Being exposed to trauma can leave people feeling extremely confused, vulnerable, insecure, powerless and/or helpless. Trauma couples with shock overloads the brain and nervous system leaving people feeling like a bundle of nerves and unable to focus or think straight. In the immediate aftermath of trauma exposure, most people feel like crawling into a deep, dark hole and never emerging. Withdrawing is never a good idea so here are some do’s and don’ts of coping with trauma.
DO share your experiences: It is never a good idea to keep your trauma experience to yourself. You do not have to suffer in silence and your experience is not a terrible secret can never be told.
DO seek help and support: This is coupled with the first strategy. Seeking help and support is vital if you want to come to terms with your traumatic experiences. Turning to someone who you can trust to listen, understand and empathise with you will really help you to alleviate any feelings and thoughts related to loneliness, vulnerability, insecurity or hopelessness.
DO give yourself time: Everybody responds to trauma differently so be kind on yourself and try not to compare your healing journey with other peoples journeys. Have faith in your ability to recover no matter how long it takes.
DO find out what happened: It is always better to try and find out the reality of what occurred. During the traumatic event itself, our brains are overloaded and so we don’t process information properly. This can lead us to ‘forget’ vital information about the event or may cause us to fill in gaps using false memories.
DO practice self-care: Healing from trauma is really your time to focus on yourself and learn how to really take care of yourself. Self-care involves caring for your mind, body and soul and learning to prioritise your needs over others. Sleep all day if you are tired without feeling guilty. Ask for time of work or ask for help and support with children.
DO talk it over: Talk therapies are effective for a reason. They allow people to process trauma whilst getting things of their chest. Whilst it is good talking to someone you trust, be mindful not to overload them. Therapists are perfect sounding boards.
DO gradually re-establish your routine: Humans are creatures of comfort and we often prefer structure and routine over chaos and disorganisation. The sooner you can start introducing routine and structure (without overloading yourself) the more you will feel that things are going back to ‘normal’.
DO stay social: This is not always the easiest step when all we want to do is hide away, cry and process our pain but staying social can really help us to avoid sinking too far down.
DON’T hide your trauma: Hiding away, denying or repressing your trauma may seem like a good idea but it will always do you more harm than good especially in the long run. Repressed trauma can always pop up when you least expect it or whenever you have other life stressors to deal with.
DON’T bottle up your emotions: Trauma recovery and healing requires the appropriate release of emotions. When we do not process and release our emotions in healthy ways, they all end up getting mixed into a big emotional ball until you can no longer tell one emotion from another and they all trigger at the same time.
DON’T take on too much too soon: We discussed earlier about the importance of regaining structure and routine. Overloading yourself to the point where you don’t have time to process your trauma will only delay your healing and recovery. Overloading yourself can also trick you into believing that you have recovered until you slow down and stop and everything comes flooding back.
DON’T self-medicate using legal and illegal substances: Misusing illegal drugs, prescription medications or alcohol to numb your pain will only cause you more harm both mentally and physically.
DON’T make major life changes: If your entire sense of being has been shaken to its core, and you no longer truly know who you are, do you really think that making major life changes is a good idea? Moving cities to avoid the trauma and make a fresh start may sound well and good but the long term consequences could just make your life unnecessarily harder.
DON’T avoid mental health professionals: Professionals have the education and training to help you to recover. Not all professionals are alike though so it is always important to do your research first.