Tuesday, December 2, 2008

PTSD: Holiday Recovery, Part 2

A holiday may end, but the stress it induces can continue. The emotionally draining weekend can leave a person unequipped to cope with the week that lies ahead. Well, get ready, there are more holidays to come!

What to do to get back (and stay) on track? Try this nifty trick which, despite it’s in-the-moment benefits is actually at the center of beginning to heal: BE BUSY.

“Sure”, you say, “the holidays are busy!” But that’s not the kind of busy I mean. I don’t mean the got-to-keep-up and for-everyone-else kind of busy. I mean the kind of busy that engages your heart and mind. Be busy with something about which you feel passionate. Add something to the busy mix that is just for you and totally engages your mind.

One of the best ways to move toward the future is to distract yourself from the past.

One of the best ways to bring about change is to refocus.

One of the best ways to define a post-trauma identity is to develop who you are outside of trauma.

Remember J., my vet friend whose path to recovery was stimulated by doing magic tricks and editing a newsletter? He found that being busy was a great way to distract his mind from the past. I agree, but just being busy for the purpose of being busy doesn’t work. The running-around-busy that you do doesn't count. I tried that. Take my word for it, if the busyness doesn’t entrance and focus your mind then it’s useless for healing purposes. As J.'s story illustrates, this busy has be to busy with a passionate purpose – this is the key to redirecting the mind and also: constructing a post-trauma identity. Who are we, really? Beyond our traumas and responsibilities there lies a whole, deep self. Cultivating that self, encouraging it to develop and come forth can be critical to PTSD healing.

So, what really gets you jazzed? What gets your mind going? What do you do that the time flies by? Find a way to incorporate that into your daily or weekly routine. The result will be twofold. First, you’ll actually spend time doing something that invigorates your mind, body and soul. Second, you’ll be developing a part of yourself that feeds your mind, body and soul, which means you’ll have energy and nourishment provided by and to a part of you that is trauma-free.

Does anyone remember Nancy Makin’s story? Nancy weighed 700 pounds, and took off 530 of them when she discovered the internet. “I was so busy and happy to get up every morning that I like to say I lost weight in my fingers first,” says Makin. That can work for us, too. We’ve been gorged on trauma and PTSD until we’ve blimped up with psychological and physical problems. My own symptoms drastically reduced when I started to dance – when I incorporated into my busy mix something that I loved and that focused on and developed the non-trauma part of me.

Focusing on a passion opens us up to a redefinition of who we are post-trauma. It opens us up to new experiences, new friends, new loves. Directly pursuing your passion, either in the work arena or in your private life has this added advantage: For the time we spend being joyful and passionately focused, the demons evaporate. Sure, in the beginning they come back when the busyness and joy high end, but the more time we spend feeling passionate and joyful, the more time we spend on things that captivate our untraumatized attention, the more often the demons recede into the background, the better we get at interrupting and exiling them. I know you’re in the midst of a struggle, but when we’re struggling the most is just the time to actively find some way to refocus in order to interrupt those dark feelings and direct us toward another path.

So, this holiday season if you spend a lot of time watching TV, get up off the couch! If you’re already busy, incorporate into your busyness something that really gets you jazzed. What hobby do you love? What cause really gets you going? What makes you feel joy? What activity makes the hours slip by? Take a class. Join a group. Volunteer. Get your mind focused outward instead of inward. Look at this sort of busy as a vacation from your life and PTSD issues. (I think you deserve it, don’t you?)

Make the commitment. Follow through. Reap the results.

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