Healing from trauma is a complex journey, requiring patience and resilience. It involves confronting setbacks, managing triggers and flashbacks, and addressing avoidance behaviors. Embracing personal growth, finding meaning, and maintaining self-care are pivotal. Even post-treatment, seeking professional help and group support fosters ongoing recovery and well-being.
Most people will live through a traumatic experience at some point in their lives. But whether that traumatic experience results in symptoms of trauma is dependent on countless internal and external factors at the time. We are more susceptible to trauma at certain stages in our lives. In some cases, susceptibility to trauma can even be hereditary. While most people will see or experience something traumatic at some point, only about 6 in 100 people in the US will develop a form of PTSD in their lifetime (National Center for PTSD).
When trauma occurs, it affects the mind and body. Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by symptoms of intrusive thoughts, recurring flashbacks or nightmares, or symptoms of overwhelming avoidance and even dissociation because of a traumatic event. Other stress disorders because of trauma will often share symptoms with anxiety disorders, showing that we can develop irrational fears and overwhelming, permeating feelings of worry because of something horrible.
Predicting when or how a traumatic event might affect you is impossible. But we can identify trauma when it happens – and develop a plan to treat it. To do so, we need to know more about how trauma works.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is the mental and physical result of an experience that caused such an extreme stress response that the brain is “stuck” on that moment, leading to changes in cognition, memory, behavior, reaction, and/or mood.
The exact mechanisms for trauma are complex, but analogies can help. If you think of the mind as a disc, then a traumatic experience can result in an aberration that, every time the same portion of the disc is involved, leads to an abnormality – be it an intrusive thought, a gap in time, or a flashback.
Researchers distinguish between acute, chronic, and complex forms of trauma. Acute trauma is a prolonged or abnormal stress response immediately after a harrowing event. Chronic trauma is the result of repeated or prolonged stresses. Complex trauma is the result of cumulative stress from multiple unrelated events.
We’ve mentioned that trauma affects your brain. More specifically, it affects portions of the brain involved in memory, reasoning, cognition, and fight-or-flight. This can result in memory loss, poorer problem-solving, loss of focus, brain fog, heightened reactivity, and hypervigilance.
Taking the Right Steps
Healing from trauma takes more than time. Trauma changes over time, but if left unaddressed, the scars never fully heal. That is why it is important to seek treatment.
Seek professional help.
Treatments for trauma have become increasingly varied and more effective over time. Consider talking to a therapist or counselor about your options for treatment after trauma.
Effective treatments for trauma include exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Exposure therapy guides a person through a step-by-step process to overcome avoidance symptoms and reduce reactivity to certain triggers.
EMDR utilizes a similar framework but includes guided eye movements, which help calm the brain and make processing difficult emotions easier. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people identify and isolate irrational thinking, promote positive affirmations, and affect behavior through thought and thought through behavior.
Employ coping strategies that work for you.
Self-care strategies and ways to foster mental resilience are important for dealing with trauma in the long term.
This includes exploring mindfulness and meditation, different active coping mechanisms, leveraging exercise and nutrition to build up mental and physical strength, and recognizing the importance of healthy routines (especially regarding sleep and recuperation) for the mind and body.
Active coping mechanisms should refer to soothing or grounding exercises or activities that help relieve stress without severe consequences. For example, a glass of wine might help calm the nerves temporarily but can actively worsen feelings of anxiety or panic. Instead, finding physical or emotional outlets for frustration or energy (such as art and sports) and activities that help affirm positive thinking and negate self-loathing thoughts (such as volunteer work) can act as great coping mechanisms.
Build and foster your personal support network.
Strengthen your existing relationships. Hold onto and cherish your friendships. Invest time in prosocial activities. Expand your friend circles based on new or continuing old hobbies. Join other support groups and make new friends online or through therapy. Accept that your experiences can also help other people make progress in their healing journey and help them through group settings.
A Long Way Forward
Left untreated, trauma doesn’t heal. It continues to scar and leaves its permanent mark on your mind. More than just a mental block, a traumatic event can reshape the way we react to the world around us, rewire crucial pathways in the brain, and recontextualize our memories in the worst of ways. It can even decimate our self-image and destroy relationships.
But trauma can be defeated. The scars can heal. The mind can recover. The process is long and often arduous, and it will take a lot of trust and support. But at the end of the road, you can fully re-embrace and reclaim every aspect of your life and live it to the fullest.
At The Ho Tai Way, our treatment programs prioritize peer support and a nurturing atmosphere. We specialize in helping women with a history of addiction and mental health problems find the inner strength to overcome and move past substance use and embrace their full potential.
Our comprehensive programs include residential treatment, long-term therapy, life skills development, and a holistic aftercare plan.
Allow us to guide you toward a path of recovery and healing. Contact The Ho Tai Way to learn more about our residential programs and ongoing support. Embark on your journey to recovery today.