7 Ways to Heal After Trauma
You don’t have to look far to see someone suffering from a horrific event.
Mass shootings, marriage break-ups, malignant cancer battles. It all swirls above us like the funnel cloud of a tornado leaving us wondering which way to seek shelter.
Maybe you have recently witnessed the death of a loved one. Perhaps you are watching a loved one battle for survival, or it’s you who has battled just to live.
I have lived through some events including witnessing tragic death while living in Asia, and sitting by my daughter’s ICU bedside for 6 months as she struggled to breathe from rare birth anomalies (Please give my book a read. You can purchase it here How to Survive the ICU Experience I’d really love it if you did!). Then there was the time I had to learn to walk again after I blew my Achilles Tendon out while training for a marathon, and there was the car accident that left me with a mild traumatic brain injury. I’m no poster child for trauma, and many of you have suffered far worse!
Trauma is trauma.
Let’s be clear. It’s not a “those people” event. The events that bring trauma happen to “us.” All of us. Although the events may differ, we need to learn as a community how to heal.
Here are 7 ways to begin the process of healing from trauma.
1. Acknowledge the Trauma
I have had the honor to take several courses from world humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who often informs people,
To work through the traumatic event, you first have to name it.
Yes, this incident happened to you, but you are not the event.
Name it so you can move on.
Trauma can wreak havoc on your body affecting your nervous system and weakening your immune system.
Think about how your shoulders are up near your ears when you are dealing with trauma. Your neck, shoulder, and back muscles also respond to the storm trauma brings.
It’s OK to rest.
Put your feet up.
Allow your nervous system to heal.
While I healed from a brain injury as the result of a car accident, my neurologist’s main advice to me was,
It was one of the most important things I did while healing – rest.
We have to rest after a traumatic event.
Rest and repair.
Our minds can get caught up in the event that caused the trauma, and we can replay what happened over and over again. Even after some time, someone might say something or do something that may trigger your mind to loop back into the cycle of remembering the traumatic event.
As a teacher at a community college, I had fabulous students. Some of those remarkable students were soldiers newly returning from war.
One student of mine would bolt up in the middle of class when something triggered him. He would work through his mental mantras to reset his mind and then gently sit down.
To reset, repetition often helps, like repeating a mantra, or running, or playing the piano, or practicing breathing exercises.
Peaceful repetition can help refocus your mind and reset your nervous system.
One student of mine would go outside and shoot a basketball into his hoop when he felt the mental loop of trauma fired.
Find what it is that helps you reset, and practice it when you need to stop remembering the traumatic event.
4. Eat Well
Trauma can make us carb-hungry.
I find, too often, I reach for a chocolate donut in hard times.
Don’t do this!
You’ve been through a difficult time, and you need to repair. Just like a well-running car, you have to use the right oil and gas. Fuel your body well so it can rebuild.
Although I’d love to believe my body was created to eat large chocolate donuts, I know better. I react to life, and live life better when I fuel my body correctly.
While you heal, make sure you eat well as you rebuild.
For me, that means an increase in fruits, vegetables, and grains while eating healthy proteins.
When we exercise, those lovely endorphins pump through our system helping us feel better.
Your significant other ended things with you! You could sit on the couch and mope, or you could put on your sneakers and jog around the block a few times. When you sweat it out, you feel great.
My youngest daughter was critically ill for a very long time due to rare birth anomalies. I found that instead of sitting around crying about it, I could run and sweat those tears out of my system. The repetitive action of running not only helped me to reset my mind but also the act of physically moving forward enabled me to move forward.
Maybe you’re not a runner, but a walker, or an ice skater?
Find the exercise that is healthy for you, and get out there and do it!
6. Focus on the Positive
Once we experience trauma, we want to talk about it all the time. We end up wallowing in our sorrow, and it seems hard to see anything else.
Focusing on the negative won’t help you in your recovery. Yes, you have to name the trauma, but you name it and move on.
When I first learned to drive a few years back (OK, so it was many decades ago), the driving instructor told me something that stuck with me. He said that if you are driving and lose control of the car, don’t look at the tree in front of you. If you look at the tree, you will steer towards the tree and hit it. Instead, look at the open space, and that’s where you will go.
Look towards the positive, and that’s where your life will head.
That can be difficult when you are on the exit ramp from trauma.
Life is beautiful and well worth living. There is something wonderful going on in your life right now.
It might seem minor, but focusing on the positive will help you stay on track.
7. Be Kind to Yourself
Whatever the traumatic event is that you are working through, let’s be real here. You just went through trauma, and that sucks.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over the event. Remember you are not what happened to you.
Give yourself time to heal, and be patient with yourself.
In your journey towards healing, you may backslide. Lord knows I’ve reached for a donut or two in the not so recent past.
We are all human, and healing is a process.
Take time to read that book, take that hot bath, purchase that 70% off blouse from RueLaLa online. Wait, is that last one just me?
Know that whatever it is you are healing from, you can work through this and be better for the journey.
(If you are feeling uncontrollably lost, please reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)