Trauma can’t be quantified, judged or removed. It’s as unique as a fingerprint and its effect on a person can never be 100% understood by another human being, even if they have experienced a similar event. We can only guess or imagine how it must feel to that person, just as your friends and family can only surmise the true effect of trauma on you.
I’ve talked to survivors of trauma ranging from children to the elderly, and each of them found specific actions, tools or attitudes that helped them to emerge from their cocoon of pain and to move forward in their lives. Some ideas worked better for some than others, but there were some tips that many, including myself, found extremely beneficial.
1. Give Yourself Time
As much as we’d all like to snap our fingers and get back to normal, trauma has its own timetable. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, my thoughts were about getting the chemotherapy over and done in a few months so that I could get back to work. As it turned out, my chemotherapy lasted nearly 5 years. I had no choice but to roll with the treatment program and needed to come to terms with the fact that recovery would take time, a concept that went completely against my A type personality. You may need time to repair physically, or an extended time for emotional healing. Wellness takes time, as does adjusting to your “new normal” life as a survivor. Pace yourself and temper your personal expectations with kindness.
2. Find a Support Person
Who is the person that is there for you no matter what? It may be your partner, parent, sibling, son, daughter or best friend. Find the person who is willing to go through the entire journey with you. This person is invaluable in so many ways: helping you with any appointments you may need to attend, assisting with transport and organising daily tasks that you may currently be unable to fulfil, being the conduit between you and all the other friends and family who care and want updates on your situation. If you don’t have someone like that in your life, contact the relevant support organisation to your situation as they are often able to provide support people and services to help you through your trauma.
3. Choose a Confidante
Being able to share your feelings without judgement or repercussion is one of the most important things to do to survive trauma. This may be your support person, it might be a family member or perhaps a good friend, however you might wish to consider a professional. Most of us are careful about what we say to our loved ones as we don’t want to cause them discomfort or upset as a result of our words, so we often edit our thoughts before we say them.
Finding someone to whom you can express your unfiltered thoughts and emotions is essential and it might be easier to talk to a professional counsellor. I personally found it beneficial to share my issues with a psychologist because it removed the fear of adversely affecting those close to me. I was able to freely reveal my innermost thoughts without reservation and this process was pivotal to my healing.
4. Take Care of Your Mind
Trauma can trigger feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It can make us feel like we are spinning out of control with no way back. Stemming our spiraling emotions can seem impossible but there are ways to break the cycle.
You’ve heard people say, “they lost the will to live.” There is so much truth behind that saying because healing starts with you and your will to survive. In the same way that we need to exercise to keep a healthy body, we also need to “exercise” our mind to keep it healthy too. When we are traumatised, it can seem that these things aren’t working because we are so far of track, but this is when it is most important to start and keep at it, even when it feels like nothing is happening.
Start with simple actions such as writing down your thoughts. Keep it private, for your eyes only. You’ve probably heard of this practice called journaling—it’s a great way to help you process the thoughts ravaging your mind. Listen to positive podcasts, meditations, read books that resonate with you or watch comedies that make you laugh out loud. All of these things can help you build your mental muscles.
5. Develop and Maintain New Habits
Turn the habits that help you to survive into habits you maintain as you revive and thrive. If, in the process of overcoming your trauma, you’ve developed a healthy eating plan, an enjoyable exercise routine, a regular meditation practice or a daily journaling and reading habit, then keep them all going. Our body and mind are connected to form your whole being so looking after both areas will keep you moving forward to live the life you desire.
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