This article was first posted on October 25, 2019.
We all experience trauma in one form or another. It may be at the hands of an abuser, a relationship breakup, a health diagnosis, or the death of a loved one. No one is immune.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. James Gordon, author of the book, The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. Dr. Gordon is a world-recognized authority and acclaimed mind-body medicine pioneer. He is a former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, and the founder and executive director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC.
In our conversation, we spoke about his evidence based program for reversing the biological and psychological damage resulting from trauma. Dr. Gordon believes that we can use tools of self-awareness and self-care to heal our trauma and become healthier and more whole than we have ever been.
According to Dr. Gordon, when we go through a traumatic experience, two basic biological reactions occur: The fight or flight response, which is the process that enables us to fight and survive a threat, and the freeze response, a kind of collapse in which we detach to protect ourselves emotionally. Each response has an important job in our survival, but the problem occurs when these reactions continue and become the dominant forces in our lives.
To begin the healing process after trauma, Dr. Gordon advises that we deal with and quiet these two powerful, ongoing biological reactions. He recommends sitting quietly and breathing deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth, as this will calm the fight or flight response and actually create an anecdote. Blood pressure will go down, heart rate will down, muscles will relax, digestion will function more efficiently, brain activity will improve, and it will be easier to connect with people.
Dr. Gordon contends that breathing slowly and deeply on a regular basis can reverse the damage that is done by the fight or flight response. Research supports this belief showing that a meditation practice can improve brain functioning and rebuild the brain, creating new cells in areas that may relieve the stress response.
Next, Dr. Gordon advises that we utilize approaches that help us unfreeze. Any kind of movement or exercise can help us manage trauma. Aerobic exercise that burns oxygen can raise the neurotransmitters that antidepressant drugs are aimed at raising, plus we can produce endorphins, which make us feel calmer and more peaceful.
He adds that another powerful healing technique is to create images that support healing. According to Dr. Gordon, when we go through trauma, we create images in our mind of loss, hurt, pain, or a future that is shadowed by the past. He recommends replacing those images with images of a different narrative. This works because images have enormous physiological power – if we imagine we are seeing something, the same areas of the brain are activated as if we are actually seeing it.
These techniques among others can bring us back into balance and will jumpstart the healing process.
Listen to my conversation with Dr. Gordon: https://soundcloud.com/cyacyl/jamesgordonmd