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Breaking the Chains of Trauma: Strategies for Nurses to Move Forward

Updated: Dec 15, 2023


Project Renew: Breaking the Chains of Trauma: Strategies for Nurses to Move Forward

Breaking the Chains of Trauma: Strategies for Nurses to Move Forward

In an ideal world, trauma would not occur, but of course, this is unrealistic. And within the profession of nursing, trauma can be all too familiar. The nature of the work exposes nurses to traumatic events, which can have a lasting impact on their mental and emotional well-being.


On the front lines of healthcare, nurses frequently witness and encounter stressful circumstances. They can meet patients in serious condition, lose patients they had gotten attached to, or even experience violence or abuse from patients or their relatives. These situations might leave nurses feeling emotionally spent, nervous, and overburdened. Nurses require ways to deal with and recover from these situations if they are to go on and break the trauma's chains.




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Defining Trauma what does it mean

Trauma is not limited to troubled childhood events or abuse, as many may think, it can also include a multitude of situations including loss and chronic stressors. It refers to a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.

Contrary to popular belief, trauma can refer to various conditions, including loss and ongoing stressors. Trauma is not just confined to traumatic incidents from childhood or abuse. Trauma in the context of nursing is a state of physical, emotional, and mental weariness brought on by prolonged exposure to emotionally taxing circumstances. Nurses frequently see people in pain and suffering; over time, this exposure may build up and cause traumatic symptoms.


Every person experiences trauma differently, but common symptoms may include disturbing thoughts or memories of upsetting events, trouble falling or staying asleep, emotional numbness, hypervigilance, and a desire to avoid anything that can trigger the trauma. Nurses must be aware of these symptoms because they can seriously affect their well-being and capacity to give compassionate care. Understanding what trauma means in the context of nursing allows nurses to start investigating methods for dealing with and overcoming its consequences, ultimately promoting their recovery and resilience.



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The effects of Trauma on the mind and body

Trauma leaves a mark on our mental well-being, extending its reach far beyond the initial event. Its effects can be profound and enduring, varying in intensity, and duration. You may witness a range of emotional responses, from initial shock and denial to a whirlwind of complex feelings; Anguish, fear, or an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. Other unpleasant symptoms may include flashbacks or worrisome sleepless nights.


The aftermath of trauma can also manifest physically, with tension in your muscles, fatigue draining your energy, hypervigilance and feeling like you can never switch off.Trauma has the unique power to penetrate us deeply, leaving an impression on our mental health long after the occurrence. Its impacts last a long time and are powerful, fluctuating in strength and length like echoes echoing through our life.



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The mind becomes a battleground of complicated emotions following a traumatic event. Initially, there can be a feeling of denial and disbelief, as if one were trying to protect themselves from the unpleasant reality. However, the emotional landscape changes as time passes, causing a flurry of emotions to emerge, including agony, dread, and an overpowering sensation of vulnerability. Finding steadiness amid the storm might be challenging because these emotions can be obstinate companions that are continuously moving and evolving.


The effects of trauma, however, go beyond just the emotional sphere. Its effects can be felt physically as well; tension grabs the muscles, keeping them stiff and tired all the time. The energy reserves that once seemed limitless are depleted by fatigue, leaving behind a lethargy that appears insurmountable. The heightened state of hypervigilance, with a constant sense of being on edge and an inability to turn off from the world that feels always dangerous, becomes the new normal.


Trauma has enormous effects on both the mind and body, which are intricately entwined and affected by one another. Understanding the long-term impact of trauma encourages us to explore the nuances of our experiences in greater depth, setting off a journey of self-reflection and compassion as we travel the road to recovery and resilience.



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Understanding the journey

Recovery from trauma can be described through stages, which can be a profound and transformative experience.


  • The first stage is denial, a defence mechanism that allows nurses to initially shield themselves from the full impact of the traumatic event.

  • As reality sets in, anger surfaces as a coping mechanism, masking the underlying emotions tied to the trauma.

  • Bargaining follows, as nurses seek to regain control and make sense of their experiences.

  • Depression, a quieter and slower stage, brings forth the weight of loss and pain.

  • And finally, acceptance emerges as a positive step toward healing, allowing nurses to acknowledge and come to terms with their trauma.

Trauma recovery is a journey with many phases and hurdles. This difficult path can heal and grow nurses.


Nurses can shelter themselves from the trauma during denial. It buffers overwhelming feelings and allows gradual assimilation. As denial crumbles, anger might arise as a coping mechanism. Anger hides vulnerability and sorrow, releasing complicated emotions.


Nurses may bargain later on. A strong need to restore control and understand the trauma characterizes this stage. It is a search for meaning in chaos. Nurses may reflect on their actions and consider methods to avoid similar situations.


Though slower, sadness is part of the journey. This period makes loss and grief palpable. As they process what has happened, nurses may feel great sadness, grief, and emptiness. Introspection and grief allow suppressed emotions to be processed.


Finally, acceptance helps heal. It's about acknowledging the trauma's presence and significance, not forgetting it. Acceptance helps nurses incorporate their experiences into their personal narratives and reconstruct their lives and find balance.


Nurses can use this route to navigate recovery. It encourages recovery and tells them they are not alone. Nurses can build resilience and overcome trauma by accepting and appreciating this path.




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Strategies for healing and resilience in nursing

  • Art Therapy: Engaging in creative activities such as painting, drawing, writing, or playing music can be therapeutic for nurses. Creating something beautiful can help find solace and heal from the trauma.

  • Connect with Nature: Spending time in nature has been proven to have a positive impact on mental well-being. Nurses can take regular breaks during their shifts. Connecting with nature can bring a sense of peace and rejuvenation.

  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation techniques can help nurses find calmness and centre their thoughts.

  • Engage in Physical Activity: Regular exercise is not only beneficial for physical health but also plays a significant role in mental well-being.

  • Create a Supportive Network: Nurses can create a network of trusted individuals with whom they can share their experiences. Having a support system in place can provide a sense of belonging and understanding, alleviating the burden of trauma.

  • Seek Professional Help: In cases where trauma persists and significantly impacts daily life, seeking professional help from therapists or counsellors who specialise in trauma can be beneficial.


Find the beauty in healing

Trauma doesn’t have to be Permanent. While it may leave its mark, it does not define you. With time, healing, and support, nurses have the remarkable capacity to grow, transform, and reclaim their lives.


Trauma can be a catalyst for profound personal growth and resilience, reminding nurses of their strength and ability to rise above adversity. It is a reminder that the past does not have to dictate the future and that they have the power to create a new narrative, one filled with hope, healing, and possibility.



 


Reflection

  1. Have you experienced trauma? What stage in the trauma journey are you experiencing?

  2. Does knowing what stage of trauma you’re experiencing help you understand your feelings more?

  3. What strategies do you use that have helped you deal with your trauma?

  4. Have you experienced trauma? If so, what were the key events or situations that contributed to your trauma?

  5. In which stage of the trauma journey do you find yourself currently? How does this stage impact your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors?

  6. How does understanding the stage of trauma you're experiencing help you make sense of your feelings and reactions? Does it provide a sense of validation or guidance?

  7. What strategies or coping mechanisms have you found helpful in dealing with your trauma? How have these strategies supported your healing and resilience?

  8. Are there any additional resources, support systems, or self-care practices that you have found beneficial in your journey of healing from trauma?




 


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