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11 Ways to Cope While Healing from Emotional Trauma


In the aftermath of experiencing trauma, it is not uncommon for people to experience a wide range of emotions, some of which may include anger, grief, fear, overwhelm, rage, sadness, and confusion. Managing all these emotions while trying to heal from trauma can be incredibly challenging. For some, the struggle with emotional regulation can end up impeding the healing process altogether.


Techniques:


Compassionate self-talk - Survivors of trauma tend to blame themselves for what they experienced, which can quickly progress into a pattern of negative self-talk. What they experienced can be so difficult to process that they ultimately turn inward and look for their culpability to make sense of what happened. By engaging in this negative self-talk and self-blame, it becomes easy for someone to convince themselves that they don't deserve to heal and begin to feel better. Taking the time to actively and deliberately talk to oneself with compassion and understanding is key to combating this particular response to trauma. By establishing a practice of speaking to yourself with kindness, you will eventually become better able to manage when you experience a trigger in the future.


Accessing social support - Trauma can be incredibly isolating; it can have debilitating effects on the mind and body like a sort of invisible illness, but because survivors of trauma often carry a lot of shame, many people don't get the support they need to heal and process. Joining a support group can be vital to the healing process because it creates a community of people who can understand and validate your experience and help normalize your responses to trauma.


Mindfulness and grounding practices - Many people who have survived trauma develop a great deal of anxiety, which can become so severe that it hinders their ability to function daily. Mindfulness and grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 method, where you name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Positive affirmations can also help soothe your nervous system and bring you back into the present moment when you're experiencing anxiety.

 

Treat yourself to a weighted blanket. Placing some weight on your body has been shown to help calm the nervous system and provide a sense of safety and comfort.


Shift focus: Pick a color and name all the things in a room or environment that are that color. This exercise can be particularly helpful when feeling panicky, or your mind is spiraling because it allows you to shift your mind's focus and move out of an anxious state.


Reimage your emotional reality: Imagine a place, person, memory, or fictitious reality that evokes pleasant feelings within you— i.e., calm, joy, excitement.


Let yourself vividly experience this mental reality by activating all your senses. What do you hear, smell, see, taste, and feel? Once you have a clear picture, notice any sensations in your body that feel neutral or pleasant. Allow yourself to be present with those sensations for at least 10 seconds.


It's OK if these sensations shift or change; it's also OK if they don't. What is important is that you bring awareness to the sensations that calm your nervous system. This exercise allows us to develop our emotional resilience and regulate in times of stress.

 

Remind yourself that you are safe. Many times, anxiety or fear appear when working through trauma. Generally, these anxious feelings are our worries about what may happen. When we think about the future and what things might go wrong, we become more distressed. However, returning to the present moment and noting that “in this moment, I am safe” can diminish those anxious thoughts and feelings.


Stay active. Being physically active allows you to free built-up emotions and stress and releases hormones in your body that increase feelings of calmness, happiness, and connection with others. Finding an activity that you enjoy and doing it regularly increases your ability to be more resilient.


Find a relaxation technique that you enjoy. Working through trauma can sometimes feel overwhelming and can take a toll on the nervous system. Finding ways for the body to manage that stress more adaptively can make a huge difference. There are many ways to do this, from breathing techniques to guided imagery to yoga and meditation, so looking through some online resources, finding helpful apps, or consulting with your mental health provider can be beneficial.

 

Go Beyond Words & Logic

Talk therapy can be helpful, but trauma can’t always be accessed and resolved through verbal means. This is because the left hemisphere of our brain - the part that governs language and logic and can understand the “sum” of any situation - tends to be the less dominant hemisphere when trauma occurs. The left hemisphere may even “shut down” during or after a traumatic event, which explains why talk therapy is often limited in helping people resolve their trauma. Dance/Movement Therapy and other Creative Arts Therapies that rely more on the right hemisphere may be better suited to finally reach a breakthrough in trauma healing. There are activities you can try on your own to help move on from distressing past events: singing along to your favorite song, dancing, or painting can reach bottled-up emotions and reframe the trauma to gain positive meaning from it.


Rewire The Nervous System

Our brain’s neuroplasticity — the ability to reorganize and form new neural connections throughout life — allows us to mold our emotions and behaviors to create healthier patterns in our relationships. Thus, instead of overreacting at the first sign of conflict in your relationship, you can rewire your nervous system to remain calm without telling yourself to relax or pushing down frustration to keep cool. Having this level of calm allows us to choose healthier responses during disagreements. If you want to explore how your relationship might look different if you rewire your nervous system, start small by including little new habits in your life. When you sense anger rising within you, try not to say anything for the next 30 seconds. Take a deep breath and feel what’s happening in your body instead. You may be able to sense a heated energy moving through your body. Once you identify this, it’s much easier to let it go and soften your physical state into gentleness and empathy. You can also reach out your hand to show your partner that you want to work through your issue together instead of against each other. The physical act of reaching out vulnerably instead of aggressively can create a healthier pattern of camaraderie and understanding in your relationship.


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