Event to help Steamboat Springs community understand how trauma effects emotions, body
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After responding to a trauma, Steamboat Springs firefighter and paramedic Marnie Smith and her coworkers go through a debriefing session.
It helps them acknowledge and process what they’ve just seen and experienced.
“The debriefing is also shown to diminish the effects of trauma, so it doesn’t turn into PTSD,” Smith said. “And it helps build resiliency.”
But Smith realized there were often others left behind — bystanders who weren’t given a chance to debrief. Some of those bearing witness to a traumatic scene, especially if it involved a loved one, may have been experiencing one of the worst days of their lives, she knew.
In her other role as executive director of the Routt County Crisis Support, Smith is partnering with Angela Melzer, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Minds in Motion, to host a presentation on Tuesday, April 16, titled, “Traumatic Grief in our Community, in our Nervous System.”
There’s a science as to how trauma manifests itself physically in the human body, which, if better understood, can help people better cope. And Smith and Melzer want to share that information with everyone.
Melzer recently completed a three-year study on trauma resolution in the nervous system.
What: Traumatic Grief in our Community, in our Nervous System presented by Routt County Crisis Support and Minds in Motion
When: Tuesday, April 16, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Olympian Hall, 845 Howelsen Parkway
“Our community has experienced a significant amount of traumatic loss,” Melzer wrote in a news release. “A single traumatic loss can take a toll on the daily stress management and coping skills of a healthy adult or child.”
Melzer presents a unique perspective and a lot of science to understanding how trauma affects the body, Smith said.
And Smith and her nonprofit are bringing that insight to the community.
“I felt terrible leaving those bystanders,” Smith said. She wanted to build a bridge and connect more people affected by trauma to the tools and resources to better get through it.
Preventing post traumatic stress disorder can also help prevent a wide array of health issues. Research shows those with PTSD are more likely to experience problems such as arthritis, heart disease, digestive problems and respiratory issues.
Smith is quick to acknowledge trauma can be different for each individual. “One person’s trauma might not be another person’s trauma. What can be minor for one person can be huge for another.”
To understand what is happening in our systems, Melzer wrote, “we must first understand the difference between grief and traumatic grief. Grief is an emotional response to a loss in our lives, whether it be losing a pet, moving away from a cherished community, unemployment or the death of a loved one. Traumatic grief is the emotional response to not only losing something but losing it in a sudden, scary or tragic way that sends our nervous system on a ride.”
Melzer goes on to explain the Autonomic Nervous System and how it makes rapid decisions as to whether a situation is “safe” or “not safe.”
If deemed not safe, the “fight or flight” system is then activated. And if the trauma is big enough, the body may go into a “functional freeze response.”
Being aware of how it works is the first step in “helping our nervous system navigate through traumatic grief.”
Smith said, once she saw Melzer’s data, she recognized some of the things other first responders were experiencing — stomachaches, heart issues, compromised immune systems, insomnia — were related to trauma. There are also impacts like anxiety, depression and fatigue.
“We hope to help people understand what is happening in their bodies or within the bodies of loved ones when in the midst of the processing traumatic grief. It is also our hope to help people handle this automatic nervous system response in a healthy way,” wrote Melzer. “This is especially relevant for parents who are trying to help their kids process and understand their own experiences with traumatic loss.”
Smith said her goal is create a resilient community and make sure everyone in the community is getting the support they need. From first responders to nurses, doctors and educators, many confront trauma on a regular basis, she noted.
“Let’s get together and talk about it,” Smith said. “And give each other tools.”
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