Many people experience some degree of trauma in their life. If you are one of those people, you probably already know how scary and difficult it can be to get over it, especially when you don’t know what is happening to you or why you are reacting in a certain way. Fortunately, you can always take steps to reduce trauma.
Although it can 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 people feel that they should be able to bear their pain and overcome it with pure positive thinking. But that’s not the case, says Jennifer Sweeton, Ph.D. This is how the traumatized brain differs from the typical one:
The prefrontal cortex
The PFC is considered the brain’s thought center, located behind the forehead, near the top. Its function lies in rational and logical thinking, controlling aspects such as planning, problem solving, awareness, personality, and empathy. When the PFC is unharmed, it enables clear thinking and decision making. In a traumatized brain, the PFC is under-activated, meaning that you lose the ability to think clearly and rationally or to make decisions and stay focused.
The anterior cingulate cortex
The ACC is considered the brain’s emotion regulation center. It is situated next to the PFC but deeper into the brain matter, communicating regularly with the PFC and managing emotional regulation. When the AAC is not damaged, it allows you to handle strong emotions or difficult and painful thoughts, manage impulses, and keep things rational. In a traumatized brain, the ACC is under-activated, which means that your emotions cannot be easily contained, balanced, or managed.
The amygdala is considered the fear center of the brain. It lies quite deep in the brain and is very small. Its main function is to determine what a threat is based on information from all the senses and thoughts, and it cannot be controlled consciously. The amygdala produces fear when a threat is perceived. In a traumatized brain, the amygdala is over-activated, eliciting fear responses at an increased and unnecessary rate that often does not reflect an actual physical threat.
So if you have experienced trauma, it is likely that, at some point, you felt that you had no control over any of your emotions. You may experience strong reactions to seemingly minor things and not be sure why. The answer, as it turns out, has always been in your brain.
2. Recognize and feel
It is not uncommon to try to suppress emotions derived from trauma, hoping that positive thinking will make everything go away. Unfortunately, until you face those feelings and the trauma behind them head-on, you won’t be able to fully recover.
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 pain so that you can heal.
Once you have recognized what happened, you must allow yourself to regret what you lost or how it changed you. These emotions are completely normal and valid and deserve your attention. Let the feelings wash over you. Cry, scream, draw – everything you need to do to process your feelings and experience them.
3. Correction of wrong or useless beliefs
Many people who experience trauma end up changing 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 a decrease positive thinking and generally biased belief systems.
This often results in someone blaming themselves, in some way, for their trauma, even though logic dictates that it is far from their fault, says psychologist Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D. To heal from the trauma, you have to confront the real truths related to them, as difficult as it may be.
4. Organize your memories to reduce trauma
Memories of the trauma are often a bit hazy, and some of them may have been partially suppressed by the brain. In many cases, these memories are:
- No clear narrative
- Lack of broader context
- In fragments
- Raw 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 turn them into a clear narrative, says Gillihan. When you are able to properly delineate the event from start to finish, it becomes less threatening, a shapeless shadow, and more of a manageable story.
5. Don’t isolate yourself
It is common for those who experience trauma to withdraw from their friends, family, and the rest of society. Unfortunately, isolation comes with a number of side effects, including decreased positive thinking and it got worse symptoms of mental illness. Spending too much time can only further damage your psyche.
Here are some tips and ideas to make sure you’re still around or spending time with other people, even when you don’t want to:
Join social activities
Participate in normal events that involve groups of people, whether they are strangers or friends. It may help if these social activities have virtually nothing in common with the trauma you experienced.
Don’t feel pressured to share
Making sure not to isolate yourself does not mean that you should tell anyone the details about your trauma. If you love and trust the people you are with, then sure, do it! But if not, know that you do not have an obligation to speak up about what happened and how it affected you, no matter who asks.
Join a support group
Sadly, there are many people with trauma, and many of them benefit from attending a support group for their trauma. These survivor groups can help you feel heard while also making you realize that you are not alone when you hear stories similar to yours either.
Ask for support from your loved ones
If you need more personal support, have the courage to ask your loved ones, be it your family, friends, or anyone else you trust. They are much less likely to judge you for the pain you are experiencing and will probably want to help you in any way they can.
· Making new friends
Making new friends can be like turning the page in your life or even opening a whole new chapter. These new friends may also have new ideas and activities to invite you to, allowing you to distance yourself more emotionally from that trauma.
Call some old friends
If you have old friends, it may be a viable option to call them and ask for their opinion or help. You can also get back in touch with them as a symbol of their efforts and willingness to repair things that may have been broken over time. Talking to people you once knew can be a great revelation about the ways you stayed the same and the ways you changed.
Being nice can often make us humans feel good, so take advantage of that. Sign up to volunteer with a cause you believe in and use your strengths to help. It’s a great way to meet new people while also practicing compassion and social skills!
6. Identify triggers
Trauma triggers refer to sights, sounds, smells, or even sensations that trigger a panic or trauma response in your body. You may experience a flashback, disassociate, or have a panic attack in response to triggers, or you may have a completely different but equally distressing response personally.
As recommended by Banschick, identifying your triggers gives you insight into your trauma-induced behavior. It also helps you communicate those triggers to the people in your life to warn you when they may arise.
Another reason it’s good to identify a trigger is that it helps you break the cycle. Whether you do it by better managing your response to trauma, getting distracted when you know the trigger is coming, or even facing it head-on. In fact, it’s a great way to avoid falling into the same trauma patterns over and over again.
7. Maintain good health
When people say “healthy body, healthy mind”, there is much more truth to that than you might think. Taking care of your body as you work to heal from your trauma is crucial to ensuring the process runs smoothly.
At a minimum, you should try to maintain similar health habits before and after seeking treatment, or if the trauma was recent enough, before and after experiencing it. This can help you ground yourself and show you, subconsciously, that life goes on.
Regardless of whether you are reestablishing old habits or creating new ones, here are some ways to maintain good health to help you recover from trauma:
Eat well to reduce trauma
Eat balanced meals with a good variety of ingredients. This will help keep your mood relatively positive shape as you go on this journey of recovery. The foods you eat can have quite significant effects on your emotional state and your overall mental health. So make sure you eat well.
· Get enough sleep
It would be best to aim for the recommended standard sleep time of between seven and nine hours per day or night. It is understandable that traumatic events can disturb your sleep. But it’s still important to try to get enough rest. Without getting enough sleep, it is even more difficult to stay emotionally stable.
Things like drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and other similar items can worsen negative mood effects like anxiety or depression. If you can avoid indulging too much on them, try doing it.
Healing from trauma It takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s also something you shouldn’t do alone. Try to find some kind of mental health help to help you find your way through this difficult time. This is a serious problem that must be treated properly by a professional. After all, your personal efforts deserve to be bolstered by the professional help you need.