Trauma Fatigue: Responding to Stress During Difficult Times

Trauma Fatigue

We have entered a time in history when traumatic occurrences are happening so frequently, there is hardly time to process one event before another is shoved into view. After the world revolted to protest the death of George Floyd and support Black Lives Matter, more lives continue to be threatened by human ignorance and brutality. Observing the current political climate is painful and for many of us, intolerable. And over the last month, and ahead of a fire season that no longer exists, the West has seen unprecedented destruction due to climate change-driven wildfires, with over two and a half million acres already destroyed. On top of all of this, a global pandemic continues to affect the health and economic strength of the world, and leaders in science and medicine are continually vilified in order to fulfill political agendas. 

Although violence and destruction are part of the human experience, traumatic occurrences are pummeling humanity like a persistent over-head swell. We are not wired to repeatedly experience trauma and function efficiently, therefore there has never been a more important time to tend to our emotional shores. I realize the word trauma carries a lot of charge and is relative to the experience of the individual. So for the sake of this article, I will place trauma into three categories: Big-T trauma, little-t trauma, and debilitating external stimuli, all of which may affect an individual’s equilibrium by limiting functioning and blocking much-needed relational connection and healing.

The current influx of environmental and social destruction is affecting the global psyche and for many of us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the forest from the burned trees. Tending to our emotional shores means committing to staying present in the moment, sensing tension in the body, and nurturing awareness practices that honor our precious time here on earth. When we pay greater attention to our inner structure of defense and protection (fight/flight/freeze response), we become more capable of reacting to the world in a way that is beneficial to well-being. Constantly panicking about the world, feeding fear, and consuming excess media leads to a dysregulated nervous system. Choosing to operate in this manner is not helping you, nor anyone else stay healthy. We all go there at times because we are mammals wired to defend ourselves. It is important to have compassion for the part of the brain that is conditioned to anticipate predation, real or imagined. That being said, committing to daily practices that regulate the nervous system supports health by reducing cortisol and promoting healthy immune-response in the body. The more we become aware of how thoughts, feelings, and body sensations negatively affect us, the better armed we become to attenuate negative response patterns driven by fear and anxiety. When you are confronted with an internal or external crisis and feel unable to utilize supportive resources, think about your patterns of defense and how to work with them. 


Withdrawal, also know as the “freeze” response, is a primitive defense function deeply wired in the brain to increase the likelihood of survival. When the system becomes flooded with negative information and uncomfortable feelings or emotions, many people unconsciously enter a state of physical or emotional immobility. We distance ourselves from the input we are unable to tolerate and in doing so, also distance ourselves from good feelings and experiences that are there to support and regulate us. The body may feel closed off, and interpersonal connection becomes limited or nonexistent. In this peculiar era of social distancing, it is important to pay attention to the part of ourselves that wants to shut down and tune out, especially since social contact is already limited.

The first step in healing patterns of withdrawal is noticing your behavior. 

When you feel sad, angry, or frustrated, do you shut down? Do you limit social contact and go quiet instead of reaching out to a friend or family member? Do you turn to substances to numb the pain? How does your mood change? Do you stop engaging in activities you would otherwise enjoy? Do you stop exercising or move less? If so, you are most likely attempting to protect yourself, yet are doing so in a way that may be disconnecting you from the healing your body, mind, and spirit so desperately needs for balance. 

When you withdraw, do you feel disconnected from your body? How does the breath feel? Is it shallow, tight, heavy, or barely there? Is there less sensation in your legs and feet and more in the upper centers of the body? Is there no sensation at all? It is through the recognition of darkness that we are able to look towards the light and disarm unhealthy patters of avoidance, somatic tension, and withdrawal. If you tend to withdraw when you feel compromised, do what you can to feel more embodied and connected to your thoughts and feelings.  After conducting extensive research on interpersonal neurobiology, contemporary psychiatrist Dan Siegel M.D. coined the phrase, “If you can name it, you can tame it”. By naming our experiences, we acknowledge what is happening in the here and now and become more able to reclaim a sense of self and belonging. By naming our experiences, we acknowledge what is happening in the here and now and become more able to reclaim a sense of self and belonging. 

When practicing somatic (body) awareness, individuals who withdraw or freeze often say things like: 

“I feel numb”


“I am having difficulty identifying sensation”

“I feel like I am floating upward”

“I feel walled up”

What does walled up feel like? 

“…it feels dull, dense, and cold”


Anxiety (Fight or Flight)

When the system becomes flooded with negative input and uncomfortable feelings or emotions, many people enter a state of moderate to extreme anxiety. This response is often associated with what is known as the “fight or flight” response, instigated by the sympathetic nervous system branch, and frequently associated with states of heightened anxiety. Similar to an immobility response (withdrawal/freeze), this defense mechanism is neurologically wired in the primitive part of the brain, and was designed to help mammals move away from, or fight their adversaries. As the nervous system becomes flooded, it feels natural for people experiencing a fight or flight response to react to stimuli, rather than withdraw from it, although sometimes there is a fluctuation between all three response patterns. When the flight or flight response is in full-swing, it can feel as though we are being carried away by an internal storm that crashes over everything and everyone in its hyper-aroused path. Although what we desperately need is these moments is regulation and support, what we exhibit often ends up pushing away connection, therefore sabotaging the likelihood that deeply vulnerable needs get met. 

In this era of heightened arousal and anxiety, the first step in easing symptoms is acknowledging them. 

When naming the sensation, thought, or feeling, we are better able to disarm unhealthy patterns of reactivity, anger, and anxiety. From this place, it becomes more feasible to seek support, develop coping skills, and start moving towards connection.

If you struggle with symptoms of stress and anxiety, try slowing down and checking in with yourself. How many hours, days, or weeks have you been aware of the symptoms? Do you react quickly rather than pause, and take a few mindful breaths? Do you feel unsafe in your environment even when there is no tangible threat? Do you feel distrustful of others or demand that they listen to you? Where does anxiety manifest in your body? How would you describe it? Do something every day to get in touch with these feelings. 


Common things said by individuals who feel anxious or are operating from a fight or flight response:


“My shoulders and back feel tense and tight”

“I feel like something is pinching my chest”

“My mind won’t stop racing”

“It feels like there is a ball bouncing around in my head” 

“It feels like there are butterflies under my skin”

“I want to escape”

“I don’t feel safe” 

What makes you not feel safe? 

“…I feel like walls are closing in on me”


Few humans become nervous system-regulating Jedis by practicing stress reduction occasionally. Take time each day for either self-care or somatic (body-centered) awareness. It is a practice that needs to be cultivated. Your nervous system and loved ones will thank you. 

Quick and powerful breath practice: Antara Kumbhaka

Antara Kumbhaka aids relaxation, decreases stress, improves concentration, and increases physical and mental energy.

  • Set a timer for 5-10 minutes
  • Inhale through your nose
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds (or more)  
  • Exhale slowly through your nose (a bit longer than your inhale)

Although these are challenging times, we have an abundance of resources at our finger tips. You owe it to yourself and your cause to continue taking loving care of yourself and others. 

Self-care ideas: Exercise, nature exploration, camping, meditation, getting more sleep, calling a friend, gardening, yoga, writing, cooking, creating or listening to music, being of service, activism, reading, sitting with feelings, reducing media consumption, learning something new, podcasts, educational videos, hot baths, sunshine, crying, resting.

Romi Cumes LMFT, CMT is a leading professional in somatic psychotherapy, intuitive healing, bodywork, and yoga. She has been passionate about healing work for over twenty years and created Transformative Healing Arts in 2005. Her private practice is located in Santa Barbara, California.

The Healing Power of Somatic Wisdom

Transformative Healing Arts is offering a special yoga and somatic healing workshop this Thanksgiving Thursday. Join us at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center 9am-11am. Sign up Here

Join us Thanksgiving morning for a gratitude-filled yoga and somatic healing journey. Yoga in essence, is a somatic healing practice, as it is profoundly healing and regulating for the body, mind, and spirit. Somatic Psychology is the study of the lived experience of the body as it pertains to psychological exploration.This workshop will assist you to get in touch with your most authentic state of being. From a place of somatic authenticity, we become more present, and can therefore show up in the world in a more peaceful and powerful way. We will do some experiential work to tap into innate body wisdom, and work with some yoga postures to explore how somatic awareness is inextricably linked to yoga and other mindfulness practices.

Neuroscience now proves how important it is to not only be in touch with our bodies, but to be in touch with how we relate to others while sensing and being in our bodies. Somatic and relationally-based awareness practices can support us to elucidate innate body wisdom, while uncovering valuable insight about emotional processes. Similar to yoga, such practices assist us to ease protective or adaptive mechanisms, often manifested as body armor, tightness, pain, and emotional distress. These techniques are distinct from specific yoga and cognitive therapies however, in that there are no scripted asanas or directive protocols utilized to observe the body. We sense into the body, and listen to what it says.  Join us next week for a unique, body-centered  exploration.


(Upcoming Workshop) True Self Exploration: Introduction to Somatic and Relational Psychology

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True Self Exploration: An Introduction to Somatic and Relational Psychology; Tools for Empowerment & Growth

Sunday March 19, 1:00 – 3:00pm

Location: Santa Barbara Yoga Center. 32 East Micheltorena St.

Cost: $45 

Somatic Psychology is the study of the lived experience of the body as it pertains to psychological exploration. Somatic and relationally-based awareness practices can support us to elucidate innate body wisdom, while uncovering valuable insight about emotional processes. Similar to yoga, such practices assist us to ease protective or adaptive mechanisms, often manifested as body armor, tightness, pain, and emotional distress. These techniques are distinct from specific yoga and cognitive therapies however, in that there is no pre-planned asana or scripted protocols.This workshop will assist you to get in touch with your most authentic state of being. From a place of somatic authenticity, we become more present, and can therefore show up in the world in a more peaceful and powerful way. This workshop will offer both a lecture, and experiential exercises to support participants to tap in to innate body wisdom. We will also work with a few basic yoga postures to explore how somatic awareness is inextricably linked to yoga and other mindfulness practices.

Other elements of this workshop:

-Review of Polyvagal Theory (evolutionary stress response, social communication, self soothing behavior)
-Tools for interpersonal connectedness
-Utilizing somatic awareness in your yoga and mindfulness practices
-Partner exercises exploring nervous system response
-Relaxation/Guided mindfulness practices

Romi Cumes MA, MFTI, LMT, is the founder of Transformative Healing Arts, which offers counseling, yoga instruction, bodywork, performance art, workshops, and international retreats. She received a masters in clinical psychology, with an emphasis on somatic psychology from the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology; and completed advanced training via the Three Fold Way program in Southern California. Romi is currently a psychotherapist part-time at Hospice of Santa Barbara and is completing hours towards a California M.F.T. license. Romi has been a certified yoga instructor since 1998 and a massage therapist since 2001.

Facebook Page: Transformative Healing Arts

Instagram: @romicumes


Salt Farms and the Single Life

It was just another day for the Maras salt farmers, but for me, it was a solid hike at 10,300 feet. As I walked through a small Andean village to get to a trail head, beautiful scenery was met with the aberrant dichotomy of social distress. One moment I was basking in the surrounding landscape, speckled with corn fields, green mountaintops, and cob homes; the next, my gait slammed to a screeching halt as I encountered a woman wailing in Spanish, her husband and she engaging in an explosive argument. The therapist in me wanted to assist her, as it sounded like she was in danger. But for all I knew, she was the provoker, and what could I really do anyway? Enter a stranger’s house and pretend I was the tourist police? Probably not a good idea – in any country. I walked on and felt helpless as I heard her fusillade of rage and pain fade into the distance.

I continued my hike up to a vista that revealed much of the Sacred Valley, just below Maras, a Quechua salt farming site. The salt is harvested from squares plots that beautifully contour the side of the mountain. This “salinera” utilizes a sophisticated, ancient Incan aqueduct system. Each terraced square is fed by one saline stream coming directly out of the earth; and the salty stream continues down the mountain, lining the red diatomaceous earth with white streaks.

As I sat on a perched rock (pictured) to check out the salty mountain and the view of the valley, I soon became a spectacle to a male villager passing by. “De donde eres? Y donde está tu esposo?”, he asked. There you have it, two of the most important questions a campesino can ask a woman:

“Where are you from?”  And…
“Where is your husband?”

“No lo tengo”, I answered jovially.

The salt farmer couldn’t comprehend why I didn’t have a husband, nor why I would intentionally hike alone. He continued to ask me questions with great consternation, as well as appeared perplexed by my answers. I didn’t have a husband and I was happy? How could this be? He scratched his adorable wrinkled face and continued down the jagged trail.

I love men to the ends of the earth and also love traveling alone through foreign countries. Having a husband is not my primary goal in life, as it was for most women in the 1950’s and still is for Andean subsistence farmers. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of having one life partner sounds wonderful – albeit a little unrealistic – and having someone take over my camera’s precarious self-timer situation would make it a double-win.

Traveling as a single, Caucasian lady is both an educational and a peculiar experience at times, especially when one is meandering through subsistence agriculture-based communities. One day I am resting in beautiful accommodations, reading about post-modern feminism and the shapeshifting relationship models of American culture. The next day I am conversing with an old Peruvian farmer, who asks me why I don’t have a husband while gripping the heavy farming tool slung over his shoulder. Life never ceases to have a trenchant sense of humor.

I have traveled with boyfriends and without, and neither experience is “better”. And, there is something especially sacred and vulnerably authentic about wandering the planet alone. These moments have taught me to really savor solitude and revel in the beauty that is community, lovership, and culture. Life is both perplexing and beautiful and we never know what tomorrow will bring. Enjoy the ride!

In appreciation of sacred dichotomy,



Self Healing Exercise

Human Field image

Have you been struggling with another person lately? Perhaps a friend, lover, business partner, or family member? If this is the case, it may support you to look at the polarity present in the situation. When we can see “other” as our mirror for personal growth, we evoke the potential to explore deeply hidden, vulnerable parts of ourselves.

Sitting comfortably, ask yourself some of these questions:

Do you find yourself longing for something that you believe only another person can provide?

When you have this longing, does it seem to take you away from yourself? Ie: your own inner strength, calm, motivation, and creativity?

Have you judged yourself lately? Was it necessary?

Have you vilified someone recently because you yourself are not happy?

Did you cast your energy outward – towards another – because what you really desire is to be more settled within?

If any of the above seems true for you, try this meditation. You only need 10-15 minutes.

Consider how you might be abandoning a part of yourself. For example, what have you wanted to fill by another? Try not to get too heady about it in terms of long-winded thoughts and sentences, but rather tune into some simple needs/desires, as well as a place in your body where you feel any kind of lack, or emptiness. Notice whatever sensations that may arise. Breathe.

As you are tuning into those sensations, feel your breath and visualize giving energy back to yourself. If there is an area in the body where you feel a void? Notice that area, keep your attention there and breathe. As you do this, various thoughts may arise that are connected to any of the above questions.  As you tune in, keep exploring how you can feed yourself in some significant way. What are you denying yourself by wishing others would provide it for you? Remember, other human beings are crucial for our development, so this is not about being so independent that you don’t need others. What we are tuning into here is how not to seek outside ourselves for much of the inner power, love, and creativity we are able to cultivate within.

From a place of inner peace and expansion, supported by things like yoga, nature, and meditation, we are more capable of giving to others, and receiving what they have to offer us.  Sit for a bit, and see what wisdom your body-mind provides.

Much love and Happy Holidays,


Somatic and Relational Psychology Workshop: True Self Exploration

Join us for a practical and experiential journey into the heart of connection. We will explore general information about the brain in order to understand the various “stuck” places we operate from when interacting with those around us.

By bridging the knowledge of neuroscience with innate body wisdom, we enable ourselves to see our adaptive self in a more clear, authentic way. This is the part of the self that struggles to survive, both figuratively and literally, usually operating from a reptilian fear-response in the brain and a conditioned psyche.

Through body-centered awareness and relational exercises, we begin to acquaint ourselves with the adaptive part of our experiences. When we start to understand the various limiting patterns of the adaptive self, the True Self can shine forth, and from this place of True Self understanding, life gets better, relationships get more rich, and the distress and trauma has somewhere to exit.

This workshop will offer both a psycho-educational component and group-process/experiential work so participants get an actual “feel” of somatic and relational psychology, as it pertains to healing.

For those of you who attended last month’s workshop, we will be covering some new material.

Join us and dive in to your True Self.

Saturday September 14th, 11am
$15 for workshop/class

Private counseling sessions also available upon request.
Sliding Scale.

With Love,

P.S. For those interested in complementing this work with Yoga, I will also be teaching a three day “Intro to Yoga” course at the SB Yoga Center this same weekend. (805) 965-6045 to register

Friday 7-9pm and Sat/Sun 2-4pm.
$50 for the entire weekend, call (805) 965-6045 to register or just stop by 32 East Micheltorena St. Friday September 13th by 6:45.


I am sitting in a Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley after attending the USABP (United States Body Psychotherapy) conference, and am relishing the energy evoked by somatic psychology and conscious Northern California explorers of Self.  I have felt some emotion over the last few days associated with interconnection, life purpose, and engagement with others.  Just now, I pulled out my computer to write down some thoughts, and (eventually) crank out a paper for a dry grad-school psych class. What I ended up learning about this evening however, had nothing to do with ordinary “family therapy”.  The interactions with the people I engaged with were powerful and therapeutic, as if I had found a new family.

As my food arrived, I met two interesting, kind, high-vibe raw food educators sitting on the couch across from me. We spoke for a while about what we all ‘do’.  Soon after our discussion commenced, a man sitting on the couch with me went into a manic schizoid episode, attempting to reap havoc on any nearby person who cared to engage him.  We all sat there, us Café Gratitude crunchers, holding a space of love, while telling him we enjoyed his harmonica playing and presence.

He didn’t seem to hear any of it.

He was in his story, in his pain, and in his hypermanic state of arousal that he has held onto for many, many years in order to survive in this world.  It is tragic and darkly beautiful what we humans are capable of experiencing – what we witness. Many of the people we encounter (and we are those people), have dealt with so much pain, or are living in so much turmoil, that their only resource is to lash out.  It is hard to comprehend and it feels excruciating  at times.  It is as if the only way to adjust to what is happening is to shut off, tune out, and avoid.  The shut-off however, disables us from seeing the beauty. Our need for comprehension through the somatic experience of empathy seems to be one of the great lessons and great mysteries of this world.

There is enrichment available at every moment. So much so, that we are able to find resources to deal with the pain in our lives, our families and ourselves. The question of the day here at this Berkeley restaurant of Gratitude was, “What do you love about your life?”.  I love that I have the freedom to move, explore possibilities, do what I need to do to care for myself, speak openly with others, share space/food, experience nature, explore intellect, absorb wisdom, and feel love. The list goes on and on….

There are so many things that I am grateful for and what I love most is that I am able to have these kind of life-based educational experiences on a regular basis.  All that is required of me is that I keep my eyes and heart open.  Even when the moments are painful and the tormented East Bay street-dweller catharts his toxic exposure to all that surround him; even then, do I feel such a great wave of gratitude.

And maybe more so because I realize how fucking lucky I am, in that I don’t have to experience life in the way he does. However, isn’t that pretentious of me to assume that the way he experiences life has any less fortitude than the way I experience mine? That the way he screams and yells at random life-goers to release some part of his conflicted soma, is any different than the way I deal with my surroundings in an ecstatic dance class? The only difference is the leg warmers and the $10 entrance fee when it all comes down to it…

I speak of this metaphorically of course, given I don’t tend to scare people away at restaurants, nor challenge them (overtly) to love me. However the essence of his mission, his need to express, his ways of emoting, they are all still inherently human. Unfortunately, the harmonica-man is dysregulated because his little child-self was most likely never heard, however his humanity still speaks as loudly as my own.

I am thankful for that experience as I sat there calmly by a fire, talking to middle aged raw foodists who spoke to me about their sojourns, and asked me, “What’s your sign?”.  I know I am on the right path studying how the psyche relates to the body when nearby strangers comment that I am “brave” and must have “training with this sort of thing”, based on their experience of my interaction with the disgruntled, schizophrenic man.

I am thankful that even in moments of extreme holistic bliss, I am reminded of the world that surrounds us. There is never a dull moment because the shadow is within all of us. And as Michael Meade said just last night at his lecture in Mill Valley, we MUST shine our inner truth and light onto others, with the intention that they will absorb some of the essence and eventually – although not always evidently – be able to realize theirs.

Then the next phase of the evening came….

After the schizophrenic man exited the building, I continued conversing with the raw food people who sat across the communal table I was eating at.  At first I found them kind and similar to many new age people I have come across on my path of self-evaluation.  Yet as our conversation continued, I realized their story was much more profound than I realized.  As “Jim” spoke, he told me wild tales of pain, Self discovery, healing, and illumination. His friend “Trina” was probably about fifteen years younger than him.  She was equally engaging, however seemed to be more of the space-holder, rather than the story-teller herself. It was as if she had come into his life to support his healing process and story-telling.

This man has seen wars, driven trucks, weighed over 300 lbs, fought for life, and  battled disease and PTSD.  Now he feels and sees energy, talks about Spirit, and tours around the country educating people about raw food and healing.

I rarely get immersed in the stories of strangers for hours on end, however this was a special story. These people were special people and reflect the ubiquitous light that is reflected throughout humanity. We were  meant to share the space together and gather the insights we needed.  Just minutes before the harmonica-playing schizophrenic acted out, Trina and I were discussing “grounding exercises” and what to do in the event that our energy is threatened or  feels out of whack. The mere mention of grounding exercises in that moment supported me to have a resource, as papers flew all around me and the man screamed his troubles into the empty, loving space.  Out of the madness, Jim, Trina and I were able to find a peace with each other, feel into gratitude, and remember that we can look to others for support.

Photo Courtesy Amy Steinfeld