Becoming trauma-Informed after a natural disaster.

Two-thirds of Americans are impacted by trauma in their lifetime. 
Trauma is the No. 1 health epidemic in our country that effects every component of our well-being, from family connection to chronic illness and disease. As our community begins healing from our recent natural disasters, the EF3 tornado and massive flooding, it’s important to recognize signs of traumatic stress and understand how to heal and move forward. 

Trauma is anything that overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope. 
Every person is unique in how they will respond to life’s challenges. These events become “traumatic” when we can’t cope with them and move forward with our day to day lives. Some people in our community will resume normal behavior very quickly; others will begin to become aware of long-lasting effects from these natural disasters.

Trauma affects our brain, body, and behavior. 
The front of the brain processes all logical thought, and the back of our brain processes reactions to trauma in either the fight, flight, or freeze actions. When we experience a traumatic event, our bodies react in many ways. Our lungs take in more oxygen, respiration increases, digestion slows, heart rate increases, pupils dilate, adrenaline, cortisol, and glucose dump into your bloodstream. These changes are supposed to help the body find safety and survive.  

Our behavior responds by becoming more emotive, illogical, and irrational, or by disassociating and shutting down. Our brains are hardwired to keep us safe. We can also be “triggered,” an event in which our brains will react the same as they did when experiencing the original event, which our brain retains all the sensory information from. The brain does this to allow us to access our flight, fight, or freeze response quicker, thus keeping us safer. For example, a military veteran’s body may view a Fourth of July fireworks celebration as a threat because the body associates the sounds of explosions with the sounds of war. 

We can heal from trauma.
If you’re re-experiencing the traumatic event with flashbacks or nightmares; becoming numb emotionally; avoiding activities, places, or people that remind you of the trauma; having difficulty sleeping or concentrating; or find yourself becoming easily irritated or angered, it’s time to seek professional help.  

Some potential triggering events after a natural disaster include tornado sirens, tornado drills, weather alerts on your phone, weather reports on TV, stormy weather, or even just dark clouds.

Anytime our response to an event does not equal the stressor, the cause could be trauma. For example, if people get upset over minor issues, that may be a good indicator that they’ve been triggered by trauma and their brains and bodies are trying to keep them safe with a flight, fight, or freeze response.

We need connection, love, and support from friends, family and others to heal from trauma.
If you or your child is struggling, reach out to all available support, including your child’s school staff, family physician, mental health professional, employee assistance program, and other family to work as a team in the healing process. Know that you are not alone and that, with proper support, anyone can heal from traumatic events in their life. 

Josh Varner is a social and emotional counselor, national speaker on “Becoming Trauma Informed,” and football coach. He is married with three children and resides in Holts Summit. If you are interested in professional development for your organization, please contact him at or 319-899-9843. Follow him on Twitter @JoshVarner65.