Trauma may describe any event that was really scary, dangerous, or life-threatening that you either experienced or witnessed. Trauma isn’t something you can just get over quickly— it requires patience and self-acceptance. You need to thoroughly process your emotions to overcome your trauma, so start by practicing emotional awareness and self-care. Then, talk about your experience with others and seek support. If you have trouble overcoming trauma on your own, consult with a professional therapist.
EditPracticing Emotional Self-Care
- Accept your emotions using mindfulness. Take 10 to 15 minutes each day to breathe deeply and passively observe your emotional experience. Notice how your thoughts and physiological responses (e.g., tightness in chest or rapid heartbeat) are connected to your feelings. Act as though you are an impartial witness. Don’t try to change the feelings, just let them be what they are.
- You might journal about the exercise after it’s done.
- By doing this mindfulness exercise, you can learn to acknowledge, accept and regulate your emotions so that the trauma isn’t controlling your life.
- Learn to recognize your triggers. A trigger is something in your environment (a person, place, thing, or situation) that brings you back to the time of your trauma. You need to know your triggers in order to protect yourself from triggering experiences and eventually learn to live with them. To learn what your triggers are, try acting like a casual observer to yourself for a matter of days or weeks to figure out which stimuli have a triggering effect on you.
- Triggers might be a person who resembles an attacker, a sound that reminds you of the trauma, insulting or demeaning words, or a specific time of the year.
- Make a list of all the triggers you can identify. Be sure to practice self-care when you are doing this exercise, as it can be very unsettling.
- Once you know what your triggers are, you can slowly develop a plan to better manage your response to them. Consider sharing these with someone you trust for additional help.
- Nurture your body and mind with yoga. Trauma can result in a “fight or flight” response. Yoga is a wonderful way to ease distress and engage your body in a mindful way. Consider signing up for a nearby class or practicing at home with YouTube videos.
- Do something daily that feels good. Be gentle and nurturing with yourself by implementing a daily self-care routine. Go for a run, eat a nutritious meal, color, call a friend, or cuddle with your pet. Spoil yourself for a change.
- Move at your own pace. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured to “get over” your trauma or heal prematurely. Acknowledge that you must give yourself the time and space to fully heal in the way that best suits you.
- Get distance from people who try to pressure you to move on too quickly.
- Get in touch with your spiritual side. Spirituality can help you make sense of distressing life events and develop hope for the future. Perform spiritual activities that align with your unique beliefs.
- You might practice meditation, visit spiritual landmarks, reflect on nature, pray, chant, dance, or read faith-based texts.
- Use your experience as a way to positively impact others. Regain control of your life by using your experience as a stimulus for change in the world around you. Speak out, volunteer, or advocate to educate others about the trauma you went through.
- If your home burned down, you might start a campaign to ensure other families in your community have working smoke detectors.
- If you were raped, you might speak out on behalf of other rape victims or volunteer for a sexual abuse hotline.
- Before you commit to this, make sure that you’ve taken enough time to heal from the trauma. Also, make sure that you’re ready to be heavily involved in helping others who have dealt with trauma that’s similar to yours.
EditGetting Social Support
- Confide in people you trust. Talk about what happened with your closest family and friends. Doing so can reduce the hold the trauma has over you and help change the way you remember the distressing event.
- For example, in your memory, you may have been blaming yourself because you didn’t defend yourself against an attacker. As you tell your story, you might recall that you tried to defend yourself, but the attacker was much bigger and stronger than you.
- Tell your story as much as you need to. Talking about it helps you work through your feelings about what happened.
- Let your loved ones know how they can help. Others often don’t know how to support trauma survivors, so make specific requests. Perhaps you live alone and you’d like a relative to sleep over for a while. Or, maybe you want a friend to bring over their toddlers who always lift your spirits.I
- Specifically, let your loved ones know what your triggers are, so they can anticipate these situations and help you cope when necessary. For instance, you might ask them not to approach you unannounced because you startle easily or you may need to be driven around for awhile if your trauma involved a car crash.
- Don’t be shy about asking for what you need. Your friends and family will likely be thrilled to help.
- Join a support group. It can also be helpful to talk to others who have been through similar experiences of trauma. Contact local churches or community mental health clinics to locate a support group with meetings you can attend.
- It will be most helpful if you attend specific groups relating to your own trauma, such as for rape survivors or for mothers who lost infants.
- Write about your experience. If you don’t have anyone to turn to for social support, it may help or write out your traumatic experience in a journal. This can be a cathartic way of releasing the emotions relating to the experience and getting some perspective on what happened.
- If you want to share what you wrote with someone (like your therapist), you can. But, these writings can be just for you.
EditTreating Traumatic Stress
- Recognize unusual startle reflex, anxiety, and low mood as signs of PTSD. Many people experience trauma and recover on their own. Others may develop a serious condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Look for signs of PTSD and get professional help if needed.
- PTSD involves experiencing recurring stress responses that are similar to what you experienced during the actual event long after that event has passed. This might include overwhelming fear or helplessness, sadness, trouble sleeping, and/or a pounding heartbeat.
- Choose an experienced therapist. One effective way of coping with trauma is by talking to a therapist, so ask your primary care physician for a referral. Look for a therapist who has experience working with trauma survivors.
- Your therapist should have treated others with anxiety or PTSD. It may also help to find a professional who conducts cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, two proven treatments that benefit trauma survivors.
- Challenge negative or faulty thinking in therapy. Professional treatment of traumatic stress typically involves cognitive restructuring exercises that help you identify and change negative thought patterns.
- For instance, you might think “I am weak.” Your therapist will work with you to reframe that thought into something like, “It’s normal to feel paralyzed when you face danger. I did the best I could.”
- Try gradual exposure. Another method for dealing with traumatic stress is by slowly allowing yourself to re-experience the trauma. With the guidance of your therapist, return to the scene of the event and recreate the sensations you felt when it happened.
- Don’t consider doing this on your own without guidance and support.
- You might do this over and over again until the memory of the event evokes less of an emotional or physical reaction.
- Consider taking medications. PTSD is an anxiety disorder, so you might feel overly alert and even experience panic attacks. Medications may help relieve symptoms of anxiety so that you can function more fully in your day-to-day life. Talk to your doctor to see if they are a good choice for you.
- Both antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication have proven helpful in reducing the symptoms of PTSD.