Trauma and Burnout
Trauma can present as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Trauma.
PTSD is the result of experiencing a traumatic event such as the Grenfell Tower fire. Symptoms may include panic attacks, flashbacks, insomnia and nightmares.
Complex Trauma refers to having experience trauma over a prolonged period of time and may have the same symptoms as PTSD. Childhood abuse is one cause of Complex Trauma.
However for adults experiencing depression or burnout, Complex Trauma can often be at the root.
Traumatized individuals present for therapy often unaware of the power of their childhood experiences which are affecting their psychological health.
The work in therapy needs to be very gentle to avoid re-traumatizing such individuals. Here working with the body is important, allowing the individual to recognize the somatic feelings and to develop affect regulation. In other words physical sensations of anxiety and fear can be addressed, enabling the individual to calm responses down. This is when breathing exercises can be very helpful abating physical trauma responses.
Today traumatized individuals may be unaware of what is being triggered by current situations; such as stress at work triggering burnout.
During trauma the Broca area of the brain, associated with speech and language, goes off line, which means that often individuals cannot find the words to express the feelings and emotions of the flashback. Also the hippocampus which is responsible for laying down narrative memory is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol disrupting the work of the hippocampus which means memories may be fragmented. During this time the brain is not connecting up as it’s in shutdown for survival. Here the left hemisphere of the conscious thinking brain, the cortex, is also off line; whilst the right cortex is signalling the Vagus nerve to increase blood flow to the vital organs in a parasympathetic reaction.
In therapy the brain can begin to process what was experienced during the trauma.
As a Christian my point of reference is always the Bible. Trauma and burnout figure in the life of Elijah, the prophet in the book of 1 Kings 18-19, in the Old Testament.
Elijah was burnt out from the events on Mount Carmel as described in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was also traumatized from fleeing for his life from Jezebel. 1 Kings 19 describes burnt-out depressed Elijah wanting to give up his life! (1 Kings 19.4.)
In this story we see how God ministered to Elijah with food and sleep. (1 Kings 19.5-8) Then God speaks gently to Elijah in a whisper. (1 Kings 19.21)
No matter what trauma we are addressing, the Lord comforts us and reassures us:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
All Bible quotations are from the NIV.
Copyright © 2020 Susie Scott Kydd.