Experiencing trauma can be debilitating to one’s mental health. When processing trauma it is important to use healthy coping mechanisms, but finding healthy coping mechanisms is not always easy. It is much easier to fall into things that provide immediate gratification like drinking, using drugs, or other self-destructive methods to help eliminate any feelings one maybe experiencing.
The good news is that there are effective ways to cope with and treat the stressful effects of trauma. Psychologists and other researchers have found that these actions can help:
- Realize that any emotion you experience is normal. Be gentle and loving with yourself through these emotions and behaviors. Remember they may feel overwhelming but, they are temporary and will pass.
- Develop a toolbox of tools to help you control your feelings. Tools like visualization, grounding, breathing, relaxation skills, and meditation skills are helpful. These techniques can help you develop an immediate sense of safety. Hear are a few of my favorite tools to use.
- Just like our brains remember negative events and ties them to strong emotions it can do the same thing with positive events. This is connected with visualization. Close your eyes and try to remember a day or time when you felt extremely happy. Hold that thought and breath in slowly, hold your breath for a few seconds, then blow out slowly.… This will take your mind off of the negative feelings you are experiencing associated with the trauma and immediately connect you with the positive event and feeling of the good event.
- Another tool for your toolbox is deep breathing. This is where you take a slow breath in and as you are doing this count to five in your mind. At the top of your breath, hold it for 5 seconds as you count to five. Then slowly let your breath out, again counting to five as you do this. Lastly, at the bottom of your breath, before you breathe in again, hold it for 5 seconds. This is where you start all over again. Try this for 5 cycles. Move forward realizing that it is normal to have waves of emotions come and go, sometime feeling like they are pounding on you out of nowhere. Allow yourself to experience what you are feeling, know that they will not overtake you. Breath in and out slowly. Slow and intentional, allowing the energy to flow through you. Don’t try to suppress it, push it down or away, take deep breaths and notice what is happening in the moment.
- Progressive muscle relaxation is where you slowly tensing and then relax each muscle group. This can help you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. It helps you to become more aware of physical sensations. In one method of progressive muscle relaxation, you start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. Tense your muscles for about five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds and repeat. Don’t forget to pay attention to your breathing, breathing in slowly and steady.
- Lean on your loved ones. Make a list of people you trust that you can call when you are not doing well. Help them understand you just need them to be a listening post or sounding board for you. If you feel ready to discuss the traumatic event, you might talk to them about your experience and your feelings. The more you talk about it, you help your brain make sense of what happen. Your brain then processes it like a move you watched rather than something you are currently experiencing. This helps you move the experience through your body making it less intense. If you find yourself unable to talk about out, struggling to talk about it or to make sense of what happen seek a professional to help you sort it.
- Face your feelings. It’s normal to want to avoid thinking about a traumatic event. Though avoidance is normal, too much of it can prolong your stress and keep you from healing. Gradually, try to ease back into a normal routine. Support from loved ones or a mental health professional can help a lot as you get back in the groove.
- Prioritize self-care. Do your best to eat nutritious meals, get regular physical activity, and get a good night’s sleep. And seek out other healthy coping strategies such as art, music, yoga, tai chi and spending time in nature.
- Be patient. Remember that it’s normal to have a strong reaction to a distressing event. Take things one day at a time as you recover. As the days pass, your symptoms should start to gradually improve.
Find new or re-engage in safe and positive hobbies or activities you have not done in a while. This will serve as a distractor and light up the amygdala in a positive way. The amygdala is the part of the brain that helps deliver emotional responses, such as pleasure and fear.
Search on the web for people who have experienced similar trauma and have seemingly come out on the other side. Listen to their stories, see what they did that helped, and if you could implement one of their skills.