2018 Series 4

Recovery from Stress and Trauma

Week 2: The biomechanics of stress and trauma part 2

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August 20 - 26, 2018

course content for week 2:

How stress accumulates to create dysfunction

Welcome to week 2!

Introduction to week 2

In my quest to discover how the body processes trauma the thing that fascinates me most is how the web of connections in the body are orchestrated. In Chinese Medicine, each organ is associated with an emotion. The kidneys, for example, are associated with fear. Anatomically, the adrenal gland sits atop each kidney like a cap. When organs or body parts are in direct physical contact they communicate directly with one another. The kidney’s association with fear and its physical contact with the adrenal glands is no coincidence. This kidney/adrenal gland connection is also a key we can use to help us release one of the primary feedback loops a horse can get stuck in when under stress, or having experienced a major trauma.

So, with a nervous system so beautifully designed to support resilience, how does one develop symptoms of chronic stress or trauma? Simply put, through the suppression of actions that allow the nervous system to reset back to neutral, or a quantity, or duration of stress that overwhelms the nervous system’s ability to reset unaided. Unfortunately, there are a great many ways to thwart a healthy response to stress or trauma. This week we take a look at how stress accumulates to the point of causing dysfunction.

When a body is ‘triggered’ into fight or flight the sympathetic nervous system rules the day. When the nervous system is not allowed to carry this process through to completion the sympathetic nervous system continues to rule, keeping us stuck in startle reflex, or fight or flight mode. Only when we allow the process to complete does the nervous system reset back to neutral. We can prevent the adverse effects of cumulative stress or trauma by facilitating opportunities for our horses to release the biological effects of stress as it occurs. Oftentimes we take on horses already suffering Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms. In such cases it becomes useful to understand how stress accumulates in order to help each horse find their way back to healthy nervous system function.

The mind and body can handle a certain amount of stress, but too much begins to overwhelm the nervous system’s capacity to discharge the build of up of survival energy. Symptoms that a horse is struggling are many and varied. Early warning signs often consist of subtle changes in behavior. When those early warning signs go unheeded behaviors can escalate, and in the long term begin to impact the horse’s health in the form of disease processes (ulcers and metabolic syndrome being the two most common), or lead to more catastrophic accident, or injury.  The bottom line is that ongoing stress undermines health and wellbeing, making us more susceptible to illness and injury.

The most common stressors occur as a result of daily life. A horse does not have to be abused or have a catastrophic accident to experience trauma. Your homework last week was to go out into your horse’s environment and notice things that might cause a horse stress based on your knowledge of a horse’s basic survival needs. What did you discover?

The hard truth is that domesticated life is by design a bit stressful for horses. Due to resource constraints such as limited availability of land, money, time, help and so forth, horses are often kept on smaller acreages than ideally suit them, and managed in ways that are less than perfect. Some management stresses CAN be minimized, and some are unavoidable, depending on your circumstances. My goal is not to make you feel terrible about how you keep your horses, rather to acknowledge the stressors we may not always consider as they factor into a larger picture of nervous system function.

Welcome to week 2 video

Course Content for Week 2:

The biomechanics of stress and trauma part 2

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Links to PDF Documents for week 2:

PDF:  How Stress Accumulates to Cause Dysfunction

Audio Transcript:

We've already discussed most of what we need to work with our own trauma or help our horses recover so there will be lots of opportunity to review things and go deeper into our understanding. For this week I would suggest reviewing the following documents:

Hands on Palpation Guide (page 221 in your manual - there is also a page with links for video demonstrations)

Review anything in the manual related to using touch as a form of gathering information along with anything about resonance or working with the electromagnetic field of the heart. If you find yourself overwhelmed by emotions (yours or your horses please review the sections on ways to connect and ground without being overwhelmed).

September 20 Live Chat:

Topics covered:

  • Feedback loops within the body and between horse and human.

  • How diet factors into stress and trauma.

And I talk about all these things in light of the sessions we did with Madalyn Ward with my horses.

And last but not least how the unknown can cause fear in horse or human.

Main video for the week:

This week I'm sharing a session with a new client (the horse, not the human). This was a mare who does not like having her hind feet picked up so they've been unable to trim her hind feet. We were exploring what might be the cause of her resistance. It might be some trauma related to having her feet worked on in the past or it might be something physical/structural in her hind quarters. This mare ended up being a fabulous example of how we can begin to address the physical once the emotional components are resolved. Her person did a great job of building trust with this mare or I never would have been able to do what I did in one session.

And here is the third session I did with Tasani. It was quite interesting!

video demonstrations:

For this week I've made a list of videos that you've already seen that are useful examples of ways to work with the mental and emotional aspects of trauma recovery as well as ways to minimize stress during training and other interactions with our horses.

Working with careful visual observation in combination with resonance, or tracking what I feel, are key components of the early stages of working with horses who suffer mental or emotional effects of chronic stress or trauma.

Touch can be a powerful way to help release stress and trauma.

Movement is sometimes the best way to help a horse release the pent up energy associated with chronic stress or trauma. That can be hard when they are quite shut down. As is the case with Merlin. Make note of the times when he takes off running and frantically screaming. That's a clear sign of nervous system over activation!