Arousal is what activates our survival responses. Try and imagine that you’re standing on the precipice of a cliff. As you look down to the bottom 100 hundred feet below you see these sharp jagged rocks staring menacingly back up at you. You begin to feel this intense fear of falling off the cliff to the rocks below, a pit forms in your stomach making it hard to swallow or breathe, and you have this intense need to get away from this edge. This feeling of flight you are experiencing is known as the Arousal Cycle. This cycle is sometimes called the fight or flight response. It is the way that we as people learn to cope and deal with challenges, threats, and fear. The cycle has four steps:

  1. Feeling Challenged or Threatened
  2. Experience of Arousal or Fear
  3. Arousal Peaks as you face the challenge or threat
  4. Arousal begins to decline as the challenge has been met.

Thinking back to the cliff example, looking down causes us to feel this threat that we might fall off to the rocks below. This causes us to experience fear and as this fear and arousal reach its peak, we face the challenge by getting away from the edge. As we get farther away from the cliff edge our arousal and fear begins to decline and we’re able to return to a normal emotional state.

Trauma and the Arousal Cycle

Traumatized individuals have an extreme mistrust of the Arousal Cycle. As they are reminded of the traumatic experiences that they have gone through, feelings of fear and frustration begin to smother and overwhelm them. This causes them to avoid the challenge or the threat, unable to to move on Traumatized individuals are then trapped in the Arousal cycle, unable to overcome that trauma and fear. This leaves them in an extremely vulnerable state.

What goes up must come down

Those who are going through treatment for trauma need to be taught to trust the arousal cycle. One thing to remind those who are suffering from trauma that what comes up, must come down. That as an individual begins to experience feelings of fear and anxiety, those feelings will recede and will come down. When an individual experiencing trauma begins to recognize the ebb and flow of emotion, he/she can find strength and peace in that ebb and flow. One student undergoing treatment had an incredibly hard time dealing with the emotions and the fear attached to her trauma. Whenever she was reminded of those feelings of fear and arousal attached to the trauma, she’d hide in a corner, hiding herself in her hair and hoodie unable to cope with her emotions and anxiety. Her therapist work with her to help her calm down, to recognize her anxiety and fear and that she could get through that fear. As she would calm down she would begin to recognize that ebb and flow of emotion and she began to trust the arousal cycle. In order for someone to begin to heal from the trauma he/she experienced, they need to begin to trust this cycle and this ebb and flow of emotion. If you think your teen and your family need help in moving past the trauma and the anxiety in your lives, we want to help you. Please contact us at 435-900-7753 to find out how.