Effective Tips to Help
You Heal from Trauma
By Dr. Cerrissa Hugie
Doctor of Nursing Practice | MyNDSpace Mental Health Services
It’s the holiday season here in the United States, and most people credit this to being the happiest time of the year; with the focus centered around vacations, family and friend gatherings, and an extra dose of holiday cheer. However, the added pressure of the season can increase levels of anxiety and depression for many of us, especially those who are living with mental illness. This season can also be triggering for those coping with financial hardship, health concerns, the loss of a loved one, job, or home, or those suffering from other untreated occurrences of trauma. Even the theme-centered festivities can often be overwhelming.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it is one of my favorite times of year, as I am incredibly passionate about providing services and education to reduce mental health disparities. It isn’t just a hot topic of conversation or trend. Mental health should always be a priority. Recognizing that it has been overlooked and under addressed for far too long, there is greater understanding of how mental health impacts every aspect of our lives. It impacts our ability to make meaningful contributions to our community.
I want to take things a step further and talk to you about a word that we also hear frequently in the context of mental health discussions. Trauma. What is it and what do we know about it? Trauma is highly subjective and unique to every person’s experience. According to several research-based sources, traumatic events are deeply distressing and involve some type of physical and/or mental injury. The event can be experienced directly or observed. Trauma can have a lasting impact on an individual’s mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
The effects of trauma are so pervasive. In my practice, I see how people are impacted by it and how challenging it is to overcome. In fact, 90% of my patients report traumatic experiences. That number is staggering. Overall, 70% of adults have experienced some type of trauma. Sadly, childhood trauma is the single predictor of mental illness, physical illness, and substance abuse. Many of the mental and emotional challenges we face in our world today are associated with past trauma.
The effects of these events can be catastrophic, but all hope is not lost. With the right support and intervention, people can overcome and recover from traumatic events. That’s right, healing is possible, and I highly encourage you to engage in the process. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Identify your triggers. Emotional triggers typically are associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but everyone responds differently based on their unique life experiences. Triggers are events, circumstances, words, or scenarios that cause us to have an intense emotional reaction. By creating opportunities to ponder and reflect, you will be able to identify your triggers as well as key factors that promote your mental and emotional well-being.
2. Confront your feelings. Avoidance is common but often hinders the healing process. Try to develop a plan to ground yourself in difficult moments. For example, practice taking deep cleansing breaths. The more you are able to confront your feelings, the more resilient you become over time.
3. Surround yourself with the right support. Healthy relationships are an important vehicle for your healing journey. Many of us have experienced trauma as a result of toxic relationships. Naturally cultivating spaces with others helps us process our feelings towards healing. Surround yourself with love and support.
4. Be patient. Healing from past trauma often takes time. If you’ve ever had a major surgery before, then you know that the hardest part of the process is the recovery. You’re hopeful because you know that you will be in a better place after the surgery. However, often after a procedure, the pain is worse than what you experienced prior to the operation. You may even question why you decided to have the surgery in the first place. However, enduring the pain and going through the recommended treatment plan is necessary for your recovery; making you stronger than you were when you started. That is what healing from trauma looks like. It’s a process.
5. Seek professional help when needed. You don’t have to do this alone. There are clinicians who specialize in various forms of therapeutic modalities that are specific to trauma.
There is life after trauma, and you are strong enough to make it through even your most difficult days. Your resilience is one of your superpowers. As much focus as we invest in our physical health, it’s important to remember that our mental health is equally important for holistic wellness.
1. Set Realistic Expectations – You should set reasonable parameters for yourself to avoid burnout and feelings of regret; albeit: traveling, running errands, compiling a to-do list, making and adhering to budgets, or committing to be somewhere or do something outside of your everyday routine. Plan in advance and be open to change. And when the load gets to be too extensive, don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Also, learn to be okay with saying, “No,” to anything that increases stressors in your life. Overcommitting leads to exhaustion, frustration, and robs you of your peace of mind. Although plans may change, be realistic about your initial goals and you will find it to be easier to adjust.
2. Cope with Grief – Sometimes the trauma that presents itself after the loss of a loved one can prevent you from enjoying the holidays. Coping with the devastation is not an easy road. Instead of resisting grief, learn to lean into those emotions, while also tapping into areas that you can heal from. Try journaling, listen to comforting music, join a support group, explore spirituality, create an artistic piece that pays homage to your loved one, or start a new tradition in their honor. Even donating your time and resources to a cause can be rewarding. The possibilities for coping are plentiful. Be sure to choose healthy methods to grow through the stages of grief.
3. Set Boundaries – You have the right to prioritize your mental health every day. During the holiday season, it is even more important to remember that. Sure, we want to be there for others by offering a helping hand, committing to favors, and spreading more joy. But sometimes, we overextend ourselves trying to make others happy. To alleviate feeling like you are being pulled in several directions, without a rest stop in sight, create a roadmap that will serve as a guiding tool for mindfulness skills. This will also set boundaries that you can use to protect your emotional and mental space.
4. Practice Self-Care – Be patient with yourself. Your mind, body, and spirit should take precedence. Set aside time to relax and get adequate amounts of rest. Focus on healthier eating habits, various forms of exercise, reading, meditating, or doing something fun. Moreover, there is beauty in doing absolutely nothing. This season shouldn’t just be about what you need to do, but also about what you want to do, for yourself. Being still and embracing moments of pause, allows you space to reflect and appreciate the unstructured time. Every moment of the day presents an opportunity for self-care.
5. Ask for Help – Keep up with or seek therapy interventions. Due to the added stress of the holidays and the impacts of the pandemic, there has never been a more critical time to consider therapy from a licensed clinician. Having a good support system in your corner is awesome too, but having a therapist provides you with a compassionate lens to help sift through your thoughts and emotions. You and your therapist can work together to start a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Even with all the good tidings and cheerful greetings, the holidays can still be demanding. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling anything other than happiness. Remember to use this time to practice mindful habits that fuel healthy practices to a better lifestyle. Take time to focus on creating the best version of yourself, so that you can utilize this period to enjoy the people, places, and moments that bring you joy. Tis’ the season to prioritize and invest in your mental health.