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By Mike Fisher

Our states of consciousness are influenced by our brainwave patterns and by our left and right brain hemisphere activity, amongst other things.

Brainwave wave bands can be understood as:

As part of a regular cycle we both change our brain wave pattern and move from left brain cognitive thinking to right brain processing every hour and a half for about twenty minutes. This is usually when we become restless, distracted, and fidgety and can end up daydreaming. This may explain why meetings that run longer than an hour and a half without a break are less productive.

A similar process goes on in our REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in a more extensive way. This is one of the ways we process the extensive amount of data, information, perceptions and thoughts that we take in. It is also why we so often seem to have solutions, creative thoughts and enhanced learning when we have had a break or a good nights sleep. The right hemisphere of the brain is much more associated with creative and abstract thoughts and activities and is much more open to suggestive input.

A similar process happens when we become engaged and focused on an activity that draws on this side of the brains activities, such as a hobby or pastime, watching a film or reading a book. The consequences are that afterwards we feel more satisfied, relaxed, fulfilled and more energised to take on life's demands. This is also why regular rest and play are essential for a sense of well being and effective functioning.

Altered states of consciousness can be described as 'dissociated' or 'semi-hypnotic' states, where our consciousness excludes awareness of other 'outside' information, stimuli or activity. This is where we experience being in another world of our own thoughts or experiences. Our bodies and brains move through different levels of brainwave activity through the day and night depending on what we are doing.

Survivors of trauma experience pathological dissociation, as a result of the trauma, and may suffer from structural dissociation of the personality. The dissociation becomes a mechanism for coping with the unresolved intrusions and avoidance responses that occur as a result of being overwhelmed by a traumatic event. Activities or events that lead to the defensive barriers or gates of dissociated states being bypassed can lead to the survivor experiencing emotional flooding by the traumatic experiences and going into states of hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal. Other triggers such as music, visual imagery, lying down horizontally, prayer ministry, meditation, massage and touch can all be activities that might lead to the breakdown of these defenses.

This can account for traumatised individuals experiencing mood swings, emotional states, blanking out, "switching" or responding in a perplexing, uncharacteristic or incongruent way. It may also be the reason why some survivors find settings such as church, which would normally be a place of comfort for many people, difficult or distressing.

If this happens the survivor needs to be helped to be grounded and consciously aware of their surroundings. It is important that they are enabled to feel physically safe and are brought back into their "window of tolerance" from states of hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal. It is also important that anyone for whom this happens is not made to feel more guilty or ashamed than they already do. Only then will they be able to regain their equilibrium and an increasing capacity to cope with life's demands.

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