PHOENIX, Ore. — Four months ago the Almeda and Obenchain fires changed Southern Oregon forever. Today many fire survivors are experiencing signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a local expert is sharing ways to cope from the comfort of one's home.
"When we experience trauma, we hold it in our body and a lot of times in our culture, we don't cry when we are upset," Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Coach Maria LiPuma said. "You numb it down or you shake it off. So, we don't allow ourselves to self-regulate, to cry, or to emote."
EFT has been around since the 90s and involves 40 different techniques to help muscles relax and clear one's head after a stressful or traumatic situation such as the fires. Nine years ago LiPuma traveled the world to learn the techniques.
"As a result, I was feeling different and so it's really my nature if something is effective in helping me then I want to learn it to help my clients and my students," LiPuma said.
One of the easiest techniques LiPuma shared that anyone can learn is called tapping. This involves lightly tapping on different meridian points on the outside of the body that connect to different organs inside the body. For example, tapping below the eyeball and next to the nose is the meridian point for the stomach and therefore, calms it down.
"As you're stimulating those points, you're releasing blockages and the flow of the energy," LiPuma said. "And when the energy is flowing more freely, then you're more at ease and the brain and the body releases and you're more rational."
LiPuma said after going through a stressful experience, anxiety builds up in the body, not the mind. For example, a fire survivor smelling smoke after the fires can trigger the body to think it is unsafe. This is where tapping comes in to calm it back down.
"It calms down the fight or flight response in the brain," LiPuma said. "So, when we are feeling anxious or worried or stressed, the body goes into fight-flight-freeze and it produces excessive cortisol and other hormones that are getting us ready to run."
Health Care Mayo Clinic states that cortisol is the primary stress hormone that increases sugars in the bloodstream and enhances the brain's use of glucose. This is created when in any sort of trauma that the body has a memory of, whether it is the smell of smoke or the feeling of wind, LiPuma shared.
The wind gusts reached up to 50 m.p.h. on the day of the Almeda and Obenchain fires. Former Phoenix resident Korina Skaff lost her home to the Almeda Fire and shared when she feels a strong wind in the valley, her body immediately responds with fight or flight.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and I was in a panic," Skaff said. "I reached out to my husband and I said, 'I think my brain's trying to tell me' we're in danger and that we need to leave but I know that it's not true. I know that we're okay and I just had to walk myself through it like we're okay."
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Telling the body, it is safe as Skaff did, is one of the affirmations LiPuma said is important to do while tapping on the meridian points. Saying affirmations out loud such as, "Even though I feel stressed and triggered when I feel the wind, I deeply and completely accept myself."
"Once you calm down you recognize you're in the present, there's nothing really to be afraid of," LiPuma said. "Often times you can then take the next rational step or actually release the charge from those experiences that have you triggered."
Skaff said she would be open to trying EFT if that means she wouldn't get panicked when feeling the wind. She said before the fire, she had a special love for the wind.
"I don't want to be scared of the wind," Skaff said. "One of my favorite things is to ride a bicycle without a helmet and let the wind blow through my hair."
On top of PTSD, Skaff shared she was diagnosed with situational or acute depression following the fire and her mind has a hard time focusing and her brain feels troubled. LiPuma said through a deep trauma like this, someone like Skaff should speak with a medical professional, but tapping can be a way to ease her mind at home.
"Many people have done a lot on their own because you see how simple it (tapping) is," LiPuma said. "The more you can bring your awareness to the actual problem while tapping at the same time, you're going to relax."
For people that may not feel comfortable with tapping, LiPuma said there are other techniques to help calm the body.
"A quick tip is giving voice to what is going on, breathing is great, drinking plenty of water, touching the body and releasing the fear out of the body would be a great thing to do," LiPuma said.
Skaff said as she was sharing her story to help her process what happened on the day her life came crumbling down around her. Although her body was shaking throughout the process of remembering, she said it was therapeutic in a way.
"I guess it's good to get it out," Skaff said. "It's important to talk to people about your experience even if you don't think it's a big deal or you're doing fine."
If you are experiencing PTSD or any sort of trauma, LiPuma can be reached at email@example.com for a free consultation.