A trauma informed consideration of community stress management

Bushfires and covid19 guarantee many in our community are experiencing varying degrees of uncertainty, loss, disorientation, distress and possibly trauma. Thinking smart about this stuff can help the way we manage and also communicate with our family, friends and community.

Just to give an example of community application of this knowledge – our local supermarket check out area is a distress hot spot. Effective advice and poor advice is handed out, overheard or carried beyond the shop.

1. There are two related fields of stress ‘good’ or eustress and ‘bad’ or distress. One can easily slide into the other through overwhelm – such as too much of a good thing, or insufficient motivation to get the job done. I don’t like the simplistic good bad dichotomy. I try to think of my responses to stressors as non-binary. That helps to keep my reactions fluid. They could be good or bad, both or neither.

2. Stressors are key. How we perceive and experience them both externally and internally. Our history of exposure to the stressors, self-efficacy, what we believe about ourselves and the situation are intrinsic to our perceptions and experience of stressors. And to what degree we are present to ourselves in responding (from ‘I was fully there’ being fully present, up to ‘I was completely out of it’, being absent, dissociated).

3. The result of these internal appraisals or threat assessments (or the absence of them) evoke varied stress responses between and within situations, and within and between times of exposure to them or even avoidance of the stressors.

4. Our stress responses arise from a fluid range of deliberative, intentional, pre-meditated behaviours to automatic knee jerk reactions that bypass thinking (hijacked by being overwhelmed) and the distress response. Even what we think about our own body’s response in for example, self talk (my story) can be a source of eustress or distress.

5. These all both express themselves and reside in: our thinking; in gut feelings and hunches (visceral), and with a range of sensations and emotions that arise across the endocrine (e.g. cortisol/oxytocin), nervous (sympathetic/parasympathetic), cardio-vascular and muscular (voluntary and involuntary) systems. Many of these are preferences determined in a dance between genetic, environmental and cultural influences.

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