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The Importance of Understanding

I love to read. As the founder of Cooper's Crossroad, which focuses on raising awareness of trauma, it should be no surprise that I love to read about trauma, healing from trauma and what we can "take away" from traumatic experiences and the healing thereof.

Recently I tripped across an interesting find in my house: the "Trauma Treatment Toolbox." I do not recall where I picked this book up. I also do not recall delving into it, so I was excited to see what nuggets of wisdom I might find.

I was instantly drawn in.

The book, "Trauma Treatment Toolbox," rests on a desk in front of a window with a hurricane lamp and hanging houseplant.
Trauma Treatment Toolbox, by Jennifer Sweeton, PsyD

It is a workbook with "165 Brain Changing Tips - Tools and Handouts to Move Therapy Forward." Formatted for clinicians, it "provides a bridge between brain science and application, sharing the most recent and relevant information about how the brain is impacted by trauma. Most importantly, it shows how to effectively help clients heal their brains using straightforward, easy-to-implement techniques."

Excited, I decided to practice some of these brain-changing tips in the barn, thinking I couldn't go wrong.

I had an hour between lessons, so I settled onto my tack trunk and began delving into focused breathing exercises to activate the vagus nerve (more on that in a moment). For 30 minutes I practiced, with maybe a bit too much vigor, the Ocean Breath, the Five-Count Breath, the Balanced Brain Breath, and the 5-5-8-2 Breath.

I was feeling a bit lightheaded and was laughing out loud when my next riding student arrived. Poor Rachel walked into the barn office to her trainer in a fit of laughter over a trauma-based book. I outdid myself when I scrambled to explain that I was activating my vagus nerve.

Rachel is every bit of a wonderful and bright 14-year-old, but at this moment, she looked at me with wide eyes and slowly backed out of the office.

Two informative tips that I found interesting:

  1. The vagus nerve is the one way the brain is literally connected to the body. It runs from the brain down the spine and wraps around several internal organs into the abdominal area. When activated, the vagus nerve initiates the relaxation response in the body and sends a message to the brain that it is time to calm down. This process takes less than a minute. One way to activate the vagus nerve is diaphragmatic breathing. Warning: One does NOT have to do the Ocean Breath, the Five Count Breath, the Balanced Brain Breath, and the 5-5-8-2 Breath in 30 minutes to do this. Deep breathing through the diaphragm, any way you do it, will relax us—this is a wonderful gift that we too often overlook.

  2. "With psychoeducation, clients are allowed to gain an understanding of what is happening in the brain, why they feel the way they do, and what it means for recovery. When clients discover that their trauma symptoms do not reflect weakness or a deficit, but rather brain changes that can be altered with therapy, it can instill hope and reduce stigma."

With my ongoing personal experience, I found it mind-blowing—and essential to my recovery—to know that my brain had changed due to trauma. It allowed me to let go of the shame surrounding mental illness and "hold myself" with compassion. A HUGE step.

So off I go to find another brain-changing tip. I will continue to practice with vigor and joy! Be warned all farm folks.

With the promise of spring,

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