Hurricane Harvey – How the Brain Processes Trauma

When we think of Hurricane Harvey, we tend to think of the tangible things that have been lost or destroyed like homes and cars. What about the stress and trauma parents, caregivers, teachers and children are facing every day? I have been in Rockport and Corpus Christi hauling debri for the last six weeks and have witnessed the devastation first hand. People are stressed beyond measure.


In an effort to address this tragedy, Unicef offer a training in Houston on trauma-informed teaching practices to help teachers identify children in crisis and help them cope with the losses that I attended last Friday. I would like to help not only clean-up the tangible debri but help clear out the emotional rubble and give teachers and parents tools to rebuild emotionally.

It is easy to see the physical aftermath in the piles of debri around every corner but the,true devastation lies in the challenges the communities face daily and the toll it takes on the mind and body. I spoke with a center this morning trying to schedule training and the director’s response was, “…you really think the teachers want to spend what little time they have off doing training?” Survival is the new reality. The center is opened until eight in the evening six days a week due to the needs of parents and reduced workforce. Many employees that are still living in these areas must pull double shifts to meet the needs of the communities. These communities are now understaffed in their centers, their restaurants, and convenience stores. Employees have been forced to leave because their homes have been marked as unlivable and are forced to leave. Residents are simply in survival mode.  This all affects brain activity. Our brains are organized for survival. The limbic system is the lower part of the brain that takes over when we are in survival mode. The hippocampus belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory.When the brain is in survival or trauma mode, it cannot process information into long-term memory so it makes learning nearly impossible. Trauma in early childhood such as a mother not tending to her needs because she is too busy trying to put things back together can result in disrupted attachment, cognitive delays, and impaired emotional regulation. No think of a school aged child trying to focus on a spelling list that has just heard his parents fight because they lost their car in the flooding and can’t get to work to pay the bills. His hippocampus is hypersensitive and can only function on surviving. His brain is unable to process the data and move it into long-term memory.

The amygdala is another part of the limbic system that is responsible for the response and memory of emotions, especially fear. When it is highly activated, we cannot access our prefontal cortex that is essential for impulse control, judgment and higher cognitive processing – in other words learning cannot occur or rational decisions cannot be made.

trauma brain fight-or-flight-response-brain-625478

Our brains are designed to protect us and keep us out of danger. When dealing with traumatic situations, our brains have little room to comprehend or process new information and/or make rational decisions. We tend to be short tempered or zoned out. Have you

There are tools to help change behavior and cope with these stressors but I need to find ways to reach the teachers and parents who are already overworked and have little time to think about anything else. I hope this article helps a little in understating WHY you are overwhelmed and cannot process information. The brain needs to be clear to think. I have a Mindfulness Training that can teach you to how to respond to stress, calm your mind and be kinder to yourself and others.  Click HERE to sign up for our newsletter and list of available trainings.

Want to know what mindfulness is? Here is a short video. It is the beginning to a peaceful life in the midst of all the tragedy around us – Hurricanes, Floods, Shootings, Unemployment!

Mark Twain2


Abuse Brain Development Mindfullness Trauma Uncategorized

stephaniElearning View All →

I am an educator in every facet of my life. I teach early childhood education in the classroom and online as well as develop online training and professional development for employers. I also teach homeschoolers literature and homeschool my 17 year old son who graduates in May.

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