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Why Trauma Can Lead to the Fidgets

05 Jan

We got this question from Julie a while back:
Dear BR,

Before my traumatic experience, I meditated frequently (Buddhist style). After the trauma, for a while I found I could barely meditate. I wanted to jump out of my own skin whenever I tried to sit. What is going on here and what can I do about it?


Dear Julie,
This is very common in the aftermath of trauma, when cortisol and other stress hormone levels are abnormally elevated (for weeks and even months), and people are edgy, agitated, scattered, irritable, and basically still experiencing the effects of an acute physiological alarm state.  

Usually this goes away by itself.  Mindfulness meditation requires discipline and focus, and this may not be the time to demand that kind of concentration from your already overtaxed nervous system.  Simple conscious breathing (Andy Weil has a great audio for this – might be just the ticket, or guided imagery, like our General Wellness or Guided Imagery Mix could carry you along, recruiting just enough of your senses and capturing a nice chunk of cognitive space in your brain to be of help, without asking you to do a whole lot.  

Aerobic exercise, warm baths and body work would be worth a try too, as well as various kinds of moving meditation – yoga or qigong. All of these interventions have been shown to help balance cortisol and return the body to balance.

But mostly be patient with yourself and don’t ask yourself to do too much at this time. Simple, easy activities to help remind your body how to settle itself back down (it does know how to do this), like the ones I’ve suggested, will be just what you need.

Take care and good luck!


Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award