Have you recently gone through a traumatic event? Maybe whatever you went through was many years ago but you’re still dealing with the aftermath: nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulty getting past the event. Whether your trauma is old or new, here are seven steps you can take that will make coping with trauma easier and help you move on to a healthier, happier life.
1. Learn About Trauma
There are as many types of trauma and reactions to it as there are people in the world. What you have experienced might be more or less traumatic for someone else. The important part is not what it is that you went through but how it has affected you. If you are coping with trauma, knowing the signs of PTSD is important so that you will be able to recognize it and know when to seek help.
You can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a wide variety of events. Many war veterans have PTSD. So do parents who have lost a child, people who have been in car accidents, those who have been involved in a dangerous storm, and people who have been violently attacked (or who have seen others violently attacked).
The symptoms of PTSD are also varied. They might include:
- Nightmares and flashbacks
- Disturbing mental images
- Feeling numb
- Angry outbursts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical symptoms: sweating, trembling, headaches, stomachaches, dizziness
2. Reach Out to Others
If you are being plagued by these symptoms, you might be tempted to hide your experiences and isolate yourself. This is one of the worst things you can do when coping with trauma; instead, reach out to those who can support you. Try to surround yourself with loved ones who can accept what you are going through. A support group is also an invaluable resource. You can speak to others who truly understand your trauma because they’ve been through it themselves. In a support group, there will probably be members who are new to dealing with trauma as well as those who have come out the other side successfully.
3. Seek Mental Health Care
Some people feel ashamed of their PTSD symptoms. It’s important for you to understand that your symptoms are not your fault and that you cannot control them on your own. Getting mental health care can make you feel better and teach you healthy ways for coping with trauma. Treatments can range from psychotherapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing to a combination of therapy and medication. Don’t let a perceived stigma of mental health issues stop you from seeking the care you need.
4. Learn Relaxation Exercises
Learning how to distract and ground yourself with relaxation exercises can help you stop a panic attack or a flashback in its tracks or at least minimize its disruption on whatever you are doing at the time. There are a variety of ways that you might relax. Think about what makes you feel calm and try to incorporate some of those activities or thoughts into your toolkit for beating stress fast.
Some common ways that people with PTSD relax include:
- Progressive muscular relaxation
- Deep breathing exercises
- Going for a walk in nature
- Listening to relaxing music
Ask fellow survivors what has worked for them and try different activities to see what works best for you.
5. Start New Hobbies and Activities
One way to distract yourself from your PTSD symptoms is to take up some hobbies and find activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable. Learning something new will occupy your mind, but don’t neglect the activities you enjoyed before your traumatic event unless they become a trigger for you. Be sure to pick activities that are challenging without making you too frustrated; you don’t want your anger to rise as you try to learn a new skill.
Some hobbies and activities that you might find relaxing can include:
- Feeding birds
- Learning how to knit or crochet
- Filling out number or word puzzles
Adopting a pet or spending more time with the pets you already have might also be good for you, as long as caring for an animal won’t add more stress to your life.
6. Engage in Self-Care Practices
Taking good care of yourself physically is a good way to reduce the impact that your mental health symptoms are taking.
Diet: Be sure to eat well; sometimes when people are under stress, they tend to over- or under-eat. If you are gaining or losing weight, keep track of the calories that you are eating and make adjustments as needed. If you find that you have no appetite, talk to your doctor about ways to boost caloric intake without making yourself feel sick.
Sleep: Also, make sure that you are getting enough sleep. It can be difficult to get the rest that you need if your nights are interrupted by intrusive thoughts or nightmares, but a sleep specialist might be able to help.
Exercise: Finally, be sure that you are getting exercise each day. A walk outside can clear your mind and get you some fresh air as you exercise. You could also take up tennis, join a pickup basketball game at the park, or go swimming for stress relief.
7. Avoid Negative Coping Mechanisms
Finally, avoid negative coping mechanisms. Sometimes when people go through trauma, they are in so much pain that they seek to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Others isolate themselves and refuse to socialize. Still others eat too much and find that they’re gaining weight to the point of being unhealthy. These negative coping mechanisms might make you feel good in the immediate term, but they can lead to even more problems, such as an addiction, social anxiety, or health problems caused by obesity.
If you are coping with trauma, help is available. Talk to your general practitioner and ask for a referral to a mental health specialist. There are doctors and counselors available who can help you get through this difficult time in your life. Reach out to them and to your loved ones so they can support you through your struggle.