One of the most important factors in how well a person will heal following trauma depends on the coping skills they utilize both before and after the trauma. People who have learned healthy ways to cope with stress prior to experiencing life changing trauma respond in healthier ways when crisis hits.
It really is about learning effective strategies to cope with distress and practicing them until they become habitual. Yes, it helps if your healthy coping strategies are already habitual prior to experiencing a traumatic event, but they can also be learned following a crisis.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Emotional Trauma
Accept it: Rather than “pushing it under the rug” and pretending it didn’t happen, own it and accept that it happened. Try not to fall into the “life is unfair” “my life stinks” “why me?” trap. This will only keep you stuck and keep you down. Accept where you are, at the present moment, and decide what you can do moving forward. You may have to accept that your life will never be what it was, but you must be willing to excel where you land. Instead of focusing on what you cannot do or how bad you have it, focus on what you can do. Focus on what you do have. (*It is important to note that some people are unable to consciously accept the reality of what has happened to them due to the nature of the trauma. Accepting the trauma too soon can, in some cases, be harmful to a person. Trauma should be treated by a trained mental health professional.)
Know that healing is a process: Healing from trauma is a life long process. You will not heal overnight, and you will not heal using one coping strategy alone. You must look at healing like a puzzle. Each healthy coping skill is a piece of the puzzle. You heal by adding piece after piece. You may always feel some pain, but in time, you will experience joy again- maybe even more joy than you experienced before the crisis.
Seek support: Trauma must be processed. Don’t try to manage it alone. Talk to trusted family members and friends. Seek the help of mental health professionals trained in treating trauma. The sooner trauma is processed with another person the better. Unprocessed trauma is more likely to turn into post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
Grieve it: Allow yourself to feel the pain. Pretending to be “alright” prevents healing. You cannot heal until you feel. Similar to when you clean out a closet, things look worse before they look better. It is important to put up with the temporary pain in order to heal. Remember, you will not feel this way forever.
Turn it into a positive: Take what you have learned from your experience and help others in need. Helping others heal, can help heal you.
Recognize trauma triggers: Following trauma, certain things may trigger your nervous system and you may feel like you are experiencing the trauma all over again. Learn to recognize these triggers so you know what is going on within you, and you can remind yourself that you are safe and only being triggered.
Learn to self-sooth without judgment: When you are triggered, try not to judge your emotions. You need to treat yourself with the same compassion that you would treat a hurting child. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, remind yourself that you are safe and that the feelings will pass.
Incorporate other healthy coping skills into your life: Use some of the following coping strategies as puzzle pieces. The more pieces you add, the better you will heal. Take a look at the healthy coping skills listed below and then add some of your own. Figure out which ones work for you and then practice them daily.
- Write in a gratitude journal.
- Help others.
- Talk to a friend.
- Read inspirational and motivational books.
- Educate yourself about trauma and PTSD.
- Visit your doctor.
- Go to therapy. (See someone trained in treating trauma)
- Research and consider EMDR, DBT, and CBT therapy.
- Learn relaxation techniques.
- Appeal to your senses. (Listen to music, burn scented candles, take a warm bath)
- Get a massage. (Unless it is a trauma trigger)
- Dive into the arts. (play music, paint, draw, sing, write…)
- Work on spiritual growth.
- Find a support group.
Sometimes people deteriorate following trauma because they cope in self-destructive ways. If any of the following behaviors are done compulsively in an attempt to numb emotional pain, healing will stop and the person will begin to spiral downhill very quickly. When a person uses an addiction to self-medicate, the addiction will have to be treated before the person can ever begin to heal from the trauma.
Negative Ways to Cope (especially when done compulsively to numb pain)
- Abusing alcohol
- Abusing drugs
- Using sex as a pain-killer/pornography addiction
- Compulsive shopping/excess spending
- Over eating
For more information on coping with traumatic stress go to www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/coping-traumatic-stress.asp.
Related post: Post Traumatic Growth: Why Do Some People Bounce Back?
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