Ways PTSD Can Manifest in Our Bodies, Minds, and Lives, and Spiritual Practices that Can Help
PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions. – Susan Pease Banitt
Individuals who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) live with invisible suffering every single day. They look just like anyone else, act like anyone else, and are expected to function in the world like anyone else. Yet they are carrying heavy trauma and deep sorrow.
Our hearts go out to those dealing with PTSD. You find yourself in a world that expects everything to be “okay” and doesn’t know what to do with people for whom life is not ok. Our culture doesn’t understand trauma or what to do with it.
Many people in the church even deny that PTSD exists. people have turned to the church for help and been told to pray and read their Bible more. While praying and reading our Bible is a good thing, it’s not likely to be the sole way one heals from PTSD.
In this article, we hope to offer a Christian view of PTSD. God wired our brains in a complex way and PTSD develops for a reason. It is also not part of God’s plan for humanity and is something through which we can work. This article will offer some Christian spiritual practices and other resources for those with PTSD to try.
Christian spiritual practices and other techniques for PTSD
First, let us note that PTSD should not be treated alone. While there are resources to try on your own, professional help is necessary when recovering from and processing PTSD. It is a complex emotional, psychological, and even spiritual disorder.
Working with a professionally trained counselor is essential as part of this journey. Individual counseling will be part of this. You may also end up doing some family or group counseling. Remember, God never asks us to walk a journey alone. It is up to you to choose who you share your journey with but involving a professional counselor is a must.
Many people feel most comfortable talking with their pastor, priest, or church counselor. While this may be an ok place to start, they rarely have received the proper training to treat someone with PTSD.
They may offer added spiritual and emotional guidance during your healing journey, but someone professionally trained to handle PTSD is essential. In most cases counseling is enough, some people may need an in-patient or intensive program. Your counselor can help you figure out what you need and the best ways to get your needs met.
None of these are provided as “cures.” They are all practices that can help your body, mind, and soul to relax. When dealing with PTSD it is important to help calm down the intense fight or flight reaction that was created by the traumatic event. This fight or flight reaction can remain activated for a prolonged time after the trauma.
Memories of the trauma and other traumatic moments may cause our fight or flight response to ramp up even more. Working with diverse ways to calm this can help PTSD recovery and help us handle difficult situations in the future. They are also effective ways to help us grow closer to God and to get to know ourselves better, both of which may be damaged following something traumatic occurring.
This Christian meditation practice was formalized in the 1970s but similar practices date back much farther. Traditionally, centering prayer is done with the eyes closed. Those dealing with trauma recovery may find it feels safer in their bodies to soften their gaze and keep their eyes open in the beginning. As your body and mind heal, closing the eyes may be a possibility.
Start slow. Some people even start with a one-minute timer and work their way up. Be mindful of the sound on the timer you choose. Select something that will not startle or trigger you. A sand timer can be helpful for people undergoing trauma recovery. Or turn on gentle music or nature sounds and set a timer to turn them off at the end of a designated period. Try to work your way up to 15-20 minutes a day.
First, choose a word. A one or two-syllable word is best. God, love, and hope are popular words, but you may choose any word you’d like. Some people like to use their “word for the year” as their centering word.
Next, find a comfortable seat and soften your gaze or close your eyes. Present your word before God and declare your commitment to be with God during this time. Allow yourself to settle in.
Then, sit in silence with God. When a thought comes to your mind gently return to your word.
Last, end in a period of silence and stillness. Offer a prayer to God and end your session.
This will likely be difficult and frustrating in the beginning. Our minds wander. Many people describe what’s known as “monkey mind,” the feeling that the mind is racing and/or where disjointed thoughts come rapidly. Often, it feels as though our brains rebel when trying to start a practice like this and our minds may race even more than usual. This is normal. Return to your word.
You may need your sacred word hundreds of times in the beginning. With practice, you’ll return to your word less often. Eventually, your mind will learn to settle. God will meet you here in new and unexpected ways. This is your time to be still with the God who unconditionally loves you. When you find yourself triggered by fear or trauma your mind may settle faster because of this practice
This is a nice practice to engage in before meditation like Centering Prayer. There are dozens of different types of breathwork out there. All help train our bodies to breathe differently and interrupt the breath patterns found in trauma. Breathwork can be done when we’re frustrated waiting at a red light, on a breath from work, when we can’t sleep at night, and any other time. It’s always accessible to you.
Alternate nostril breathing is a common type of breathwork for trauma recovery. This involves closing the right nostril, breathing in fully and slowly into the belly through the left, retaining the breath, and then closing the left nostril and releasing the breath through the right side.
The process is then repeated on the other side. Five minutes is a good length of time to start with, alternating from side to side. You can extend the practice for as long as you want.
The Breath Prayer is a type of meditation and breathwork. You could even do a breath prayer as your closing prayer during your Centering Prayer time.
For this prayer practice, choose a phrase, Scripture verse, or song lyrics. One or two sentences. Something like “God alone, is enough” or “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.” Inhale and mediate on the first sentence/part.
Then exhale and meditate on the second. Inhale fully and deeply, make sure you’re breathing into your belly. Praying the Lord’s prayer as a breath prayer can also be a unique way to approach this familiar prayer. Meditate on each line as you breathe intentionally with each line.
This prayer and breath practice gives us a chance to be still and quiet before the Lord, to focus our minds, and engage in intentional breathing. It can be practiced quickly in the matter of a couple of breaths or used as an extended meditation/breathwork for 15-20 minutes.
Additional practices to consider:
- Lectio Divina
- Yoga: There are trauma-centered yoga practices/studios/teachers as well as Christian yoga practices that may be found at churches
- Art therapy
- Time in nature, A.K.A. forest therapy
- Music and/or dance
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