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Trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security. You feel helpless. The world feels dangerous. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised.
An event can lead to trauma if:
• It happened unexpectedly
• You were unprepared for it
• You felt powerless to prevent it
• It happened repeatedly
• Someone was intentionally cruel
• It happened in childhood
Emotional & psychological symptoms:
• Shock, denial, or disbelief
• Confusion, difficulty concentrating
• Anger, irritability, mood swings
• Anxiety and fear
• Guilt, shame, self-blame
• Withdrawing from others
• Feeling sad or hopeless
• Feeling disconnected or numb
• Insomnia or nightmares
• Being startled easily
• Difficulty concentrating
• Racing heartbeat
• Edginess and agitation
• Aches and pains
• Muscle tension
Trauma recovery tip 1: Get moving
Trauma disrupts your body’s natural equilibrium, freezing you in a state of hyper-arousal and fear. In essence, your nervous system gets “stuck.” As well as burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins, exercise and movement can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck.”
Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more on most days, or if it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good. Exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs (eg - walking, running, swimming, dancing) works best. Stay focussed on your body and how it feels as you move. Notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin.
Tip 2: Don't isolate
Following a trauma, you may want to withdraw from others, but isolation only makes things worse. Connecting to others face to face will help you heal, so make an effort to maintain your relationships and avoid spending too much time alone.
While you don’t have to talk about the trauma itself, it is important you have someone to share your feelings with face to face, someone who will listen attentively without judging you. Turn to a trusted family member, friend or counsellor.
Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. Do everyday things with other people, things that have nothing to do with the traumatic experience.
Join a support group for trauma survivors. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and hearing how others cope can help inspire you in your own recovery.
Volunteering can be a great way to challenge the sense of helplessness that often accompanies trauma. Remind yourself of your strengths and reclaim your sense of power by helping others.
Take a class or join a club to meet new people with similar interests.
Tip 3: Self-regulate your nervous system
No matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel, it’s important to know that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself.
If you are feeling disoriented, confused, or upset, a quick way to calm yourself is through mindful breathing. Simply take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each out breath.
Sensory input. Does a specific sight, smell or taste quickly make you feel calm? Or maybe petting an animal or listening to music works to quickly soothe you? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.
Staying grounded. To feel in the present and more grounded, sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue in them. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it. Acknowledge your feelings about the trauma as they arise and accept them.
Tip 4: Take care of your health
Having a healthy body can increase your ability to cope with the stress of trauma. Get plenty of sleep. After a traumatic experience, worry or fear may disturb your sleep patterns and a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate your trauma symptoms making it harder to maintain your emotional balance. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day and aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Alcohol and drugs can worsen your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimise mood swings.
Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Schedule time for activities that bring you joy such as favourite hobbies.
Healing from trauma takes time. Be patient with the pace of recovery and remember that everyone’s response to trauma is different.