Letter to the editor: Mental trauma, lasting damage
In this time of COVID-19 restricted movement and loss of contact, fear of disease, fear of loss, witnessed police violence and demonstration; fear often transforms into anger. I am writing at this time due to the witnessed racism and violence we are going through. We see with our own eyes the discrimination against “people of color.” A new phrase suggested for this designation is “people of the global majority.” This phrase is a more empowering phrase that reminds us that the whiteness of those predominantly holding power in the United States is unusual if one takes a broader view of the world. Living with constant discrimination is a form of violence unknown to many white people.
It is important for people to know how the brain responds to trauma. I am particularly concerned for children. The young brain is altered by trauma thus changing responses to stressful situations. The body stores the memories of trauma, and a young brain reroutes responses within the brain in order to adjust to danger or to developing insecurity and lack of trust. Accumulated stress and or trauma begins to affect the body. Most all of us have some trauma in our history. Many people have repeated traumas. As we are seeing in the demonstrations across the country, tensions pile up and boil over, particularly when fear and restriction is present. This also happens in families.
Adverse childhood experiences, like witnessing or experiencing violence at home or in the community, or abuse or neglect, affect us all in a bodily-focused way. I include the severe trauma of children removed from parents we now witness as a nation at our boarders. These experiences can alter the brain, undermine trust, sense of safety, stability and caretaker bonding in a child, and to a lesser degree in an adult. Not only is the brain rewired in the young by these experiences, but also vulnerabilities in the body are increased, setting the stage for adult disease.
With these understandings in mind, I urge people to take constructive action to relieve their own stress and the stress in their children. Physical activity is primary. However, humans being a group animal, positive contact (verbal and physical) with others is reassuring. Meditation and prayer can restore the body to a resting state and dispel anxieties. Gentle music, rhythms, beauty focus, forest walking, using om, deep breaths, yoga, art, sleep or mindfulness are all ways to decrease stress. Finally, take any action available to you to oppose violence.
Dr. Charlotte McGray, PSYD
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