Any two humans carrying out the exact same activity in the same location at the same time can have two completely different experiences.
How can one person interpret a particular experience as threatening while another experiences it as titillating? And, what is it that quantifies and qualifies an event as stressful as opposed to traumatic?
I’ve heard it said (although I can’t remember where) that our stress level is directly proportional to the degree to which we are not accepting our current circumstances. Hmmmmm. So, if I can fully “accept” the fact that I am being attacked and eaten by a tiger, then I wouldn’t find the event to be stressful? Yeah … no. But it does beg the question, “Does stress and trauma occur in the event, in our bodies or in our minds?”
And, I am sure that at some point in your life you have had someone quip, “Just surrender and be in the moment!” For some, the act of ‘surrender’ never has a positive connotation, as I discovered years ago when trying to find an Asian character for said word to tattoo on my arm. Case in point, I remember the woman in the chair next to me was reading a magazine while having a bracelet tattooed around all of the delicate bones of her wrist. Meanwhile, the 6’4” 200lb man (me) was sweating so profusely and came so close to passing out so many times, my tattoo artist felt obliged to explain that I could come back later to finish the color. Without hesitation, I emphatically clarified that I would NOT be coming back.
But, I must admit that accepting the details and circumstances of the current moment and surrendering to whatever divine design is playing out, helps me to keep stress from escalating into panic. But wherein lies the dividing line between a stressful event and a traumatic one?
I recall the moment when my car was nose down just as it began to flip end over end before rolling across three lanes of traffic and crashing into a concrete wall. That fateful night was ten years ago on December 21, 2003. And I remember it like it was yesterday.
If “time” had slowed down any more, it would have simply stopped. The air in the car became thick and warm, almost buoyant. My rational mind was trying to figure out how my dog was standing on the instrument panel. After all, it was a vertical surface.
Then a deep compassionate voice outside of my head said, “There’s nothing that you can do anymore, just let go.”
I felt something like arms wrap around me and I took my hands off of the steering wheel. That instant I exhaled every bit of resistance and care within me. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to die. Never before and never since have I ever felt so completely “in the moment,” peaceful, safe and relieved.
According to Wikipedia, “Stress is a person’s response to a stressor such as an environmental condition or a stimulus. Stress is a body’s method of reacting to a challenge. According to the stressful event, the body’s way to respond to stress is by sympathetic nervous system activation which results in the fight-or-flight response. Stress typically describes a negative condition or a positive condition that can have an impact on a person’s mental and physical well-being.”
Taking into consideration the plethora of biology, physiology and psychology involved in a stress response, I find that definition to be oversimplified. Don’t get me wrong, I love to oversimplify anything, whenever possible, because I find that doing so helps to reduce my own stress levels. So I will do my best to avoid delving into all of the technical jargon of neurochemistry and neuroanatomy.
I am a trauma survivor, who once suffered 7-10 full-blown panic attacks daily, following the car wreck that I mentioned earlier. Well, in truth, there was a quite a bit of developmental trauma to unravel, as well.
Fortunately, after my third Somatic Experiencing session, my panic attacks stopped entirely and I haven’t had one in nearly 10 years. Consequently, I have dedicated my life to studying stress and trauma. And I hope to be of assistance to others who are still struggling as a result of past traumatic events.
I will do my best to use the platform of this blog to demystify stress, anxiety, panic and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to create a forum for your comments and questions.