Trauma can come in many forms, be caused by so many different types of events, and can lead to conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. Your spirit can feel crushed; you may be angry, hurt, shocked, and scared. You may have days where you feel better and something triggers you and suddenly it’s almost as if you’re back where you started; but in the long run, for the most part, our minds and souls do heal, and we recover.
But while you’re on that journey, it’s often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Give yourself some time after the traumatic event to ruminate, to despair, to experience the range of emotions that comes with traumatization; but don’t let it eat up your life. It’s too precious a gift.
If you have experienced or are experiencing trauma, it’s important to talk to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist; there may be quite a few different techniques that specialists recommend to help you in your recovery process.
I experienced a deeply traumatic event some time ago; at the time, it felt like the shock, pain and fear would never go away. For awhile, I felt like the Walking Dead, unable to fully appreciate the many wonderful things in my life or be present in the moment. I do still have anxiety disorder, but I can honestly say that yes, I am happy. As time went by, I gradually found myself cheerful, excited about the future, looking forward to living my life to the fullest, and counting my blessings.
These are some of my favourite techniques recommended to me by various specialists, books, and friends. I hope that if you have experienced trauma, that they might be useful to you too; some might sound cheesy (and did to me at first, too!) but I really found that they sped up my recovery and made a huge difference to my life.
If you have any techniques that you’ve found useful yourself, please do feel free to comment at the end of the article!
Think back to the time in your life when you felt the safest, happiest, or most relaxed; a place that feels like heaven on earth for you. Where was it? Close your eyes, and imagine yourself there. What can you hear, see, smell, taste or feel? For example, my safe space is rocking my little girl to sleep on the rocking chair, as I can feel her warmth, see her faint smile as her eyes begin to close, and smell baby shampoo. It’s a moment of perfect relaxation for me.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to bring yourself back to that safe space. It’s incredibly calming, and will help you de-stress and face new challenges.
We are only ever alive in the present moment, but for many of us, we spend much of our lives not noticing that moment at all. Instead, we’re listening to internal chatter: worries, annoyances, ruminations, the length of your to-do list; or in the case of trauma victims, intrusive thoughts about the traumatic experience and the associated emotions like fear that come with the painful memories.
Our fight-or-flight physiology means that we’re prepared to either fight with a predator or flee from it; if the predator is a lion, that’s very helpful. But if the predator is your past, your body is reacting the same way: you’re living emotionally in a war zone.
Bring yourself into the present. Notice your surroundings in detail. Listen to the noises around you. Remind yourself that you live neither in your past or future, but in this very moment; life consists of nothing but moments, and the more time we spend lost in worry and fear, the less time we spend truly alive.
Connect with nature
The Japanese have an expression, shinrin’yoku, which literally translates to forest bathing, and they’ve done quite a few scientific studies about how great spending time just being in the forest is for your emotional state. It’s a very popular way to calm your stresses in Japan (along with taking a relaxing bath every night to wind down from the day). Nature really is one of the greatest medicines out there. Even just going to your local park, lying down and noticing the texture and fragrance of the grass, the chirping of the birds, etc. is wonderfully relaxing, and a great way to soothe a troubled heart.
So much of happiness is about outlook. To get cheesy for a moment, “accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives” really is good advice! Psychology Today has a great science-based article about the benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. A common way to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal: every day, write down 3 things that you’re grateful for (whether in your life in general, or things that happened that day). Before long, you’ll start finding yourself in a mindset where you notice and appreciate the happy things in your life more.
80th Birthday Exercise
I found this exercise truly life-changing and a wonderful anchor that helped guide me home to my own recovery. If you only try one thing from this article, make it this one; I’m sure it will be very meaningful for you as well.
Imagine you’re at your 80th birthday; nearing the last chapter of your long life. A party is being held in your honour, and the people who are important to you, and whom you are important to, are gathered around you. What sort of things are they saying about you? How are you looking back on your life; how have you spent these years?
If you have are still recovering from trauma, it may feel like your day-to-day life is full of fear, or pain, or self-doubt. But would you want to spend your life like that, and look back at all the opportunities that you had missed as the days slipped by? Keep that 80-year old version of you in mind, and be kind to him/her, and work towards making that far-away birthday one to remember by believing in yourself, your values, your principles and your path.
I’d like to end this post with a favourite quote of mine, by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian-Jewish psychiatrist and survivor of the Holocaust, as well as being renown for his very insightful book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Having seen some the worst horrors in human history, his words truly carry weight: you hold the key to overcoming, surviving and thriving after trauma. Recovery is a feat of strength for which you should be very proud of yourself. So be brave, and look forward to a brighter future.