Coping with trauma isn’t easy. Sometimes, you may feel helpless, powerless, insecure, vulnerable, and confused. During these moments, your nervous system and brain may be overloaded, leaving you unable to think straight or focus on the present. You may not know how to deal with such. Thus, you may want to keep reading to learn what you should and shouldn’t do when coping with trauma.
What Is A Traumatic Event?
Traumatic events are part of life. Almost everyone experiences at least one traumatic event during their lifetimes, which may be any of the following:
- Experiencing sexual abuse
- Being seriously injured
- Being on the brink of death or seeing someone die
- Being a victim of man-made or natural disasters
- Terrorist attacks
- War and conflict
- Underwent complicated childbirth experiences
- Caught in a car crash and other serious accidents
There are other events that one may find traumatic. And you may experience them in any of the following ways:
- Repeated Exposure: You may have witnessed people undergo traumatic events repeatedly or personally experienced such repeated exposure. Even repeated exposure to pictures, movies, television, or electronic media may increase the chances of experiencing mental health issues.
- Learning: You found out that someone you love or are close with has experienced a traumatic event.
- Witnessing: You saw someone experiencing a traumatic event.
- Directly: The event happened to you because of accidents or the nature of your work. This may include people working in the military, intensive care units, social communities, emergency services, and the like.
How Do You Respond To Traumatic Events?
People have different responses to traumatic events. Some may not visibly respond to it, but others may severely react emotionally. You may expect denial and shock shortly after the event since it’s how the brain lets you protect yourself. During this stage, you may not feel the full intensity of the event or even feel detached or numb.
After a few days or weeks from the event, you must have moved past the initial shock, known as an acute stress reaction. But if your response stays after this, you may undergo post-traumatic stress. This stage will often show reactions like the following:
- Worsening of your current medical condition
- Nausea, headaches, and other physical symptoms of stress
- Insomnia or altered sleeping patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Traumatic stress-inducing depression
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sudden, dramatic mood swings
- Changes in thought patterns
- Continued avoidance of reminders of the event
- Isolation or withdrawal from daily activities
- Intense fear that the event will happen again when going to the place or date when it happened
- Flashbacks of the event
What Are The Do’s Of Coping With Trauma
While your reaction to a traumatic event is valid, you may want to help yourself recover. You have many options to cope with trauma. Even if they may be challenging at first or feel ineffective, such ways to deal with trauma will help you in the long run. You may want to consider the following ways to cope:
- Seek Professional Help
Seeking professional help when you’ve experienced a traumatic event is never a bad idea. Professionals are skilled and well-knowledgeable in helping people cope with trauma, so asking for help is worth it. Don’t wait for trauma to affect your healthy relationships, daily activities, or job before you go into treatment.
You may want to seek treatment when you keep on reminiscing the traumatic event you’ve witnessed, heard, or experienced for more than four weeks. Or if you’re feeling anxious or blue, having sleep problems, and other reactions lasting for quite some time, go to Jackson House and other similar trauma recovery and treatment facilities.
Early treatment can prevent the development of more serious mental health problems like post-traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) or clinical depression. Moreover, you can find ways to manage your emotions by working with a clinical psychologist or licensed mental health professional. Or your workplace may have trauma centers with mental health professionals who can help treat trauma.
These professionals can help get you back to enjoying your life by creating a plan to help you move forward. What’s important is to be active in your treatment no matter what form of treatment you choose.
- Get Enough Sleep
Although you may experience waking up throughout the night or have difficulty falling asleep after a traumatic event, you still need sufficient sleep. This is vital as sleep can help process memories.
Sleep weakens emotions tied to the ‘memory’ after aiding in processing traumatic events. Then, it stores the memory as information after contextualizing the former. In addition, sleeping within the first 24 hours of experiencing the trauma may help prevent the development of PTSD.
If you find it difficult to sleep, you may want to consider the following:
- Write the thoughts that keep you awake or awaken you and prevent you from falling back to sleep.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine one hour before going to bed.
- Avoid using laptops or cell phones in bed.
- Re-establish Routine
After a traumatic event, it may be best to go back to your routine. When you’re familiar with what you’re doing, you’re more likely to find comfort. Returning to daily activities may also minimize traumatic hopelessness, anxiety, and stress. Although traumatic events may have disrupted your school, work, or personal routine, you can always start over.
You can plan your day with regular times for relaxing, bonding with family, sleeping, eating, and working. Doing this may help you become familiar with a routine that can give you comfort.
- Create Healing Beliefs
Trauma may bring up negative thoughts. When this happens, try replacing them with new and healing beliefs. Replacing negative thoughts may help reduce the amount of feeling depressed or negative emotions. It may be challenging to believe new and healing ideas, but it’ll become more manageable when you make it a habit.
You can do this by speaking positive ideas aloud. It may be best to say or think about their opposite whenever negative thoughts occur. You’re breeding positive thought patterns when you think and speak words positively, so practicing this can impact the long run.
- Do Regular Exercises
You may feel like doing nothing after experiencing trauma. However, you can boost your mood through the ‘feel-good’ endorphins that exercise releases while burning off adrenaline. Moreover, mindful physical activities may help you move on from a traumatic event by rousing your nervous system from that ‘stuck’ moment.
You may want to try dancing, playing basketball, swimming, running, or walking, as these can engage both legs and arms since they’re rhythmic exercises. It’s also best to focus on how you feel when you’re moving and your body’s responses, otherwise known as being mindful. Try to feel the wind on your skin or listen to the rhythm of your breathing. You may also focus on the sensation of your feet hitting the ground.
Other physical activities that help you focus on your body movements, making it easier to be mindful, are martial arts, weight training, boxing, and rock climbing. Since you don’t want to injure yourself, you’ll focus on your body movements.
Try to boost your motivation and energy when you find it hard to perform a physical activity or exercise. Start by playing your favorite music. It can help you dance or move around, making you feel more energetic since you’ve started to move.
If you’re struggling with full-body exercises, you can always start with short ones. You may aim to perform activities in shorter bursts, such as three 10-minute spurts of exercise each day. That way, you won’t feel that exercise is a burden when you try to perform it for one longer session.
What Are The Don’ts When Coping With Trauma
There are actions that you must not do when you’re trying to cope with trauma. These activities may not help your recovery; worse, they may even aggravate your condition. Some of which are as follows:
- Drink Alcohol Or Use Drugs
Trauma may make you turn to substances to respond to your emotions or thoughts. When unstopped, you may become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Instead of only curing trauma, you may also need to cure alcohol use or drug addiction.
Most individuals end up self-medicating when they don’t know how to deal with trauma. This could be dangerous as it’s the first step toward substance abuse. Some try to manage the impact of a traumatic event or stress by self-medicating because they think drugs can block such an event’s physical, mental, and emotional effects. Since these feelings can be intense, you may want to numb them.
However, always ask your doctor or psychologist to prescribe you medicines when the pain is too much. You may want to avoid putting yourself at risk of secondary trauma, one of the effects of substance abuse. Secondary trauma may be due to the effect of substance addiction or abuse on the brain’s capability to deal with stress. It may even be the direct impact of addiction.
Moreover, drug or alcohol abuse impairs the body and brain’s functions. With such, it may be challenging to cope with trauma healthily.
- Make Big Decisions
Another action you should avoid is making big decisions. When you’re coping with trauma, you may think that your choices are suitable at the moment. However, if people around you are giving you that concerned look, telling you to decide later, do so. That’s because you may make decisions that can sabotage your jobs or relationships.
Trauma may distort your perception. You may feel emotional numbness, react with strong emotions, your mind goes blank, or feel flustered when something triggers you, making you dysregulated. When you’re dysregulated, your nervous system and brain may go out of sync. It can affect how you function, feel, and think. Your usual sense of distinguishing the good and bad ideas may shut down, preventing you from seeing the potential consequences of your decisions.
So when you decide and take action during those moments, you may want to stop. Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, wait for the healing process to set in. When you’re healed from the trauma, you can think better. That’s when you can start making big decisions.
However, you can still decide on things even when healing. You must know your best and genuine interests, values, and desires to do this. If your decision does not positively impact these factors, withdraw from making a decision. They may feel like no big deal at the moment, but traumatic-driven choices can affect all areas of your life.
- Compare Your Situation
As mentioned, people respond to trauma differently. It also means that you may have different needs afterward. With such, you must avoid comparing your healing process or needs to people who may have been in your situation.
You may spend time finding tips on how to cope with your trauma, and that’s okay. However, if doing the recommended tips didn’t remove the trauma all at once, then don’t force yourself to move on. It may be best to seek professional guidance as they can help you assess the best treatment based on your needs. You may not heal as quickly as others, and that’s okay. It’s important to take your time.
- Deny The Trauma
You may use denial as a defense mechanism to protect yourself from emotional pain. Trauma denial in the short term is helpful as it helps you from being overwhelmed by the situation. However, continuously denying what you’ve been through can be unhealthy.
In the long run, denial may cause more suffering. Your mind and body will continue to carry the unpleasant experience until you confront it. It may be challenging to address trauma symptoms, but facing them is rewarding in the long run.
Again, you don’t have to expect the trauma to go away when you first confront it. It may take some time, but you’ll benefit from it when it does. You’ll be able to integrate and grow the parts of your past so you’ll become whole, self-actualized, and more resilient.
You don’t have to hide the effects of a traumatic event or fight the trauma alone. Coping with trauma is easier when you have professionals assisting you throughout the process. Moreover, they can assess and give you the best treatment. So before it worsens, consider seeking treatment.