Steps To Recover from a Traumatic Experience

Emotional and psychological trauma is caused by stressful situations that compromise your sense of security and can leave you feeling helpless in a frightening environment. Psychological trauma can leave you dealing with lingering negative emotions, memories, and anxieties. This is known as post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It can make you feel numb, distant, and untrustworthy of others.

Social anxiety

Traumatic incidents frequently involve a threat to safety and life, but any event that leaves you feeling overwhelmed emotionally can trigger trauma, even if it does not involve a physical danger. It is your subjective emotional experience of an event that determines when it is traumatic. You are more prone to feel the effects if you feel vulnerable and helpless.

How Trauma Develops

Trauma can be actually be generated in a wide variety of different ways. Sometimes, it can develop in a day, and other times over the course of weeks, months, or years. Some examples of how PTSD can be triggered include:

  • A one-time event, such as a violent assault, injury, or accident, particularly if it happened in childhood, or occurred without provocation.
  • Recurring stress, such as residing in a high crime area, or combatting a life-threatening disease. An event of this type may also include domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, or incidents of bullying.
  • An unanticipated event, such as a last-minute surgery or a breakup.
  • Living through or experiencing a natural disaster or manmade catastrophe, even if you are not directly involved. 

A Trauma that Originates in Childhood

If a traumatic event happens during childhood, it can alter a child’s feeling of security. This can happen in the following cases:

  • A separation from a parent
  • An unstable home environment
  • An early and serious illness
  • Invasive medical procedures
  • Verbal, sexual, or physical abuse
  • Neglect
  • Domestic violence

An early childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects – effects that make a person feel fearful, which sets the foundation for more trauma. However, receiving therapy can help you regain trust and emotional stability.

Indicators of Psychological Trauma

Signs that a person is reacting to a traumatic event include the following:

  • Denial or disbelief of the event, as if they are in shock
  • Difficulty focusing and confusion
  • Irritability or anger
  • Guilt or shame
  • Withdrawal
  • Feelings of hopelessness or extreme sadness
  • A feeling of disconnection or numbness

Physical Indicators of Trauma

Besides psychological manifestations, trauma can also lead to the following physical complaints:

  • Nightmares and sleep disturbances
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Excessive nervousness
  • Difficulties with focusing
  • Arrhythmia or a racing heart
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Muscular tension
  • Aches and pains
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Healing from Trauma Can Be Difficult

If you have symptoms from a traumatic event that do not recede, or you find it difficult to move forward with your life, you may have developed PTSD, which makes it hard for you to process your emotions or recover from a psychological shock.

Tips for Recovering from a Traumatic Event

1. Exercise to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts

Any traumatic situation disrupts the body’s equilibrium, to the point where it freezes you, and keeps you in a state of fear. To overcome the feeling, it can help to start moving the body. Doing so can repair the nervous system and reduce the stress overload. 

It is recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. If it makes it easier, you might try exercising for 10 minutes, 3 times per day. Make sure the exercise you do is rhythmic, and works your arms and legs. Some examples of recommended exercises include swimming, dancing, or running.

Instead of concentrating on distracting thoughts while you exercise, think about the exercise itself. Experience the sensation of your feet, for example, as they hit the ground or focus on a paced pattern of breathing. Exercises, such as martial art moves, weight training, or boxing can help you stay focused more on the exercise than any negative thoughts.

2. Practice Mindfulness to Calm Your Nerves

Practicing mindful breathing can quickly calm your nerves. Take 60 breaths during a session, concentrating on each “out” breath during respiration. 

If you feel confused or upset, you can listen to soothing music or gain stress relief from smelling relaxing scents or petting your dog or cat. This type of sensory input brings fast relief from irritation or anxiety. 

To feel more calm and grounded, simply sit down on a chair and place your back against it. Review the room around you and choose six objects that are colored, for instance, red or blue. You will automatically notice that your breathing becomes calmer and more rhythmic.

3. Get Out and About

A traumatic event may make you feel like withdrawing, but taking this approach allows you to focus inward on your traumatic event.  Instead, you should make it a point to connect with others and maintain healthy relationships. Don’t spend too much time by yourself. Getting involved in a group activity can relieve a lot of the stress that originates form a traumatic event.

The comfort of connecting with others will be a good distraction from your traumatic thoughts. You don’t need to speak of the event with other people, save this for a trusted counselor or loved one. Maintain professional support for your PTSD separately from your outside activities with friends and acquaintances. Doing so will make you feel accepted and help you move forward more positively.

4. Join a Support Group

It also helps to join a support group devoted to people who have lived through a trauma. By talking to others with the same problems, you will feel inspired and less isolated than when you try tackling such feelings alone.

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5. Become a Volunteer

Besides helping other people, volunteering can help you overcome the feeling of helplessness that often follows a traumatic event. Your potential is much greater than the obstacles around you. 

6. Take Good Care of Your Health and Well-being

To cope with traumatic stress, it is important to take good care of yourself. This means to practice certain habits, such as the following:

1. Get quality sleep at night to maintain emotional balance. That means going to sleep and getting up each day at the same time and resting for 7 to 9 hours when you sleep.

2. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol. Taking drugs or alcohol can worsen the symptoms associated with trauma, increasing feelings of isolation, anxiety, or depression.

3. Eat a well-balanced diet. By eating small but well-balanced meals throughout the day, you can maintain your energy level while reducing mood swings. Just make sure to avoid fried, processed or sugary foods and focus on eating foods with nutrition, such as Omega-3. Foods containing Omega-3 include walnuts, soybeans, salmon, and all flaxseeds. These foods are good for elevating the mood.

7. Seek Professional Counseling

It helps to seek professional counseling to work through a traumatic memory or experience. You should contact a professional and seek help if you experience any of the following:

  • You are having trouble functioning at work or at home
  • You have problems with severe depression or anxiety
  • You have a problem developing satisfying and close friendships or relationships
  • You avoid anything that reminds you of the traumatic event
  • You feel disconnected from others or feel numbness emotionally
  • You drink alcohol or take drugs to feel better

Because facing and working through a trauma can be challenging, you need to heal through the help of a therapist. Just make sure the counselor has experience in treating patients who have experienced traumatic events. If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist you visit, choose another therapist for your therapy.

Don’t Delay Getting Help with PTSD

There is more and better treatment than ever before for PTSD.  The advancements in therapy and medication provide relief and healing to millions of Americans.  PTSD might alleviate over time, but it also might progressively worse. If you are suffering from trauma or know someone who is, there is only upside reaching out and getting the help of a professional.

About the Author 

Scott H. Silverman

Scott H. Silverman is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, a treatment program in San Diego that helps U.S. Veterans overcome addiction and PTSD.