Understanding Trauma

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I was travelling from my home in Mt Maunganui, New Zealand to the tourist centre of Rotorua. It was 7.45am when I left home and I had to be at work as a pharmacist locum by 9am.

It would only take about 55 minutes, winding through some beautiful countryside. That morning I was feeling incredibly grateful to have such a lovely drive to work. From farms, to hills, rivers, natural bush, and a gorge where the man-made road bent to the will of nature and wound around a lovely river. Sharp turns and bends meant that speed was out of the question, however that morning was in the middle of winter and the road was icy.

A car coming towards me hit some of that ice. As it fishtailed towards me, time slowed down.

I stopped just in time to have the oncoming car spin in front of me and hit the bank.

Unhurt, I was able to spring into action. Hazard lights, safety, out of the car, check the driver, open his door and help him out and away from the car which was crumpled. By now other drivers had stopped and I helped to move the car off the road, call the police and keep an eye on the driver who was shaken but unhurt, and direct traffic.

Then, with nothing else to do, I carried on to work. I had been the picture of efficiency and leadership and the adrenaline rush had been incredible.

Until the adrenaline wore off.

I started to shake. I shook so much that I had to pull over to the side of the road. My hands and arms seemed to belong to someone else. My legs, my chest and my stomach were quivering and tremoring.

What was going on?

It was not until a few years later, during my studies into human behaviour and mindbody modalities that I understood what happened.


The answer is actually observed in the animal kingdom, as observed by Dr Peter Levine.

When an animal, like a deer, is chased down by a predator, like a lion, the deer is able to flip into survival mode – run away, save its own life. But if the deer is caught it will go straight into freeze mode – it plays dead. If then somehow the deer has the opportunity to get away, it goes back into survival and runs away. The deer has been using it’s clever fight/flight/freeze system. It has to in order to survive.

Once safe the animal will discharge that enormous amount of adrenalinised energy by ….. shaking! It’s skin shakes, it’s legs shake and then does a big out breath. Emergency over. Life goes on.

What do humans do after we go through that adrenaline rush? We suppress the shake. Stay ‘cool’. We use the will of our mind to overcome the will and need of the body.

The problem with this is that the energy ‘cycle’ is not finished and it becomes stamped into our neurology (our nerves). This is strongly contributes to a traumatised nervous system.

A lifetime build-up of trauma slowly builds the strain on our nervous system and because our nerves touch every part of our body– our muscles, bones, organs and more, the impact can show up anywhere within the body as a health issue. Our biology actually becomes a record of our history.

Trauma is certainly the ‘big’ events and grief, but also the niggling stress from work, traffic jams, relationship challenges, minor accidents, work ambitions and generally stressful times.

Operating from this ongoing, relentless state of stress, energy and trauma means that our body doesn’t get the chance to take the foot off the gas pedal, and go into a state of peace instead. Peace would be like putting the foot gently on the brake of a fast car. In this state we get on with the job of the repair of our body – repair that is needed daily. We also digest our food properly.


Our body is wired for survival – run or fight to protect our life OR rest, repair and digest (sometimes called feed and breed). Trying to do both is like driving with one foot on the gas, the other on the brake, at the same time. Guess what doesn’t happen? Yes, the rest, repair and digest function because saving your life is much more important.

But really, on a daily basis are we actually in survival mode? The bar gets slowly raised and we don’t notice stress – until something happens that makes us stop and realise.

Health challenges are greatly influenced by our neurology and there are syndromes of symptoms that all seem to fit a diagnosis but at the same time seem unrelated. Bowel problems, menopausal problems, cardiac problems, anxiety and depression, chronic issues, autoimmune problems, food intolerances and insomnia. We blame age, environment, genetics, diet and hormones but there is that one key system that underlies all of this.

The nervous system. It touches every part of us. And although it can cause havoc with our health it can be used as leverage to heal. Being human means we have neuroplasticity which means we can change. Great news in this fast paced world where illness is becoming more and more, and the usual answers are less and less satisfying.

So, back in the car, I let the shake go on, until it finished by itself. (As it turns out, not because I knew how important that process was, but because I was fascinated by my own reaction!) I got to work on time. And proceeded to work for 9 hours in a stressful environment that no doubt was impacting my neurology as I did so!

Understanding that the body is a system of the mind, emotions and physical has been pivotal in how I work with my clients, achieving so much more towards their health than they have before.


Paula Ralph is a Women’s Health Coach, working to get to the root cause of health symptoms and syndromes.

Paula sees the symptom of ill health showing up as the result of a lengthy period of build up and what is causing a problem to the client often has an underlying ‘trigger’ that may have been developing for years.

She specialises in pelvic health, menopause, birth trauma and hysterectomy preparation. Without pelvic health we are not able to thrive with vitality. Women especially go through multiple events strongly influenced by their hormones and navigating these with grace is possible!

Using her MEP process, Paula recognises the whole person (vs the ‘part’ that is causing a problem!), in order to create healthy change in her clients that really ‘sticks’.

As a pharmacist, with two businesses in New Zealand, Paula observed her customers doing the best they could, but not achieving the results they really wanted. She realises that this form of coaching health is a major expansion on the medical model and consequently also enjoys speaking and lecturing to groups, bringing a holistic understanding, supported by science to the world.

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