NAC Health & Wellbeing Committee Highlights: Trauma & Self-Care Webinar

Carolyn Desforges NAC Health & Wellbeing Co-Chair listens in to the Trauma webinar for beneficiaries

Bonita Ackerman Du Perez, a master therapist specialising in trauma, anxiety and stress management, led an informative webinar on 14 February 2022. Her focus was on trauma, how to manage its effects and the neuroscience behind it. This has been recorded and you can watch the video on the Thalidomide Trust website should you wish to.

Our mind/brain is an individual muscle that needs care, attention and feeding. It is normal for our mental health to fluctuate – we can thrive, feel okay, struggle, and be ill, all within one day. Self-care, early identification, and awareness can help us manage much better.

Past trauma can trigger stress and anxiety

Everyone has some feelings of anxiety and stress. Some people face this due to past trauma. Most cases can identify a trigger – we all have fight, flight, and a fear/freeze response. We are all individuals – people react very differently as our brains are individual. When our flight and fight reaction is too much for our bodies, or our coping strategies fail, we experience anxiety, stress and trauma. It is common to feel overwhelmed about something that has happened in life. The good news is that with support, this can be managed. Therapy is aimed at supporting a positive change in thinking, behaviour and reactions to the traumatic events a person has experienced.

The brain remembers responses to trauma and reproduces them automatically when 'trigger' events occur

Our brain is super-efficient and is a pattern-making machine. Like a computer, it downloads programmes to the hard drive (i.e. anything that’s done repeatedly), it recognises the neural pattern as a new programme and copies and downloads it. The more we use this programme, the more updates it runs and it becomes hardwired. Sometimes programmes are not that effective and they develop bugs.

Anxiety is much the same, when we have anxious thoughts, it creates a neural pathway in the brain, the more we have these thoughts, the stronger they become, until the point that we feel we have no control over them. Thus, unprocessed trauma responses can be held in the brain, disrupting lives, causing a type of self-sabotage. Reactions such as stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, disrupted breathing, heart palpitations, colds etc. all demonstrate that the body is telling something is wrong and makes it really hard to keep up the routine of our daily lives.

How to identify and stop patterns of thinking

Latest research in neuroscience shows that:

  • The brain is more pliable than once believed
  • We can change even the most hardwired patterns
  • This can be achieved much faster than previously thought

Our brain is changing, with every experience and every conversation. We are creating new neural pathways and new connections in our brains. When we identify triggers to our anxiety, some triggers are obvious, others are not. Our brain sources information based on the emotional response we have, and the association we have made from it. This is often stored in our long-term memory especially if it has been perceived as danger. It is only interested in the fear that was created at the time.

For example, if we had a bee sting as a child, we may not remember the event, but the trigger becomes the buzzing sound. Our senses have a lot to do with triggers – aftershave, door opening, footsteps etc. When you take time to spot the triggers, it’s important to decide what is relevant for you.

To get yourself out of an anxious state, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where am I?
  2. What am I doing?
  3. What am I thinking?
  4. How do I feel?

It may be hard to manage this on your own, and the first step is often seeking help or support. The important thing is that over time the effects of trauma can be managed.

Need help or support?

If you would like to speak to someone about trauma or anxiety please contact the medical advisers at the Trust on 01480 474074.

Read more from the NAC in the full Spring 2022 Newsletter (PDF)


See more NAC Committee highlights