How to Cope with Trauma

At some point in our lives, we all have or will endure a situation or event that has a major impact on our lives. When something traumatic happens, it can affect you mentally, emotionally, and even physically. It can turn into life-long problems such as anxiety, depression, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With the right strategies, time, and a good support system, you can successfully cope with a traumatic event.

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. With these self-help strategies and support, you can speed your recovery. Whether the trauma happened years ago or yesterday, you can make healing changes and move on with your life.

We all react in different ways to trauma, experiencing a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel, or respond, so don’t judge your own reactions or those of other people. Your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

Emotional/Psychological symptoms:

Ø Shock, denial, or disbelief

Ø Confusion, difficulty concentrating

Ø Anger, irritability, mood swings

Ø Anxiety and fear

Ø Guilt, shame, self-blame

Ø Withdrawing from others

Ø Feeling sad or hopeless

Ø Feeling disconnected or numb

Physical symptoms:

Ø Insomnia or nightmares

Ø Fatigue

Ø Being startled easily

Ø Difficulty concentrating

Ø Racing heartbeat

Ø Edginess and agitation

Ø Aches and pains

Ø Muscle tension

Trauma symptoms typically last from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you process the unsettling event. But even when you’re feeling better, you may be troubled from time to time by painful memories or emotions—especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or something that reminds you of the trauma.

Trauma recovery Tips and Strategies

Tip 1: Get moving

Trauma disrupts your body’s natural equilibrium, freezing you in a state of hyperarousal and fear. In essence, your nervous system gets “stuck.” As well as burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins, exercise and movement can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck.” Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more. Instead of focusing on your thoughts or distracting yourself while you exercise, really focus on your body and how it feels as you move.

Tip 2: Don’t isolate

Following a traumatic event, you may want to withdraw from others, but isolation only makes things worse. Connecting to others face to face will help you heal, so make an effort to maintain your relationships and avoid spending too much time alone.

Tip 3: Self-regulate your nervous system

No matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel, it’s important to know that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself. Not only will it help relieve your anxiety but it will also engender a greater sense of control.

Mindful breathing – If you are feeling disoriented, confused, or upset, a quick way to calm yourself is through mindful breathing. Simply take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each out breath.

Staying grounded – To feel in the present and more grounded, sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue in them. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.

Allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it – Acknowledge your feelings about the trauma as they arise and accept them.

Tip 4: Take care of your health

It’s true: having a healthy body can increase your ability to cope with the stress of trauma.

Get plenty of sleep – After a traumatic experience, worry or fear may disturb your sleep patterns. But a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate your trauma symptoms and make it harder to maintain your emotional balance.

Avoid alcohol and drugs – Their use can worsen your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation. Eat a well-balanced diet – Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. Reduce stress. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Schedule time for activities that bring you joy such as favorite hobbies.

Treatment for trauma

In order to heal from psychological and emotional trauma, you’ll need to resolve the unpleasant feelings and memories you’ve long avoided, discharge pent-up “fight-or-flight” energy, learn to regulate strong emotions, and rebuild your ability to trust other people.  Seeing a mental health professional can be a very effective way to accomplish those goals.

~Monretta Vega, LPC

Monretta Vega, LPC


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