Fighting Trauma with Mindfulness

looking down on a cup of coffee held in a white person's lap atop a pair of mittens

I just had the best coffee ever, well so far this month! Yum, coffee. The perfect temperature, rich but not overboard. The pumpkin flavor twirled perfectly with the melted caramel and mocha. Usually, during the Fall, I like to focus on my senses of smell and taste. You might be thinking “Okay, we all like a good pumpkin-flavored something or other during fall, so what?” Well, let me tell ya about perception and a little about our senses and how we can use them together to help our mental health.

First, did you know that along with our taste sense, we also use our sense of smell & our trigeminal nerve stimulation (which helps us determine temperature, texture, and pain) to actually figure out the flavors we are tasting? For example, have you ever heard someone say, “That tastes like it smells,”  or smelled wine before tasting it, or maybe drooled over the smell of BBQ coming from a nearby restaurant or neighbor’s backyard? Well, that’s kind of how all our senses develop perception, and then smell and taste work together! Also, our taste receptors can sense heaven (just kidding!) sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and lastly, savoryness (is that a word?) AKA Umami.

Anyways, ADHD train back on track! So why do we care so much about senses? In DBT we learn how to maintain them to in turn maintain our mental health. Mindfulness is the practice of self-control. Let’s put to use the behavioral skills we’ve gathered through DBT. A lot of us who have mental health struggles work really hard to be present. We might struggle with depression, fog, memory loss, blackout moments from traumatic experiences, disassociation, etc. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain mindfulness and stay in the moment.

Personally, I can easily go through the motions of everyday life without really experiencing anything. No taste, no smells, etc. Especially in the Fall. That season is a reminder of traumatic events for me. So to help get me through these few months, I try to PURPOSELY drink fall-flavored coffees and use fall-scented wax melts/candles/sprays that also support that vibe. Giving me control over my perceptions.

So, what do I mean by purposely, since most people enjoy these things during fall anyways right? I just take a few more minutes to be mindful of the experience, such as feeling the warmth of the coffee from the cup as I hold it. I take a deep breath as I smell the aroma of the coffee and think through each flavor as I let the warm fluid sit in my mouth and then go down my throat. I also mentally tell myself how much I enjoy it. The taste, the comfort, warmth, etc. I try to sit still and drink the whole cup. That is really important. Do not just sip, set down, and forget! We tend to get busy with life duties and that masks the moment.

DBT helps us learn these techniques and tools to help us along our life travels with our special minds. I remember the day I realized that Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is like a constant battle of our perceptions/senses; and we can counteract those perceptions when they go wonky, by using them (the senses) against themselves. That thought changed my life! When we gain control of our senses, we gain control of our perceptions. When we gain control of our perceptions, we gain control of our defenses and emotions, and gain the ability to thrive, not just survive!

I hope you enjoy a fantastic cup of coffee today! Happy Fall Ya’ll!

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