Many people experience some degree of trauma in their lifetime. If you’re one of those people, you probably already know how frightening and difficult it can be to overcome, especially when you don’t know what’s happening to you or why you’re reacting a certain way. Luckily, you can always take steps to reduce trauma.
Though it may be a difficult experience, there are ways you can begin now to set the stage for your healing journey. Here’s how therapists recommend 6 ways to reduce trauma for a positive future.
1. Understanding The Traumatized Brain
Many traumatized individuals feel as though they should be able to tough out their pain and overcome it with pure positive thinking. But that’s not the case, says Doctor of Psychology Jennifer Sweeton. Here is how the traumatized brain differs from the typical one:
· The Prefrontal Cortex
The PFC is considered the Thinking Center of the brain, located behind the forehead, near the top. Its function lies in rational and logical thinking, with aspects such as planning, problem-solving, awareness, personality, and empathy controlled by it. When the PFC is unharmed, it allows for decision-making and clear thinking. In a traumatized brain, the PFC is under-activated, meaning you lose the ability to think clearly and rationally or make decisions and stay focused.
· The Anterior Cingulate Cortex
The ACC is considered the Emotion Regulation Center of the brain. It is situated beside the PFC but deeper into the brain matter, communicating regularly with the PFC and handling emotional regulation. When the AAC is unharmed, it allows for the handling of strong emotions or difficult and painful thoughts, managing impulses, and keeping things rational. In a traumatized brain, the ACC is under-activated, meaning your emotions can’t easily be contained, balanced, or managed.
· The Amygdala
The amygdala is considered the Fear Center of the brain. It is located pretty deep into the brain and is very small. Its primary function is determining what is a threat based on input from all senses and thoughts, and it is not controllable consciously. The amygdala produces fear when a threat is perceived. In a traumatized brain, the amygdala is overactivated, causing fear responses at an increased and unnecessary rate that often does not reflect a real physical threat.
This is why, if you’ve experienced trauma, you’ve likely, at some point, felt as though you had no control over any of your emotions. You may experience strong reactions to seemingly minor things and be unsure as to why. The answer, as it turns out, has always been in your brain.
2. Acknowledge And Feel
It’s not uncommon to try and bottle up emotions stemming from trauma, hoping that positive thinking will make it all go away. Unfortunately, until you confront those feelings and trauma behind them head-on, you will not be able to recover fully.
Acknowledging what happened to you is very important, no matter what it was, says psychiatrist Mark Banschick. That event hurt you deeply. You deserve to process and understand the pain so that you can heal from it.
Once you’ve acknowledged what happened, you should allow yourself to grieve for what you lost or how it changed you. These emotions are completely normal and valid and are deserving of your attention. Let the feelings wash over you. Cry, scream, draw – whatever you need to do to process your feelings and experience them.
3. Correcting Unhelpful Or Wrong Beliefs
Many people who undergo trauma wind up shifting a significant amount of their beliefs, whether of the world, of themselves, or even of the people around them. Research indicates that many of these changes are far from good, resulting in decreased positive thinking and generally skewed belief systems.
This often results in someone blaming themselves, in some way, for their trauma, despite logic dictating that it is far from their fault, says licensed psychologist Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D. To heal from trauma, you have to confront the real truths related to them, as hard as that might be.
4. Organize Your Memories to Reduce Trauma
Memories of trauma are usually a little jumbled, and it’s likely that the brain has partially suppressed some of them. In many cases, these memories are:
- Without clear narrative
- Lacking broader context
- In fragments
- Unprocessed by the hippocampus and similar areas that could help add context
But why should you organize your memories? It’s simple to unravel the truth behind them and form them into a clear narrative, says Gillihan. When you’re able to properly outline the event from beginning to end, it becomes less of a threatening, shapeless shadow and more of a manageable story.
5. Don’t Isolate Yourself
It’s widespread for those who experience trauma to withdraw from their friends, family, and the rest of society. Unfortunately, isolation comes with a slew of side effects, including decreased positive thinking and worsened mental illness symptoms. Spending too much time by yourself can further harm your psyche.
Here are some pointers and ideas for making sure that you’re still around or spending time with other people, even when you don’t quite want to be:
· Join Social Activities
Take part in normal events that involve groups of people, whether strangers or friends. It might help if these social activities have virtually nothing in common with the trauma that you experienced.
· Don’t Feel Pressured To Share
Making sure you don’t isolate yourself doesn’t mean you must tell anyone the details about your trauma. If you want to and trust the people you’re with, then sure, go for it! But if not, know that you’re under no obligation to talk about what happened and how it affected you, no matter who asks.
· Join A Support Group
Sadly, there are plenty of people with trauma, and many of them benefit from attending a support group for their trauma. These survivors’ groups can help you feel heard while making you realize that you’re also not alone when you hear similar stories to yours.
· Ask For Support From Loved Ones
If you need more personal support, pluck up the courage to ask for it from your loved ones, whether it’s your family, friends, or anyone else that you trust. They are much less likely to judge you for the pain you’re experiencing and will probably want to help in any way they can.
· Make New Friends
Making new friends can feel like turning the page in your life or even opening an entirely new chapter. These new friends will probably also have new ideas and activities to invite you to, allowing you to further distance yourself emotionally from that trauma.
· Call Up Some Old Friends
If you have friends from yesteryears, it can be a viable option to call them and request their input or aid. You can also get back in touch with them as a symbol of your efforts and willingness to mend things that may have become broken over time. Speaking to people you once knew can be a big eye-opener into the ways you stayed the same and the ways that you changed.
Being kind can often make us human beings feel good, so take advantage of that. Sign up to volunteer with a cause that you believe in and play to your strengths to help out. It’s a great way to meet new people while also practicing compassion and social skills!
6. Identify Triggers
Triggers in trauma refer to sights, sounds, smells, or even sensations that result in a panic or trauma response from your body. You might experience a flashback, dissociate, or have a panic attack in response to triggers, or you might have a completely different but similarly personally distressing response.
As recommended by Banschick, identifying triggers gives you insight into the behavior of yours that is trauma-induced. It also helps you communicate those triggers to the people in your life to warn you when they might arise.
Another reason that it’s good to identify a trigger is that it helps you break the cycle. Whether you do so by better managing your trauma response, distracting yourself when you know the trigger is coming, or even facing the trigger head-on. Indeed, it’s a great way to stop yourself from falling into the same trauma patterns again and again.
7. Maintaining Good Health
When people say “healthy body, healthy mind,” there’s much more truth to that than you may know. Taking care of your body as you work to recover from your trauma is crucial to ensuring that the process goes smoothly.
At the very least, you should try to maintain similar health habits before and after seeking treatment, or if the trauma was recent enough, before and after experiencing the trauma. This can help ground you and show you, subconsciously, that life moves on.
Regardless of whether you’re reinstating old habits or creating new ones, here are some ways to maintain good health to help heal from trauma:
· Eat Well to Reduce Trauma
Eat balanced meals with a good variety of ingredients. This will help keep your mood in a relatively positive shape as you go on this journey of recovery. The food you eat can have fairly significant effects on your emotional state and overall mental health. So make sure you’re eating well.
· Sleep Enough
It would be best to aim for the standard recommended sleep time of between seven and nine hours per day or night. Understandably, traumatic events can disturb your sleep. But it’s still important to try and get the right amount of rest. Without sufficient sleep, it’s even harder to stay emotionally stable.
· Avoid Vices
Things like drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and other similar items can worsen negative mood effects like anxiety or depression. If you’ can stop yourself from indulging too much in them, try and do so.
Healing from trauma takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s also something that you shouldn’t be doing alone. Try to seek mental health aid of some kind to help find your way through this difficult time. This is a serious issue that must be treated properly by a professional. After all, your personal efforts deserve to be bolstered by the professional help you need.