How to Heal From Trauma
Our memories are powerful and can often make us feel certain emotions. While some memories induce positive emotions, like happiness and laughter, others may be more negative, making us feel angry or upset. Similar to this, trauma describes our emotional response to an experience or memory that once made us feel afraid, powerless, or threatened.
Trauma can challenge your idea of who you are and how the world works. It can have a trickle-down effect of seeping its way into aspects of your life, such as your daily interactions or even your physical health. Unfortunately, we cannot change our experiences of traumatic events, but we can learn to heal and move past them. While at times healing may feel impossible, it certainly isn’t, and many people are able to move on from their traumatic experiences to live happy and healthy lifestyles.
This page will explore what trauma is, the different aspects of trauma, tips on how to continue your healing journey, and when it is the right time to seek professional medical advice.
What is Emotional and Psychological Trauma?
Emotional and psychological trauma is caused by an experience of extraordinarily scary or distressful events that leave you feeling helpless with no sense of security. These traumatic events can make you struggle with regulating your negative emotions, often leaving you feeling anxious, disconnected, or numb, and can therefore cause challenges in your day-to-day functioning.
Psychological and emotional trauma does not always have to stem from a physical experience. Any instance that causes you to feel intense negative emotions, overwhelmed, or isolated can be classed as a traumatic event, whether you have watched, heard, or witnessed something. Whether you have traumatic memories or not is subjective to the individual who has lived the experience. It is not the objective circumstance that determines whether something is traumatic or not, but your physical and emotional reactions to the event.
We all react to trauma in many different ways, there is certainly no right or wrong way to feel, respond or think about psychological and emotional trauma. Due to our individual differences and lived experiences, we all have different perspectives, we all think differently and we certainly have different emotional and physical reactions to experiences of trauma. Emotional and psychological symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Withdrawing from those around you
Physical symptoms include:
- Increased heartbeat
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Aches and pains
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
It is common for individuals to have stress reactions after experiencing a traumatic event, however, some people’s reactions to trauma can last for years and can interfere with day-to-day functioning, which can result in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a traumatic event and affects people long after the traumatic experience has taken place.
PTSD symptoms can be categorized into four groups, avoidance, negative changes in mood and thinking, intrusive memories, and changes in emotional and physical reactions. For an individual to be diagnosed with PTSD, they must experience symptoms for more than a month and these symptoms must have caused significant problems and distress in a person’s daily living.
Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, but some symptoms that relate to the four categories include:
- Unwanted and recurrent distressing memories
- Flashbacks or the reliving of a traumatic event
- Severe physical reactions or emotional distress to something that reminds you of the traumatic experience
- Avoidance of people, places, or activities that possibly remind you of the traumatic event
- Negative ideas about other people, yourself, or the world around you
- Memory problems
- Feeling detached
- Being easily frightened or startled
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Numb physical symptoms
Experiencing childhood trauma can have long-lasting and severe effects that affect you later in life if left unresolved. When childhood trauma has not been appropriately managed, your emotional response of helplessness and fear is carried over into adulthood, increasing the risk of experiencing further trauma.
Childhood interactions and experiences all shape who we are as adults. These early experiences significantly shape how we view our environment as well as ourselves, it affects how we cope and learn to live with life’s difficulties and how we form relationships as adults. Of course, positive childhood experiences contribute to a productive and healthy adulthood, whereas negative childhood experiences can lead to a decline in mental and physical health as adults.
Often, lifelong insecurities are the result of experiencing trauma in childhood and are commonly due to a disruption of a child’s sense of safety and can include:
- Domestic violence
- Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
- Household dysfunction
- Serious illness
- Intrusive medical procedures
What is Considered a Traumatic Event?
Traumatic events are identified as situations that cause emotional and psychological distress that interfere with daily functioning. What may be deemed as emotional and psychological trauma to one person, may not be the same for any other. People have different degrees of reactions to what may be a traumatic event. Events or situations that may be deemed traumatic include:
- The sudden death of a loved one
- Emotional, physical, or sexual assault
- Exposure to elements of war or combat
- Surviving a natural disaster
- Extreme or chronic stress
- An unexpected injury, accident, or violent attack
While it is unlikely that many of us will be direct victims of a plane crash, mass shooting, or terrorist attack, we are constantly exposed to images of individuals who have been exposed to such experiences. Viewing these images can over time, overwhelm you and your nervous system and create a response to traumatic stress.
Tips on Healing From Traumatic Events
Healing from a traumatic event is an experience that is unique for everyone. It’s normal to find it difficult to recover from pain or trauma, and it can take some time to understand what happened and how it affected you.
As human beings, we naturally have a hard time accepting change and the idea of ‘letting go’ can be daunting. It implies that we are moving on from things from our past, this poses difficulties as we may have meaningful memories or special bonds that are attached to places people, and things. But letting go does not mean that you are invalidating these past experiences, it is simply an act of healing and freedom.
Trauma survivors cannot simply get over things with a click of the fingers. It takes time, patience, and work. Below are some tips that may help you heal from trauma, cope with grief and give you the grounding to move on with your life.
Exercise and Movement
Trauma has been found to interrupt your body’s natural equilibrium, causing you to freeze in a state of fear. Exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system, burn any extra adrenaline, and releases endorphins. Exercise is a crucial way of opening up communication between the body and mind and research has found that regular exercise can decrease anxiety, sleep disturbances, and depression while improving the quality of your life.
Try to exercise for around 30 minutes a day or on most days, this doesn’t have to be completed all at once, try doing it in 10-minute intervals. Exercises that are rhythmic and involve both your arms and legs are thought to be the most effective, such as swimming, walking, running, or even dancing.
Try and add a mindfulness element to your body movements. Focus on the way your body is moving through exercising, such as weight training, rock climbing, or boxing. It is a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts. Try and notice the sensation of your hands grabbing at the rocks or the feeling of wind on certain parts of your body.
Being aware of these sensations helps to keep you in the present moment and allows you to reduce stress, have a sense of fulfillment, creating calm and peace while doing tasks that are productive and good for you and your mental health.
Be Patient – Recovery Takes Time
Trauma isn’t something that you can simply get over. The healing process is a journey that may take some time to pass through. Although the recovery journey differs for everyone, the Extended Transformational Model offers a framework for the different stages that you pass through when healing from trauma.
- Pre-trauma characteristics: This stage represents your general state before and when you experience the traumatic event. It refers to the viewpoints and traits that you hold before you were affected by trauma.
- Rumination: Within this stage, your brain is starting to work through and process the trauma that you have experienced. Within this stage, you will experience an abundance of intense feelings that may be accompanied by intrusive memories.
- Event centrality: This stage is the turning point, you identify how the traumatic event has affected your life and you begin certain steps you must take in order to move forward.
- Control: Here, you start to take active steps in order to cope and live with your traumatic symptoms.
- Mastery: While trauma can affect you at different stages throughout your life, it will no longer control you. Here, you have adjusted to the traumatic experience you have lived and you understand the coping skills you need to utilize to keep on moving forward.
Healthy ‘you’ time is essential to your recovery process, but too much alone time can be negative. Following a traumatic experience, it’s natural to want to isolate yourself from those surrounding you, but this can make things worse. Connecting and meeting with others can help you, this doesn’t mean you have to discuss your trauma, but you can get comfort from feeling accepted and engaging with others.
It’s important to have someone with who you can confide. Discussing your feelings with someone who will not judge you allows you a safe space to process your negative emotions. Turn to trusted friends, family members, or counselors.
Attend Support Groups
Connecting with other people who have also been through trauma can help you reduce any sense of isolation or loneliness, and you may find inspiration when listening to others’ coping strategies. Joining a support group for trauma survivors can help you process your feelings and emotions and offers you a community of like-minded people.
It does not matter how anxious, out of control, or agitated you feel, it’s important to know that you always have the power to help yourself. Knowing ways to soothe the nervous system can help relieve the anxiety that is associated with trauma. If you are feeling upset, confused, or disoriented, mindful breathing is an easy option to calm yourself. Try and take 50 slow breaths, and focus your attention on breathing in and breathing out.
Maybe a certain smell, taste, or sight can help you feel calm. We all respond to sensory input differently from one another, so it might take some experimentation of different quick stress relief techniques to figure out what works for you.
Seek Professional Medical Advice
As we have discussed, recovering from trauma does take some time and everyone will learn to heal in their own time. However, if you believe months have passed and you are unable to work past your symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help. It may be time to seek mental health professional if you are:
- Suffering from severe anxiety, fear, or depression
- Experiencing intense and terrifying nightmares, memories, or flashbacks
- Actively avoiding anything that reminds you of your trauma
- Disconnected and emotionally numb to others
- Engaging in substance abuse in order to feel better
Working through your traumatic experience can be painful and scary but with the right help and support, you can learn to work through your negative emotions. With professional guidance, you can learn to resolve and regulate strong emotions and are able to learn techniques needed to help you rebuild the ability to trust others. A trauma specialist may use some of the following techniques:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Cognitive processing therapy
You can work closely alongside your therapist in order to determine which course of treatment is best suited to you.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has also released guidelines on trauma-informed care, which help create safe and empowering environments for trauma recovery.
Trauma Treatments at Crossroads Antigua
At Crossroads Antigua, we offer residential treatment for individuals living with trauma and substance use disorders. We understand that trauma affects many individuals and as a part of a program, we provide trauma therapy. Clients will be a part of two extensive didactics on the treatment and nature of trauma. Individualized treatment plans will be designed to support people throughout their healing and recovery journey.
We provide evidence-based therapists alongside fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness counseling to ensure a whole body and holistic treatment plan is in place for each of our clients. Each client will be provided with a weekly schedule that covers the different activities and therapies that they will participate in throughout their stay.
We welcome all individuals who are motivated to begin their trauma recovery journey. To find out how we can help you, contact us today.