Healing from Emotional Trauma – 7 Tips
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
By Dr. Bev
"Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. And you have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
- Cheryl Strayed
Isaiah 53:10: “…Though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”
Emotional trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Specifically, psychological trauma may result when a person experiences or witnesses an incredibly disturbing or scary event. Mental trauma typically impacts one’s ability to cope and function normally. Understanding more about the signs of trauma, how it affects the brain, and how it’s treated can help you or a loved one recognize the problem and begin taking steps toward recovery.
Emotional Trauma Symptoms:
To review last week’s blog, not everyone responds to trauma in exactly the same way, but here are some common signs:
Cognitive Changes: Intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks of the event, confusion, difficulty with memory and concentration, and mood swings
Altered Behavioral Patterns: Avoiding people and places that remind you of the experience, and withdrawing from family, friends, and activities you once enjoyed
Psychological Concerns: Anxiety and panic attacks, fear, anger, irritability, obsessions and compulsions, shock and disbelief, emotional numbing and detachment, depression, shame and guilt (especially if the person dealing with the trauma survived while others didn’t)
Physical Problems: Difficulty falling or staying asleep, becoming easily started, hypervigilance and edginess, rapid heartbeat, unexplained aches and pains, sexual dysfunction, altered eating patterns, muscle tension, and extreme exhaustion. (Courtesy Lake Behavioral Hospital)
Emotional trauma can occur in a variety of ways:
It can happen as a one-time event: such as an accident, injury or a violent attack, especially if it happened in childhood.
It can be ongoing as in relentless stress: Examples include living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, dealing with a life-threatening illness, or as bullying, childhood abuse or neglect, or domestic violence.
And from commonly overlooked causes such as surgery, sudden death of a loved one, break-up of a relationship, or a deeply disappointing experience.
Isaiah 54:4: “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”
Healing from trauma:
1. Incorporate movement into your daily routine: Because trauma disrupts your natural rhythms, exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system by burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins (the feel-good hormone). Aim for 30 minutes daily on most days if at all possible. Engaging in rhythmic exercise is best, such as swimming, walking, biking or even dancing.
2. Practice meditation and mindfulness: Meditation is good for stopping the chatter of the mind. This allows you to experience wisdom, acceptance and a new appreciation for life. Emotional trauma gets stored inside the body, so the body benefits from entering thoughtless moments and having a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is simply increasing your level of awareness of what is happening in and around you. It is becoming aware of how food tastes, what the wind sounds like, how the smell of new mown grass brings back memories of childhood; it slows you down enough to experience the now, this single precious moment.
3. Don’t withdraw into yourself: This only makes things worse. Connecting with caring and compassionate others takes you on the road to healing; sharing with another halves the burden. Participate in social activities, even when you don’t feel like it, especially if they have nothing to do with your experience of trauma. Consider joining a support group for trauma survivors will reduce your feelings of “differentness” and perhaps of being damaged. Volunteer to challenge your sense of helplessness that often occurs after a trauma. This can remind you of your strengths and abilities. And don’t forget to make new friends – take a class or join a club or reach out to neighbors or work associates.
Karen Salmansohn: “You’re strong. You survived living through the main pain of it all. You will survive the healing time. Things will get better. Even better than better.”
4. Self-regulate your emotions: It’s important to know that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself. It will relieve the anxiety associated with trauma, but also give you back a sense of control. Engage in mindful breathing – this is a quick and obvious way to calm yourself. Breathe in to the count of 6, hold for 6, and exhale for 6. Place your attention at the tip of your nose and notice your breath coming in and going out. Do this for as long as you can maintain awareness. Ground yourself: Sit on a chair; feel your feet on the floor; notice your back against the chair and also supporting you; then pick out six red or blue objects and notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.
5. Practice the 3 most important things about your health: Sleep, good nutrition and exercise.
Sleep – aim for 7 to 9 hours/night. Good nutrition – eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Cut back on useless calorie-snacks. And exercise – ideal is 30 minutes on most days. Do the best you can! All movement counts. Perhaps consider yoga for centeredness and stretching along with a healthy dose of philosophy.
6. When to seek help: If you are experiencing the following…
*Having trouble functioning
*Have fear, anxiety or depression
*Are unable to maintain close relationships
*Experiencing terrifying memories or flashbacks
*Avoiding more and more anything that reminds you of the trauma
*Feeling emotionally numb and disconnected
*Using alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, etc. to feel better
In order to heal from trauma, you’ll need to resolve the unpleasant feelings and memories you’ve long avoided, eliminate the flight or fight response, learn to self-regulate strong emotions, and regain your ability to trust other people. There are 3 primary methods for dealing with trauma: somatic experiencing, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing Therapy. The first focuses on body sensations instead of thoughts or memories to release long-held memories. The second (CBT) helps you recognize your negative thoughts, create positive thoughts in their place to create new emotions and behaviors. EMDR uses elements of CBT along with eye movements to move memories from one side of the brain to the other which can “unfreeze” traumatic memories. Be patient and loving with yourself. It takes time to process the memories and everyone’s response is different. Finding a therapist was discussed in last week’s blog.
If you would like to have companions on your journey to a fuller expression of God in your life that includes healing from emotional trauma, join us on Zoom every Wednesday night at 6:30 for confidential, free sessions with others who are working to improve their lives. Email me at Bsnyder008@gmail.com and I will send you necessary information to connect with us on Zoom. And remember, “If you have faith and do not doubt… it will be done” (Matthew 9:29).
Dr. Bev, Coach and Counselor
*Acknowledgement is given with thanks for many of the ideas contained in this blog to the authors who work toward restoring their clients to wholeness: Agnieszka Marcinska, therapists at The Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center, Karen Salmansohn, and the Help Guide authors Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal.