If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, it can take a long time to feel okay again. In fact, you may never quite go back to the way that you were before, but this doesn’t mean that life has to be bad. What’s important is to find a way of coping day to day and adjusting to a world that will inevitably feel different. There’s no one approach to this that works for everyone, so you need to experiment until you find what’s right for you. Take the time you need, and don’t be afraid to seek outside help if trying to do it by yourself, or with your loved ones’ help, is not enough.
Getting Back On The Horse
People often say that you should get back on the horse that threw you – or behind the wheel of the car you crashed in – as soon as possible. To some extent, this is true, but you have to be ready. Reengaging with day-to-day activities or places that have become scary is often best done in stages. Similarly, you may feel that getting back to your ordinary life – going to work or study and reassuming your old responsibilities – is helpful, but while it’s right for some people, others can end up hiding behind it and failing to address problems that are getting worse. If you’re struggling with sleep, relying on alcohol or drugs of any kind, withdrawing from social contact, hurting yourself or lashing out at others, then you need to take more active steps to recover.
Learn Calming Techniques
Panic attacks or more general feelings of fearfulness are a common feature of post-traumatic experience. They happen because your body is on high alert for danger like what you experienced in the past, and they can be frightening in themselves because they make you feel that your body is out of control. To get it back under control, you need to slow down your breathing and heart rate. Deep breathing exercises are often helpful. You can also benefit from focusing on sensory details in your surroundings – for instance, by identifying all the items you can see of a particular color, or breathing in a scent that you find calming. Begin exercises like this as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable – don’t try to force yourself to cope without them. For most people, anxiety diminishes naturally over time.
Talking It Through
Often, events in memory lose a lot of their power when you start to talk about them. Talking to loved ones may help a bit, but it can be difficult to be completely honest in that situation because you also feel a responsibility for them. What’s more, if they didn’t share the trauma with you, they may not understand very well. This is where support groups for people with shared experiences can be helpful. You might also want to try talking to a professional who can gently prompt you to work your way through what happened in a productive way. The best online therapy is now just as effective as traditional in-person support, making this more accessible to everyone, and if talking alone isn’t enough, then you could try the recently developed technique of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) or CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
Look After Your Body
In order to ease your mind back toward a healthier state, you also need to look after your physical health. Stress hormones build up over time and can make you feel awful, but aerobic exercise helps to flush them out of your system and also generates comforting endorphins. You can also benefit from drinking plenty of water and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which help to supply your body with micronutrients, enabling it to work as efficiently as possible and relax more easily. It’s especially important to get enough sleep. Long, relaxing baths can help you to fall asleep more easily, and a well-ventilated bedroom kept at a comfortable temperature will let you get a good night’s rest, reducing the physical stresses that can make it harder for your mind to deal with the long-term effects of trauma.
As you go through recovery, remember that it’s about you, not something you owe to other people. This is a time when you need to prioritize your own needs. You may find that you recover a lot more quickly or more slowly than others who have been through similar things, but this is because everybody is impacted differently by trauma. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you won’t feel the way that you do forever, and you don’t need to let your trauma define your life.
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