Stress, Trauma & Your Brain

Ideas for healing

These ideas of healing are a follow on from the handout, Stress, Trauma and the Brain.

They are not a replacement for professional help. It is our hope, that alongside other supports you find these ideas helpful.

Give yourself a steady flow of good clean emotional water

We all need water to live. That is just a fact of being human. If you are dying of thirst you would drink anything no matter how dirty it is to survive.

Like water, we have emotional needs that human beings need to survive. What if you are emotionally thirsty?

You will take anything since it is meeting that basic need.

How much does alcohol or drugs, unhealthy relationships or other behaviours fill some of those emotional needs for you?

These may work in the short-term but do they really work for you?

To stay healthy do you have a reservoir of emotional strengths that help you through times like when you are sad, lonely or angry?

Do you regularly spend time with people or do things for yourself that fill your reservoir or do the stress and strain of life mean you have chronic leakage?

What do you do for yourself that fills your emotional reservoir? That is where the Positive Emotions in the Midst of Stress can really help.


close up hands man writing on diary and smartphone outdoor

Work on looking after yourself:

Use the Positive Emotions in the Midst of Stress

Researchers were working with family members caring for someone who was dying. They found when they used 8 ways to express positive emotion, the carer’s mood stayed up and their worry went down. Yet their situation did not change. Their family member was still dying.

The eight ways to express positive emotions gives you a way you can work on creating those positive experiences for yourself. But JUST DON’T NOTICE THESE THINGS.

  • Notice positive things
  • Express those positive things
  • Gratitude
  • Attainable goals
  • Acts of kindness
  • Mindfulness
  • Positive rethinking
  • Notice your strengths

Along the journey of recovery strengthen how you are going to do this;

  • Get a plan
  • Use the plan
  • What are the barriers to you using it
  • Deal with setbacks



Notice: don’t freeze or flop, get curious

Our minds are all too quick to see the negative so we have to teach ourselves to pay more attention to other more balanced thoughts. This takes practice.

The first step is to become more aware of your thoughts and the emotional impact of them.

Maybe keep a journal or make a note on your mobile phone or tablet.

The easiest way, to begin with, is to notice the thoughts that are causing us problems and become more aware of changes in our emotions.

So next time you suddenly feel anxious or sad ask yourself what were you just thinking? These are often the thoughts you need to work on.

 You can apply this to cravings, feelings, or stress

 Get curious. Where is it coming from, what options do you have, is there anything good you are missing here?

Language: talk to yourself in a way that helps

People in Northern Ireland usually are pretty good at seeing their weaknesses but not very good at seeing their strengths.

Do you disagree with that? Think about the last time you got a compliment. What did you do?

  • Accept it, feel good, say thank you?
  • Or did you dismiss it, shrug it off it some way or feel embarrassed?

What makes our weaknesses stand out in our minds? Life can do that to you.

  • You did not do that well in school. You failed
  • You’re sorry that you can’t lose that weight. You failed
  • You’re sorry that you can’t find a job. You failed
  • You’re sorry that your children have done something wrong. You failed
  • You’re sorry that you are sick and are not doing enough for your family. You failed
  • You developed an addiction

What happens when we feel like we fail every day?

  • You begin to hear that criticism from yourself
  • A little voice inside, telling you that you are not good enough, that you are a failure
  • You feel like there is something wrong with you

When messages of failure or being incapable are heard enough they shape a deep seeded belief like:

  • The world is a threatening place
  • I must be perfect at all times
  • I am no good at anything

It may be hard to begin to see your strengths at first if you are so used to looking at your weaknesses. So this next skill may help.

Put the poisoned parrot in a cage


Imagine you’re given a parrot. He doesn’t have any knowledge, wisdom or insight. It recites things ‘parrot fashion’ without any understanding or comprehension.

However, this particular parrot is a poisoned parrot.

It’s been specifically trained to be unhelpful to you, continuously commenting on you and your life, in a way that constantly puts you down and criticises you.

For example, the bus gets stuck in traffic and you arrive at work 5 minutes late.  The parrot sits there saying: “There you go again.  Late.  You just can’t manage to get there on time, can you?  So stupid.  If you’d left the house and got the earlier bus you’d have arrived with loads of time to spare.  But you?  No way.  Just can’t do it.  Useless.  Waste of space.  Absolutely pathetic!”

How long would you put up with this abuse before getting rid of the parrot?

Is your thinking like this poisoned parrot? We can often put up with the thoughts from this internal bully for far too long.

We can learn to use the antidote:  notice that ‘parrot’ – and cover the cage.

“There’s that parrot again – I don’t have to listen to it”.   Put your focus of attention elsewhere. Eventually, this poisoned parrot will weaken.  You’ll notice it less and less.  It might just give up and fly off to wherever poisoned parrots go.


A good laugh goes a long way!

Researchers have found that laughter is similar to meditation in the way it activates areas of the brain.

Laughter reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow which can improve your mood.

“That act of laughter “increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. “In turn, higher levels of these hormones — responsible for feeling uplifted — increase brain wave activity. Both meditation and laughter do this.

So it is important to have a good laugh on a regular basis.

Joggers on Treadmills in Gym

Get Active!

Regular physical activity:

Any aerobic activity, like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, is a great way to recreate the ‘flight’ outlet and burn-up cortisol.  A little bit of cardio activity goes a long way. Just 20-30 minutes of activity most days of the week pays huge dividends by lowering cortisol every day and in the long-run.

If your schedule is too hectic to squeeze in a continuous session of aerobic activity, you can reap the same benefits by breaking daily activity into smaller doses like walking.

Also, any bilateral movement where you are using both sides of your body like walking helps immensely. Patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity: walking, running, dancing, singing, or knitting uses networks that make toxic memories less explicit and helps the thinking part of the brain work better.




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