Author Archives: Ann Bliss

Physiological Responses to Stressful or Traumatic Events: Part I

Part I of this article includes information about how our bodies physiologically respond to a stressful or traumatic event.  These stress reactions are universal and necessary for our survival.  I hope that this information will be useful to you.


Stress as a term by itself is misleading. Instead, there are stressors, stress states, and stress responses.  Stressors are for the most part, subjective.  What is stressful to one person will not necessarily be to another.  Parachuting out of plane for one person is an exciting, uplifting, and in fact calming experience, while to another, causes fear and trepidation; an event to be avoided at all cost.

Stress states can be charted on a continuum, from normal stress to what is known as a dissociative stress state, most often a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am not going to discuss PTSD at this time, rather for now, I want to look at the continuum between normal and chronic stress states. Continue reading

Physiological Responses to Stressful or Traumatic Events: Part 2

Part II includes self-help ideas that I believe can be valuable in mitigating some of the effects of trauma or chronic stress in your life.


I started this article by saying that trauma and stress are all about the body.  What that means is that your job is to pay attention to your body and make every effort to take care of it.  I know that is easier said than done.  I also know that when we are anxious, depressed, traumatized, or otherwise in a difficult mental state, we are most apt to resort to old familiar behaviors.  Resorting to the familiar, while compelling, is not necessarily a given.  It does however require that you stay present and mindful about what is happening around you and how you are feeling in your own skin. If you stay present, rather than dwelling on past regrets or resentments or imagining and trying to predict the future, you will be better able to identify when you are caught in old behavioral patterns.  Mindful self-awareness is the essential key ingredient…no doubt difficult, but always possible even if you practice in five-minute, two minute, or even one minute segments during the course of the day.  The more you practice, the better able you will be to identify what is happening to you.  Our bodies do not lie…our brains can and do…we are all adept at spinning a narrative about why this or that is happening or why we made this choice and not that one.  The body does not have the capacity to reason…it just has sensations.  Our job is to discern the meaning of our tight, nauseous stomach or tense left shoulder.  Once we notice the bodily sensation, we can begin to identify what may have happened immediately prior to our nausea or our shoulder smacking our ear…. Perhaps some man walked by you wearing the same aftershave lotion your uncle; the sexual perpetrator in your life wore.  Your left shoulder raises as a protective movement to ward off his behind your back approach; an adaptive, appropriate defensive reaction.  Our bodies remember everything…and here you are in the present, reliving, through your body, your past trauma.  Body oriented psychotherapy can help you unwind the historical context and assist you in learning how to be in the present, so that your past isn’t constantly jumping between you and your present life. Continue reading