate good memories at the spot where I ran into the mountain lion.
As I rewrote my story, I acknowledged my feelings and thoughts; managed my symptoms by saying positive affirmations out loud; I took deep breathes; kept running and slowed to look around to notice the environment better; I reframed the faulty thinking and replaced it with positivity; practiced mindfulness and gratitude; told myself how lovely it was to be on the trail.
Lastly, I told myself that back in June, I got to experience something very rare and powerful. I came across a mountain lion and it had a good ending. I was not hurt and now have the most ridiculous trail story. Heck yeah.
Doing all of this helped me practice coping, changing my thoughts, and recreate new, better memories. It was a lot of work, it was scary, but it was worth it. I might never fully recover, I might still experience stress symptoms when I trail run, but I know how to manage them and how to continually heal. I know that I can overcome anything in the future because I have overcome so much in the past.
This is what helped me, if you’ve experienced trauma and are showing symptoms of posttraumatic stress, don’t try what I do because it might not be right for you. We can all experience and heal from trauma differently, so keep this in mind. Meet with a professional and they will guide you based off of their expert knowledge, your needs and up-to-date research on trauma.