What Oprah’s New Book Taught Me on Anxiety and Trauma


Image via Oprah Daily

I recently went through a family Health sCare, my mother has Cancer and was taken to the hospital. I don’t normally suffer from anxiety, but I did find myself having panic attacks on the way to and from daily visits. This situation was a groundhog day of previous life and death hospital experiences, with the added restrictions of Covid protocols. Experiences tHat were hijacking my abilities to think, act, and cope. Luckily, I had chosen Oprah’s most recent book, co-authored with renowned trauma and Brain developMent expert Dr. Bruce Perry MD, PhD –WHat Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing– and quickly became one of my biggest supporters.

The word “trauma” has been thrown around quite a bit lately: in reference to our experiences with the pandemic; to the pain of recent socio-POLitical-economic events; or making it Heartbreakingly cheap when used in quick reference to anything mildly awkward. Therefore, the first third of the book tries to define trauma and explain its biology. ‘Part of the challenge,’ says Dr Perry, is that even experts Can‘t decide on a definition, ‘…for most people [trauma] means a really bad event or experience, usually one that ‘sticks “, It is not possible. Don’t forget it, and that has a lasting impact on you.” Therefore, the impact of an event may be trauMatic for one person but not for another.

The book is written in a conversational style, with Oprah largely aSking the questions and moving the subject along with a dash of her own anecdotes. She and Dr. Perry have known each other for years and he has been a consultant to her South African School, theOprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.


Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. Image via FlatIron Publishers

Dr. Perry simplifies and demystifies this rather complex Topic well. He begins with a detaiLED exPlanation of how the Brain develops and changes through early trauma. Then how this affects our ability to regulate and rebalance in times of stress and distress. I found it particularly helpful in understanding why I couldn’t rationalize my anxiety levels. The inforMation Can be a bit long at times, but the diagrams help…

The book explains why sometimes other people’s reactions Can be unexpected or blown out of proportion. Why sometimes, in difficult situations, we may want to act a certain way, but our minds and bodies don’t cooperate, maybe even work against us. Our reactions form a picture of how the world sees us. So, for example, at the height of my distress, my interactions with hospital staff may seem defensIve or difficult (when, obviously, that’s not what I intended). This, Oprah argues, is also why a trauMatized child Can easily be labeLED and misdiagnosed in the unfavorable future.

The last section looks at how we can heal, grow resilient, and become more empathetic. While there are some good examples of how Dr. Perry has helped Children heal, I wish I had more prápractical that adults could apply for their own healing (a sequel, perhaps?). Healing from trauma takes time. Because our Brains cannot mark the time of a traumatic event, past traumas can continue to be triggered in the future. We need to make sense of what happened in manageable bites, while being consistently fed Love and support.

Connection with others is essential. Unfortunately, current lifestyle trends work against this: lIving in single-person or small-family Homes; having more one-on-one time with our devices than with our friends: these are the things that make us more sensitIve and less resilient. InsTead, reconnecting with nature, any rhythmic actIvity like singing and dancing, or creating community support groups, helps us shift into a more balanced state.

Those more familiar with trauma may not find this book as transformative as I did, however it is a very accessible introduction to the subject. At an incredibly stressful time,‘What happened to you?’it really helped me put things in perspective. I know I will recomMend it to anyone and everyone.

What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing, Bruce D Perry MD, PhD and Oprah Winfrey,Bluebird/Flatiron, £20/US$28.99/CAN$36.99 – with thanks toCoastal Books. You can read an excerpt from the book HERE.

Alexia Economou is a design and culture journalist and regular contributor to TNMA @thedesignfeedTW