3 Min Read

How to Process and Heal Trauma

Brad Brenner, Ph.D.

Most people experience some form of trauma during their lives—whether it’s an act of violence, a severe injury, a natural disaster, a car crash, or another stressful event. In the days and weeks following the event, it’s completely normal to experience strong emotional reactions and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Sadness, helplessness, or emotional distress
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or anger
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares
  • Avoiding people, memories, or places associated with the traumatic event

Usually, mental health symptoms improve with time. But for some people, more intense psychological symptoms linger or interfere with their quality of life. Some people may develop acute stress disorder, where extreme symptoms of stress may interfere with their daily life. Others can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with symptoms that interfere with daily life and last more than a month after the traumatic experience.

Fortunately, there are several effective ways to cope after experiencing trauma. Here’s how to find strength and build resilience after experiencing a traumatic event.

Process and Heal Trauma

Reach out for social support.

After a challenging event, it might be tempting to withdraw from others, but isolation can take a serious toll on your mental health. Connecting with other people will help you heal, so make an effort to reach out to loved ones and avoid spending too much time alone.

Remember: you don’t have to talk about the trauma if you don’t feel comfortable. Even if you don’t want to talk about the trauma itself, it’s crucial to have a trusted family member, close friend, or counselor that you can turn to for emotional support.

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to close friends or family members, support groups can provide a valuable source of social support. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers various support group resources, including NAMI Connection and NAMI Family, to help individuals and loved ones experiencing mental health concerns. Some support groups are also specifically geared toward trauma survivors. Although counselors or social workers lead some support groups, it’s important to remember that support groups are not substitutes for therapy.

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Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Trauma can disrupt your body’s natural equilibrium, leaving you vulnerable to anxiety and stress. Even if it feels challenging to function in daily life, it’s essential to set aside some time each day to take care of yourself, prioritize your wellness, and listen to your body. For example, you might side aside 30 minutes each day to go for a walk. Exercise not only burns off adrenaline and releases endorphins, but it can also help repair your nervous system.

Along with exercise, make sure to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices can help you focus on your body, relax your mind, and free yourself of distractions. In turn, mindfulness is a helpful tool for reducing feelings of anxiety and emotional distress. Mindfulness can also help you enjoy a deep sleep and regulate your emotions, which can help reduce the frequency of mood swings.

Remember that professional help is available.

Not everyone requires mental health treatment after experiencing trauma. Sometimes, people will recover on their own. It’s important to remember that mental health care isn’t a sign of weakness, and working with a psychologist can help you learn healthy ways to cope after a traumatic event.

One of the most common types of therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is an effective treatment for many mental health conditions, including traumatic stress, chronic pain, and anxiety disorders. During CBT, you’ll work with an experienced psychotherapist to navigate your specific challenges, change negative thoughts, and develop more positive behaviors. Although navigating trauma is hard work, CBT often leads to significant improvement in mental health.

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can help you develop valuable coping skills, define your mental health challenges, and reduce your trauma symptoms. In addition, online therapy can help you find an experienced trauma therapist and access mental health care from the comfort of your own home.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends trauma-focused CBT to treat acute traumatic stress in adults. In addition, research suggests that people who receive trauma-focused CBT may be less likely to develop PTSD.

How To Find a Compassionate Trauma Specialist

Whether you need some extra emotional support or you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, it’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. The therapeutic process can be uncomfortable at times, and navigating past trauma can bring up difficult emotions and painful memories. To get the most out of therapy and form a strong, trusting therapeutic relationship, be open and honest during your sessions.

To find the right therapist, reach out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to a licensed therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of our therapists will help you navigate your mental health, find different ways to cope, and establish the right treatment plan. 

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