How to cope with past traumas in life is a key factor in living a whole life. It was a dark, cold night. Sarah was returning from a Christmas party with her two kids. The roads were slippery due to the snow, but she did not care much and continued driving fast. When she saw the signal light turns yellow, she accelerated her speed to pass through the signal before it turned red, but unfortunately, she collided with another speeding truck. She and her two kids were severely injured. It took her six months to recover entirely physically, but the trauma of that accident severely affected her mental health. Before that accident, she used to enjoy long drives, but after the accident, the thought of driving a car triggered panic attacks. Anybody can experience a traumatic experience in life. Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event, such as the death of a loved one, rape, violence, natural disaster, etc.
It is important to note that any experience that may sound traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another. For example, Michelle had a traumatic experience when she fell off the swing. The embarrassment of falling off the swing in front of her classmates was so traumatic that after that incident, she suffered from neck pain for years until she went through hypnosis to heal from that traumatic experience.
Valerie Candela Brower, a licensed professional counselor, defined Trauma as,
“when too much happens too soon for the nervous system to process.” Candela Brower explained further. “It’s like eating a big meal and not fully digesting it, but then eating another big meal, and then another. The body does not digest what has happened, and instead, we stuff our feelings, numb out, or deny reality.”
Throughout a lifetime, it’s common to be exposed to a traumatic event, whether it is a violent act, a serious injury, sexual abuse, or other shocking events. It can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again when bad things happen. Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people.
Usually, these symptoms get better with time. But for some people, more intense symptoms linger or interfere with their daily lives and do not go away on their own. Most of the time, people are stuck with their past memories and shame. These thoughts /feelings of embarrassment are internalized and become an integral part of your self-talk. Our brain holds on to these memories as if they are still true in the present. For example, when Sarah tries to drive a car, her mind replays the memories from the accident, which triggers a panic attack.
What to do to stay in control?
These memories of the traumatic experience can be harrowing and demoralizing, but the good news is that they can be controlled. Healing from trauma is not easy, and it gets trickier as everyone reacts to trauma in different ways, experiencing a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. Following are a few tips to help you heal from trauma.
Focus on Physical/bodily reactions
Trauma disrupts your body’s natural balance, freezing you in a state of hyperarousal and fear. The traumatic memories can live in your mind and body, creating continuous havoc. Working on releasing the stress caused by these memories may help you break free from traumatic memories of that event. Whenever you start feeling fear, overwhelming anxiety or experiencing the onset of panic, try focusing on your body’s reaction. The bodily responses are mostly similar in several experiences, such as the body reacting the same way when you feel nervous or excited. It all depends on how you label these experiences and; makes you feel the emotions at that time. If any particular event triggers the memories of the past traumatic event, focus on bodily reaction and try to change the label of the feeling. If you are feeling fear, tell yourself that you are experiencing the thrill at the moment, as experiencing fear is similar to experiencing the thrill. This is the reason why people love roller-coasters, haunted houses, and horror movies. Once you take charge of your emotions, try to take deep breaths. Start relaxing your body. Body scan meditation may help you relax your body.
Here’s how to practice body scanning meditation:
1. Try to get into a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes.
2. Focus on your lower body and consciously feel that it is getting completely relaxed. Notice how your feet feel on the floor. Slowly, move your attention to your ankles, knees, thighs, and then pelvis. Identify temperature, pressure, tension, and any other sensations as you move up your body.
3. When you feel any tension, take a deep breath and exhale as you release it.
4. When you feel the body part relax, you can move to the next one and repeat the same.
5. Finally, end by focusing on your neck, head, and face. By then, your body should be completely relaxed.
Remind yourself that you are safe
In your brain, the thoughts from traumatic experiences remain active, and your mind perceives them as if it is happening in the current moment. Reminding yourself that “It’s over can help you to deal with it effectively. When these traumatic thoughts start haunting you, repeat to yourself, ‘I am safe’, ‘it’s over’.
Grounding exercises can help you anchor yourself to the present moment. This could help you take your mind off past events that are causing you distress. Grounding may be particularly helpful if you’re experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, and dissociation symptoms.
Here are a few grounding techniques to try at home:
Run water over your hands. Start by running water over your hands. Focus on the temperature and its sensations on each part of your hand, from your wrist to your nails.
Move your body in ways that feel most comfortable to you. This can include jumping up and down, dancing, jogging in place, or stretching. As you move, focus on how your body feels.
Try to feel the sensations from all five senses. Focus on your current sensations, such as room temperature, your breathing, and your surroundings. Feel the taste in your mouth, the smell at the moment.
Resourcing and visualization
During times of distress, it may help you to resource your past memories that made you feel good. Resourcing and visualization simply mean tuning into specific body sensations that may be the opposite of what you’re experiencing at the moment.
Some of the simple ways to practice resourcing and visualization
- Create a safe place in your mind. Go back to a time and place when you felt safe and happy, for example, a walk on a sea shore. Or you could create an imaginary new safe place that you haven’t experienced yet. Feel your body there and focus on how comfortable you feel.
- Think about people you love and focus on the way it makes you feel. You could start by looking at photos of them or focusing on specific memories you share.
It is not easy to deal with the trauma alone. It is highly recommended to take help from a trained therapist. Just remember, Trauma is not your fault but, healing from trauma is your responsibility.
Watch out for the release of my first book – The Algorithm of Life, within one week.
Subscribe to YouTube channel Psychology Talks – YouTube
Listen to podcasts:
Psychology Talks on Apple Podcasts
Psychology Talks | Podcast on Spotify
Instagram Ambreen Nadeem (@theambreennadeem) • Instagram photos and videos