While trauma can invoke a terrifying and debilitating response, in some cases it can be a catalyst for positive changes.
It is estimated that 70% of adults will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. Around 20% of those adults will develop a trauma-related response that persists, possibly developing a mental health disorder due to those distressing events. Traumatic events can leave us with debilitating memories, emotions, and physical symptoms affecting every aspect of our lives.
If you have experienced a traumatic event, it may feel as if you will remain unwell indefinitely. While it may take time to feel like yourself again, there are a number of steps you can take to recover and get back to living. By taking the necessary steps, individuals can progress through recovery more effectively and return to living an everyday life.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event that persists, often impairing a person's ability to cope. Experiencing a traumatic event can sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that triggers intense emotional and physical reactions when recalling painful memories. Left untreated, PTSD can last months or even years.
Examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, losing a loved one, motor vehicle accidents, childhood abuse, sexual assault, terrorism, warfare, or witnessing a crime.
While the response to a traumatic event can vary significantly between individuals, the following are some common symptoms:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and grief
- Unpredictable emotions
- Intense feelings of guilt
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches and nausea
- Immense shame
- Feelings of hopelessness
How to Recover
If you feel deeply disturbed, angry, saddened, or start to show physical symptoms after a distressing event, you may be experiencing trauma. Traumatic stress can adversely affect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being, making it important to minimize its impact. Fortunately, there are many steps a person can take to recover and gain greater peace of mind.
Don't Shut Yourself Away
Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event can bring up a variety of emotions, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, or shame. For some people, self-isolation can be a natural way to cope. However, shutting yourself away can be a detriment to your recovery process.
Instead, try reaching out to family and friends. Some of them may have gone through a similar experience and may have some insights that can help you. Others may be experiencing similar emotions that you are struggling with.
If possible, maintain open lines of communication following a traumatic event. Support from friends and family can help you work through difficult emotions and recover faster.
Get Professional Help
The stress that results from experiencing trauma can be exhausting. When emotional and physical symptoms persist after a traumatic event or affect your ability to function throughout the day, it may be time to seek professional help.
Working with a trauma-informed therapist can help you address difficult emotions, change your perception of the traumatic event, and help you develop new skills for coping with stress in the future. People who work with a trauma-informed therapist report better emotional health, reduced physical stress, and greater ease in everyday life.
Join a Support Group
Avoiding others while dealing with trauma can lead to negative consequences like depression. After a trauma, talking to others who have experienced the same thing can often be helpful. By joining a support group, people feel a greater sense of support and community.
In addition to supporting you, a support group can offer advice on how to handle your current situation. A mental health professional can help you find a support group if you are unsure where to look.
Face Your Feelings
While ignoring or forgetting a traumatic event may seem like a good idea, accepting your memories and triggers is the key to moving forward. Instead, try to face your fears and understand the source of your emotions.
To manage stress and emotional responses that arise, practice mindfulness or relaxation exercises. For example, journaling can be a great way to reduce stress and better understand your emotions.
Practicing meditation can also help you be more present with your emotions and examine how your body responds. If your emotions become overwhelming, try deep breathing exercises or visualization to feel more relaxed.
Get Regular Exercise
Studies show that exercise can greatly reduce stress and symptoms related to trauma and PTSD. Besides benefiting your physical health, exercise can help your brain release endorphins, boosting your mood.
The next time you start to feel overwhelmed with emotion, try going for a walk or run. If you don't enjoy working out, find a fun activity, such as sports or dancing. If your physical condition permits you from engaging in specific activities, gentle stretching or deep breathing can also be beneficial.
The importance of taking care of yourself following a traumatic experience cannot be overstated. Remember to go easy on yourself when working through trauma and listen to what your body needs. Try doing things that make you feel happy and promote self-love. This could include watching a movie, taking a bath, or spending time with friends.
To reduce symptoms related to trauma, it's also important to take care of your physical health. Try adhering to a normal routine and get a full night's rest. Eating a healthy diet and reducing sources of stress can also help you manage your symptoms of trauma more effectively.
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
For some, drinking alcohol or partaking in recreational substances may seem like an effective way to numb emotions and block out traumatic memories. While this may work temporarily, it can cause further damage in the long run.
While facing your emotions can be uncomfortable, it's necessary to move forward in your healing process. With drugs and alcohol, you won't be able to learn to cope with difficult emotions. In addition, turning to drugs and alcohol in times of stress can lead to an addiction, causing severe mental and physical damage.
The Benefits of Recovery
Traumatic experiences can impact many aspects of a person's life. However, recovery can bring many positive benefits that help you feel better and move forward to live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Going through a traumatic experience can take a toll on every aspect of your life. However, when people recover from it, they often feel a strong sense of self-strength.
In the future, they will be better prepared to face challenges at work, school, and in their personal life. They can look back on where they started and recognize the hard work they put in to make progress. People that recover from trauma often gain valuable wisdom, skills, resilience, and perspective that can be used to build a happier and more fulfilling life.
Changing destructive thought patterns from trauma and gaining self-strength can open up a whole new world of possibilities. When stress and anxiety no longer hold you back, you may discover a new sense of enthusiasm and courage to take on life and try new things.
Perhaps you would like to take up a new hobby that you have always dreamed of but never thought you could master. You may feel more comfortable socializing and would like to go out and meet new people. With greater clarity and confidence, you might also decide to take a completely new career path.
A person's ability to recover from trauma is often dependent on the support of others. Going through tough times with family and friends by your side can make you closer and help you understand one another better. Looking back, people often become more appreciative of one another and the support they receive. Experiencing a crisis together can strengthen your bond.
Going through a traumatic experience can sometimes lead people to examine the meaning of life and their spiritual beliefs. During times of grief, people may turn to God or spiritual practices for comfort and guidance in moving forward in life.
They may start going to church, pick up meditation, or get involved with local religious groups. In the aftermath of devastating events such as sexual assault or warfare, overcoming trauma can lead to a greater appreciation for life, a deeper connection to God, a greater sense of purpose, and enhanced spiritual strength.
Appreciation for Life
Experiencing trauma and loss can sometimes make us more aware of what we still have and maybe took for granted in the past.
For example, if you lost your home in a natural disaster, you might be grateful that you still have your family and that everyone is safe. A hospital stay after an accident may give you a greater appreciation for your health and motivate you to adopt healthier habits. Even a simple task like walking your dog in the morning can become more meaningful after experiencing warfare.
Trauma-Informed Care at CHE
If you or a loved one are experiencing ongoing symptoms related to trauma, it's imperative to reach out for help. Psychological traumas are difficult to heal on their own, but with the help of a trauma-informed therapist, symptoms of trauma can be reduced for good.
At CHE Behavioral Health Services, we provide compassionate care through specialized training in trauma and PTSD. In addition to helping you feel better, our mental health professional will help you develop important skills to change your perception of trauma and help you manage challenges more effectively in the future.
For more information about trauma-informed care and treatment options offered by CHE Behavioral Health Services, please call 888-515-3834. We are ready to talk, and ready to listen.