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What Is Resiliency?

A 12 Step Plan to Increase your Own Resilience When Life becomes Overwhelming

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

Resilience is referred to often in emotional wellness circles but typically without adequately describing the importance of having or attaining this quality. Any challenging life circumstance that creates a flood of emotion and a perceived loss of control can challenge our ability to cope. Resilience is the human ability to rebuild or come back from difficult situations.

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We all cope in some way to extraordinary life events. The positive psychology movement has long focused on the skills people use to navigate major life events. Sometimes negative events such as loss and sometimes positive events such as marriage or a promotion can challenge our ability to cope.

What’s the point of this movement? Why is this important?

The answer lies in the extraordinary number of people who cope in self-destructive ways, ruining relationships and sabotaging anything good in their lives.

Resilience theory states that we all have the ability to cultivate these positive characteristics and traits. Building resilience is a skill set involving thoughts, behaviors and actions which can be learned. It is an important component of PTSD Recovery, as well as, recovering from depression and anxiety. With these skills in place you not only manage the distress caused by PTSD or other major life events, but also inoculate yourself from the adverse effects of negative life events in the future.

Resilient People Display the Ability to:

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  • set and move toward realistic goals
  • ​have an ability to look long term
  • accept change as part of life
  • ​engage in active decision making
  • ​engage in self-discovery
  • ​communicate and problem solve
  • actively learn new things
  • ​have an optimistic outlook
  • ​have a realistic perspective of themselves and the world around them
  • ​accept and manage the presence of strong feelings
  • be flexible
  • ​have a positive view of self
  • ​actively engage in self-care
  • build connections with others

As you begin your journey down this road to resilience, focus on your own strengths. Remember what has worked well for you in the past. Who did you reach out to? What activities did you incorporate to reduce stress and anxiety? How have you overcome obstacles in the past? What gave you hope and purpose? Use the list below to develop and execute your own personal plan. The Road Map to Resilience is a task list to increase resiliency. Take your time focusing on each step. It will be helpful as you move through this process to create a journal to keep track of your emotions, thoughts and the actions you take.

Road Map to Resilience – A 12 Step Plan

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  1. Develop Caring and supportive relationships that are filled with love, trust, encouragement and reassurance.
  2. Manage your feelings You will feel strong emotions. Give yourself space to feel them. You can regulate emotions by focusing on positive emotions, such as, hope, courage, and happiness and decreasing the focus on negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and resentment. To decrease these uncomfortable emotions, it’s important to remember to give yourself permission to feel these feelings, get support when needed and then shift your focus. Denying feelings only intensifies your reaction. Feel and release is a good rule of thumb here.
  3. Build on your strengths Remember to celebrate small achievements.
  4. Have positive expectations and expect things to turn out for the best. Visualize what you want rather than focusing on a negative outlook. Reframe negatives to positives, look for the silver lining in situations, others and yourself. Difficult life events happen. What lessons can you learn from adversity? How can you help others in a similar circumstance?
  5. Practice positive self-talk rather than engaging in self-sabotaging thoughts.
  6. Engage in activities which increase self-confidence including hobbies, personal development and work projects. Do what you love, what you’re good at and take action daily.
  7. ​Increase positive physical behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits. Develop regular routines.
  8. Create meaning and purpose
  9. Set SMART goals to increase and enhance your sense of self-control, mastery and competence, break tasks down to achievable parts, prepare and plan for setbacks, commit to hard work. Identify one thing you can accomplish today in the direction of your goal.
  10. Be flexible Create a list of alternative thoughts, feelings and actions by looking at things from different or opposing perspectives. You may need to shift your goals or direction in your life as a result of events that arise in life. Focus on the road in front of you, and adapt.
  11. Create a social support system Seek and accept help, access community resources, volunteer in your community, work toward positive communication and problem solving with those around you, actively engage in a social network, share your feelings with someone you trust.
  12. Forgive others and yourself

Following this road map, you will be able to identify not only your own personal map but also what your roadblocks are. This process involves deep emotional work and may require the assistance of a professional counselor. Life is a journey! Embrace your strengths!

Can PTSD Be Cured?

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC


Chronic PTSD results from prolonged exposure to traumatic events and an inability to manage the symptoms of PTSD. PTSD does not get better with time alone and medication has shown limited positive impact on resolving trauma.

  • A traumatic event is unchangeable.
  • The event can be large or small.
  • ​It can be one incident or many incidents.
  • ​It can happen at any point in your life.
  • It can happen to you or a loved one.
  • ​Trauma forms an imprint on the brain.
  • You can’t change the trauma but you can change the impact of trauma in your life.

So what does all this mean to you? Is there hope for a “normal” life and healthy relationships? The answer is a resounding YES.

Living with PTSD involves managing a number of symptoms including, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, irrational thought processes, hyper-reactivity, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance of any triggers such as persons, places, or things. Further information is available in the article PTSD Criteria.

Although the trauma has happened in the past, the disruptive physical, emotional and cognitive consequences are happening in the present. You may find yourself experiencing a fear of your own feelings due to an inability to regulate emotions. This side effect of trauma leads to either shutting your feelings down and becoming numb in the face of strong emotions or becoming hyper-aroused and physically overwhelmed by them. The expression of complex PTSD symptoms becomes automatic and can include intense emotional reactions, numbness, and distorted belief systems. The goal in trauma treatment is to regain a balance between your rational brain (the pre-frontal cortex) and your emotional brain (the amygdala).

Why Does Trauma Cause so Much Disruption in Our Lives?

Can ptsd be Cured?

When you cross your threshold for emotional tolerance, the frontal cortex “shuts down” and the amygdala “takes over”. The frontal cortex acts as your brains CEO. It is in charge of managing your thinking, memory, concentration, planning, execution, all those functions we identify as “human”. Trauma hijacks your frontal cortex by over-activating your emotional center, the amygdala. When this happens you have difficulty with memory, verbal communication, problem solving, concentration, attention, reasoning, planning, goal achievement, amongst many other functions. This affects our lives tremendously at work, in relationships and in our personal development. It can have a global effect on our ability to stay present and function in our lives.

All this said, we have a number of very effective strategies to manage and resolve the symptoms of PTSD. The tasks for recovery are aimed at reducing the over-activity of the emotional, fight or flight center of the brain and allowing the thinking center or CEO to come back online.

To manage your PTSD symptoms, you must learn to employ coping skills such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, stress management, grounding skills, self-care, social scaffolding, and body awareness.  This will result in being able to remain calm, focused and grounded consistently, engage in the present, and establish strong connections with people in your life.

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation activities such as mindfulness techniques help you come back to the present when your brain shuts down. These coping skills increase your ability to self-soothe and regulate emotions. Mindfulness exercises focus on the here and now in the present moment, encouraging awareness and acceptance of the present reality. It serves to deactivate the amygdala, the “fight of flight” center of the brain by increasing our ability to regulate emotions. Mentally rehearsing self- soothing activities allows our brains to form new neural pathways allowing the prefrontal cortex to “come back online”. Practicing mindfulness calms the sympathetic nervous system and decreases the activity of the amygdala. Remember, the prefrontal cortex acts as our CEO and is in charge of problem solving, planning, attention, emotional regulation, and reasoning. Rehearsing positive coping techniques regularly, increases your ability to experience feelings without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down. This ensures that you can be in charge of your body and mind again.

PTSD and Relationships

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Unresolved trauma impedes your ability to fully open yourself emotionally to another. Intimate relationships are intense emotional experiences. They are supposed to be! Loving another person increases your vulnerability. It can be hard for a person experiencing symptoms of PTSD to regulate the intense emotional responses they have to another. Emotional regulation is greatly affected by PTSD. It is important to involve significant others as allies to your healing. Family members and friends can be great co-facilitators to healing. They can support your courage, provide physical and emotional safety, practice coping skills with you, and encourage you to focus on self-care during this process.

Trauma Counseling

Body centered treatments such as EMDR, yoga therapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy, are widely used by mental health professionals in the treatment of trauma. Other strategies such as mindfulness training, stress inoculation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and narrative therapies have also shown significant positive results in managing the symptoms of PTSD. Enter your email and receive access to a workshop, “Change your Story, Change Your Life”, which will walk you through an important strategy to overcome your trauma and reestablish a sense of purpose. Also refer to the article, “What is Resilience?” and learn more about resilience factors that we can build to improve our responses to stressful life events.

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PTSD Criteria

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, occurs in approximately 8.7% of the population over their lifetimes according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5. PTSD can have social, occupational, interpersonal, developmental, physical and economic consequences. It is more prevalent among females due to the increased risk females have to exposure of traumatic events. It is estimated that 68 million women will be victimized in their lifetimes according to research presented in Meichenbaum’s PTSD: Ways to Bolster Resilience.

PTSD criteria

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a set of symptoms arising from exposure to a traumatic or stressful event. The distress that follows this exposure varies from individual to individual. You can develop PTSD from emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, violence or exposure to violence, assault, war, natural disasters, and accidents among other life threatening or perceived life threatening events. Symptoms usually start in the first few months after the traumatic incident but onset can be longer.

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD symptoms are generally recurrent, involuntary and intrusive. PTSD flashbacks can be experienced as temporarily losing touch with your present surroundings when triggered by some reminder of the traumatic event. You may experience distressing dreams that replay the event. Also, intense physiological responses or hyper-vigilance occur when experiencing any sensory trigger related to the event.

What is PTSD?

Chronic PTSD

Chronic PTSD also includes the persistent avoidance of similar memories, thoughts or reminders associated with the event, as well as a disruption in memory around the trauma. An increase in negative thoughts about yourself or others, or a persistent negative emotional state begins after exposure to trauma. Negative emotional states include anxiety, guilt, anger, shame and grief. For some survivors, changes in reactivity can begin after the event such as angry outbursts, reckless behavior or problems with concentration and sleep. Chronic PTSD or exposure to traumatic events significantly decreases a person’s ability to regulate emotional states and maintain stable interpersonal relationships.

Living with PTSD

Living with PTSD can feel uncertain and out of control at times. Sensory, emotional, physiological and cognitive aspects of your being are affected. Flashbacks can be very brief or last days. The trigger can be known or of unknown origin. Victims of trauma often blame themselves or others for the event and begin to have persistent negative thoughts and feelings. Symptoms can increase unexpectedly when exposed to reminders of trauma.

Trauma therapy with a qualified psychotherapist will help you to understand how trauma is affecting your day to day life, and move you toward PTSD recovery. For more information on trauma counseling and coping with PTSD, join my newsletter to be notified when the next article, Can PTSD Be Cured? is published.

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What is EMDR?

Author: Stephanie Camins - MA, LPC

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing aims to move disturbance to adaptive resolution. Disturbing events are often the basis of unhealthy, negative symptoms. EMDR is an approach to psychotherapy which incorporates knowledge from many therapeutic approaches. It utilizes an accelerated form of information processing used within a comprehensive treatment plan to promote recovery. EMDR is comprised of 8 phases which address thoughts, emotions, memories and bodily sensations. It uses not only eye movements, but other forms of bilateral stimulation (activation of both sides of the brain) to pair your own adaptive information processing abilities with memory networks. This associative process allows for the alleviation of disruptive symptoms and the enhancement of one’s own sense of well-being.


When something traumatic happens to you, that memory is stored with all five sensory components. These old experiences can cause uncomfortable symptoms in the present when triggered by current experiences. The sensory components of the original memory can create dysfunctional symptoms in the present. There may be times when you feel helpless in the face of these unexpected emotional responses. EMDR is one of the most thoroughly researched methods of therapy. Studies indicate 84-90% of people with a traumatic experience no longer experienced symptoms of PTSD after receiving EMDR treatment.

What issues are appropriate for EMDR?

Problems stemming from early psychological problems Trauma (abuse, neglect, accident, surgery, crime victim, natural disaster).

Performance Enhancement (for work and personal goals).