According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, approximately 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event. While not all of these will result in post-traumatic stress disorder or another severe response, any kind of trauma can be distressing.
In the aftermath of trauma, you may feel overwhelmed by the emotions and sensations running through your body. If you haven’t disclosed your experience to the people around you, or those people aren’t supportive, it becomes even more challenging to go about life, knowing that everything you’re going through is unrecognized.
Nevertheless, there are ways you can work through these feelings and overcome the impact of a traumatic event, both on your own and with a supportive network.
1. Recognize that you’ve experienced trauma.
Before you can take action to cope with trauma and its aftermath, you have to realize that you’re dealing with a traumatic experience in the first place. Trauma responses and conditions like PTSD are often thought to be exclusive to those in the armed forces, but while there’s no discounting their trauma, they aren’t the only subgroup of people dealing with traumatic events.
There are several different types of trauma you might experience. In addition to military experience, trauma may take the form of natural disasters; physical, psychological, or sexual assault; hospitalization; domestic violence or abuse; loss of a loved one, or even witnessing a traumatic event that someone else is experiencing, such as a shooting or stabbing. This, too, is not an exhaustive list—there are simply too many potential traumas to list each one.
Ultimately, a precise definition of trauma and traumatic experiences comes down to some degree of subjectivity. While, objectively, many events can clearly be seen as traumatic, the truest definition of trauma comes down to how a person experiences it. This is why no two people will come out of trauma in the same way–while one may face unbearable PTSD symptoms, another may be quick to move past the experience.
2. Give yourself physical and psychological space.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), one crucial aspect of PTSD diagnostic criteria is the presence of intrusion symptoms, including intrusive memories, distressing dreams, and other symptoms. But, even if a PTSD diagnosis doesn’t apply to your mental health experience, these intrusions are common after a traumatic experience.
No matter your specific type of trauma, finding space can have a significant impact on your recovery. Even if your mind isn‘t allowing you to ignore what happened, the act of distancing yourself, when possible, can help promote healing. For example, research shows the psychological concept of self-distancing can reduce physiological reactivity, if not emotional reactivity, in veterans with PTSD. From a therapeutic standpoint, the act of self-distancing, or looking at yourself and your situation as a third party might, can support you through PTSD therapy or trauma recovery.
The same concept can apply in a physical sense. If you’re in the same space where the trauma occurred, or you have to encounter that place regularly, you’ll have persistent reminders of what you’ve gone through. Whenever possible, find ways to distance yourself in the most literal sense from these triggers. For instance, you might move out of a house where a traumatic event happened. Or, in other instances, you might book a therapy retreat to distance yourself, at least temporarily, while facing your trauma in new ways. Some mental health professionals may utilize exposure therapy as a part of PTSD treatment, but that doesn’t mean you must face the same experience on your own. There’s a delicate balance between distance and avoidance, another symptom of trauma, so this is one element of your treatment plan that can benefit from professional insight. No matter what shape it takes for you, it’s critical that you have a safe space to work through your trauma.
3. Strengthen your support network.
If you’re dealing with PTSD or other impacts of a traumatic experience, you may tend towards isolation. However, it’s crucial that you avoid this as much as possible. If you have friends, family, or even mental health professionals you trust, you may want to lean on your support network as a way to digest what you’ve gone through and how it’s continuing to affect you. But you don’t need to discuss your traumatic experience to garner the benefits of your social network.
This step can be an especially important part of PTSD or trauma recovery if your trauma involved a situation like domestic abuse, where part of the trauma is often social isolation, where your abuser separates you from friends and family members. With that in mind, while intimacy and emotional connection may be frightening concepts in the moment, that social connection can make progress towards positive life change. You’ll likely find that your loved ones are understanding and happy to reconnect—not to mention happy to have you back in their lives.
You may also find it helpful to connect with fellow survivors of similar traumatic experiences. There are many support groups and group therapy sessions available that specialize in either a specific type of traumatic event or trauma in a more general sense. These settings can offer a safe place for contemplative recovery and connection, letting you spend some time in the morning or evening working through trauma so you can try to reclaim your “normal” everyday life.
4. Consider professional help.
Even with a strong support system, you don’t want to put what may feel like the burden of your trauma on your loved ones, either. Inevitably, that can lead to further relationship issues, testing the bonds you share with friends and family members alike. And, of course, a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other specific type of mental health professional can help guide you through PTSD therapy and trauma recovery. After all, the mind is a labyrinth under the best conditions—after trauma, it can become even more difficult to navigate. So, it’s important to consider professional mental health support if you’re facing severe symptoms of PTSD, such as nightmares or flashbacks, in the aftermath of a traumatic event.
In addition to conventional counseling, talk therapy, and psychotherapy appointments, you might decide to attend a group or individual intensive therapy retreat as an even more impactful part of your recovery. Through a series of onsite trainings and workshops, you’ll learn new skills to help guide your trauma recovery and overall wellness. After attending a retreat type that seems like a good fit, you’ll find a sort of personal transformation that offers individualized health education to enhance PTSD treatment.
Depending on your particular experience and possible mental illness, the insights a mental health provider provides can lead you to the new coping skills you need to deal with symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other conditions. In addition, you may want to consult a health care provider for any physical health concerns, too. While visiting your medical center or doctor’s office, you can discuss treatment options for your physical and mental health conditions alike. For example, imagine that you’re struggling with fatigue and other flu-like symptoms in the aftermath of trauma. You might be dealing with a physical health issue or a mental health condition—or both. You might take to the web and find WebMD or CDC recommendations for your symptoms, but you can save a lot of work by consulting a trained clinician. After all, they spent years learning all the risk factors and side effects of certain medications, as well as any precautions you will need to take while taking them. Will the antidepressants (be they selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) affect your nervous system? You might not know, but your doctor will.
5. Take care of yourself.
Beyond health care, it’s important to practice self-care, too. From alternative health services to personal development efforts, this, like most trauma-focused aftercare, will look different for everyone. For those seeking spiritual or alternative therapies, practices like acupuncture, aromatherapy, reiki, hatha yoga, or even a yoga asana may be a good fit. These are broad categories and, depending on patients’ faiths or spiritual direction, can come in a number of different ways. Others may even see treatment options like these as having a placebo effect. But, if a new option works for you, does it matter how it does so? From eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment using eye movements to deal with traumatic memories, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to crystals and banishing negative thoughts through energy therapy, alternative therapies and your formal treatment plan can work together to help you through trauma in the best way possible.
If you prefer alternative therapies with less risk of the stigma of spirituality (or you simply prefer non-faith-based treatments), that’s okay—there are plenty of options for renewal, relaxation, and recovery that build resilience in other ways. For instance, consider mindfulness. Of course, many people turn to meditation for simple stress management. You might do the same, or spend time in an outdoor space to practice the same sort of mental detox. Whether you go hiking, sign up for nature tours, or choose your own outdoor adventure, there’s no rule saying these sorts of mindfulness don’t count. Again, what matters most is that this works for you.
Perhaps you prefer to turn to spa services for relaxation and renewal, or you might practice mindful movement to release negative thoughts and bolster feelings of self-forgiveness and acceptance. The movement arts can include anything from hiking and fitness to yoga and martial arts, meaning there’s a good option out there for nearly everyone. You can seek out individual instruction from a medical provider or mental health professional to see what may work particularly well for you, whether that’s creative development, trips to the bookstore, or simply getting enough rest and maintaining a healthy diet. Any combination of these self-care efforts can benefit your PTSD treatment or trauma recovery.
Having a hard time after a traumatic event is natural. You may struggle with regaining feelings of intimacy and closeness, battling traumatic memories and feelings of helplessness, sadness, and other specific symptoms. From cognitive processing therapy to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), many types of psychotherapy are used in the treatment of PTSD, other types of traumatic stress disorder, and trauma. However, therapy sessions aren’t the only types of treatment available. You might turn to an individual retreat with onsite workshops to tackle trauma-related memories in a different way. Or, you might try a new type of medication alongside your preferred type of therapy. No two traumas or the people who experience them are the same, so it makes sense that the treatment of these traumas follows suit.
Trauma can affect anyone, from children and adolescents and young adults to those with plenty of life experience, and it can make its appearance at any time. In its aftermath, it’s important to give yourself a sort of sabbatical from everyday life, however that looks for you. As you make your way through the pilgrimage of PTSD therapy and trauma treatment, you’ll face both stumbling blocks and milestones. But, with your support network and a carefully curated treatment plan, you can move past this experience and regain a sense of control over your life once again.