How to Help Yourself Heal from Trauma
There are times in life when we are challenged by sudden shocking events such as; accidents, illness, death of a loved one or friend, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Trauma comes in many forms. It may also be the result of repeated actions over a lifetime in the case of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Trauma can leave you feeling powerless and permanently anxious as if the world is unpredictable and unsafe.
Trauma also has a ripple effect. It affects your families, friends and work colleagues who also feel powerless to help you come to terms with what has happened and recover. Mostly, time will help you to heal and you will be able to get back on your feet but sometimes it takes some extra care and support.
Common reactions to trauma include; anger, fear, guilt, anxiety and depression. When these continue it can leave you feeling exhausted, hopeless and overwhelmed. You mind may go over and over the event or events, you may feel startled at unexpected sounds or movements as if you are constantly wired and ready to respond to any danger.
You may find it hard to switch off when it’s time to go to bed and it is tempting to turn to alcohol and drugs to get some relief and to go to sleep. But when you wake up the symptoms return and you may feel trapped, with thoughts and images going round and round in your head. You start to feel like a caged animal with no way out.
Some days you may lose all hope. But trauma can be treated. There are professionals who can help and understand. There are also things you can do for yourself if you find it too difficult to reach out at this stage;
- First of all, remind yourself that you have been through an extremely stressful event or series of events and that you have survived just like you have survived in the past. It’s OK to feel upset. Take each day as it comes.
- Take care of yourself and don’t skip the basics. Drink enough. Eat enough and try to get some sleep. If you can get some fresh air and physical exercise – simple things like a walk in nature or being around animals can help you recover.
- Coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and cigarettes may seem tempting but your nervous system is already overloaded and these things will only add to it. To heal you need to relax.
- Stay away from the news and upsetting stories about traumatic events. This can be triggering for you. If people are talking about terrible things around you ask them to stop or walk away.
- You might feel isolated and withdraw from friends and family but it’s important not to bottle your feelings up. There are resources on-line like the British mental health charity, Mind, for people who are recovering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Try to understand how this is affecting you and know that it can be treated.
- If you are not able to talk to anyone, write your feelings down. Intrusive thoughts, unpleasant dreams, memories and flashbacks are the result of trauma and they do lessen over time.
- Relaxation and self-care really can do wonders to help you get back to some sense of normality. Remembering to breathe properly, in for the count of 4 out for the count of 6, now and again, will also help. Shallow breathing puts the body and mind on high alert and increases fear, anxiety and panic.
- When you feel really distressed try to calm yourself down. Tell yourself, ‘The danger has passed now’. ‘I am safe’. ‘It’s over now’.
Getting further help
Trauma can change the way you see your life, your relationships and the world. If your symptoms are no better after you've tried to help yourself you might want to see a professional who can help you put things in perspective and move on. You can;
- Contact your GP who can also refer you for counselling or psychotherapy.
- Look for a counsellor or psychotherapist yourself but do ask if they are experienced in treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Look for a holistic practitioner. Relaxation and natural healing techniques such as yoga and Reiki can help. But go with the therapy or the therapist you feel drawn to and maybe try out a few before you decide. You are not under any pressure to commit until you feel comfortable and safe.
It sounds like a cliché but ‘time is the biggest healer’. Trying to plunge yourself back into work or activities you were doing before the traumatic event when you are not ready will only set you back.
Take one day at a time. Look back at where you were when you started to recover and celebrate each step you have made.
It is not the time to make major decisions like moving house or changing jobs, even tiny decisions like what to watch on television or what food to pick at the supermarket, may still seem overwhelming.
Your symptoms are not you. They will pass.
Trauma is treatable.
Don’t give up.
Please comment below particularly on ways you have found to heal trauma.