Sometimes people experience an event that is so impactful that it changes their entire life. These events can be joyful, like a big promotion. But sometimes they are devastating, such as a natural disaster. When someone experiences a negative life events, it can be traumatic.
Trauma can change the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Trauma is also unique. People experience and heal from trauma in different ways. Learning how to heal your mind, body, and soul after a highly stressful experience requires time, energy, and vulnerability. But it's not impossible. There are steps you can take toward healing and peace.
How a Traumatic Event Can Impact Health
A traumatic event is a scary and often dangerous occurrence that can have a negative effect on a person's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Traumatic events can include a wide range of scenarios, such as the unexpected death of a loved one, abuse, or even a traffic accident.
What is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic to another. Not everyone responds to traumatic events in the same way or at the same time. Also, the physical, mental, or emotional impact does not necessarily reflect the severity of the event.
Side Effects of Trauma
The effects of trauma can be subtle or they may present more strongly. Although everyone responds differently, research has found some overarching effects of trauma. Some negative health effects include:
- Decreased hope for the future
- Higher rates of dissociation and impulsivity
- Higher rates of numbing or detachment feelings or behaviors
- Increased brain activity for threats and rewards
- Increased rates of anxiety and depression
- Increased rates of emotional dysregulation
Impact of Healing
When a person experiences a traumatic event, it can affect their entire being. For example, their mind may be affected by constant thoughts of worry. Their body may feel tight or vulnerable from the high levels of stress. Also, their soul might be impacted because they can feel hopeless. Although people respond differently to traumatic and stressful events, it's still important for everyone who experiences them to heal. It can help them resolve worries, feel more at ease, and feel more like themselves.
Trauma is a full-body experience from your head to your toes and all of the physical and mental processes in between. It can change the way you view yourself, your life, and your future. All of these reasons are why it's important to heal after traumatic experiences.
How to Heal Your Mind, Body, and Soul
There is no linear path in the healing process, it's filled with constant ups and downs. Also, there's no set timeline. It's different for every person. Listen to your body and how you are feeling and take each day as it comes. Remember to be gentle and kind to yourself. You've been through a lot and you're doing the best you can.
Coping options will also vary from person to person. Try different options to find what works best for you.
When you experience something highly stressful or traumatic it can have a big impact on your mental health and overall well-being. It can also make people feel isolated, and like no one else can relate to what they are going through. This can cause people to bottle up their emotions and try to push through.
However, you might find it more helpful to work through the issues and process them, instead of ignoring them. It may seem intimidating, and that's okay. You're not alone. Luckily, there are several different types of therapy to explore.
Some therapy options are:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a type of therapy practice that combines thoughts of the traumatic memory with side-to-side eye movements. For example, a person would retell the story of the traumatic event, while they follow a guide with their eyes that shifts from right to left. It has been found to be particularly successful in reducing negative mental health symptoms due to a traumatic event.
- Narrative Therapy: The goal of narrative therapy is to help people reinterpret and rewrite traumatic and stressful events that have impacted their mental health. For example, a person would describe the details of the traumatic event and then work alongside their healthcare professional to understand how the event has shaped their thought patterns in the present. It is meant to give people more agency over their stories and over their lives.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are linked. The treatment helps people better understand and respond to their behaviors and thought patterns that may be negatively impacting their mental health. It combines elements of thought monitoring, event planning, and mindfulness.
Find a Support Group
If therapy doesn't seem like a good fit for you, that doesn't mean that you can't find support. There a several support groups, both in-person and online that can be a safe space for you to share your story and connect with others. It can help validate your feelings and solidify the idea that you are not alone. In addition, research has found that it can actually improve a person's overall well-being. Some online support groups include:
Lean On Loved Ones
Sometimes the best support can be found close to home. Maybe you feel more comfortable with the idea of talking to people that you're already close with, and that's okay. Peer support can have a positive impact on mental health, no matter where it comes from. Whether you discuss how you feel with a support group, or with your best friend, it's a step toward healing.
Get Enough Rest
Research has found that stress and traumatic events can negatively impact sleep quality and quantity. This means that it's really important to prioritize sleep. Try to get at least 7-8 hours a night and take naps when you need them. There are also some things you can do to help improve your sleep, such as:
- Avoid using screens before bed.
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit caffeine intake, especially later in the day.
- Make sure your room is quiet and comfortable.
- Try your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Take Care of Yourself
After you have experienced a traumatic event, sometimes even the simplest tasks become demanding. It can be difficult to get out of bed, let alone make your way to the grocery store. However, it's important to take care of yourself and look after your health. Research shows that people that have experienced a traumatic event have poorer health behaviors. This is just one way how mental health can impact physical health. Remember to listen to your body.
Some ways to look after yourself are:
- Practice self-care with massage, aromatherapy, or other soothing habits
- Schedule a check-up with your healthcare provider
- Try to eat regularly
Follow a Routine
Studies have found that routines can increase resilience during times of crisis and reduce the negative effects of stress. It can (and most likely will) seem difficult to get back into whatever routine you followed before the stressful event. Go easy on yourself. It's okay if you don't have the energy to follow your old routine exactly. You can change it to whatever you can manage now. A routine will help you set expectations for the day, and can create a sense of normalcy during a stressful time.
Numerous studies have shown that meditation has positive effects on both the mind and body. It can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure and stress levels, and even reduce symptoms of pain in the body. If you've never meditated before, don't worry. It involves being present in the moment and allows you to bring your attention to just one focal point.
Usually, people focus on their breath or sensations in the body. It may feel strange or difficult to sit with your body's feelings and sensations, but it can help build up resilience to these elements. If your thoughts wander, it's okay. Just bring them back to your point of focus. Over time, your practice will grow stronger. Some types of meditation to try are:
Reflect on Your Day and Healing Process
You may find it helpful to reflect on the aspects of your day and your overall healing process. One way to do this is to keep a journal and fill it with your thoughts. You can write long entries if you want, or put down a few bullet points of your highs and lows. Studies have found that writing about traumatic events can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.
Be a Friend to Yourself
When people feel low or frustrated, they can become more irritable - even towards themselves. Have you ever had a bad thought about yourself? Maybe something like "If I wasn't so weak I'd be over this already"? Or "I can't do anything right"? You're not alone.
It can be easy to talk down to yourself when you aren't feeling your best. But how would you talk to a friend in your situation? Chances are that you would respond differently, probably with more kindness and understanding. You should bring that energy and mindset into the way you talk to yourself. Root for yourself, and talk to yourself the way you would a friend. You deserve empathy, and it starts with you.
Events that are highly stressful or traumatic can be devastating for many reasons. If you've experienced a traumatic event and find it difficult to heal, you're not alone.
Trust that whatever steps you take towards healing are the right ones for you. Listen to your body and give yourself breaks when you need them. You've been through a lot, and you should be proud that you've made it to this point. Regardless of whether your healing journey has just begun, of if you've been on it for a while, you're on the right path.