If you have lived through a trauma then that means, by definition, you are a survivor. And being a survivor means, by definition, you are strong enough to have lived through something that could have killed you.
But just because the event is over doesn’t mean you’ve moved past it. In fact, as bad as the thing itself may have been, what’s probably even worse are the memories, fears, and anxieties that remain.
That can have you turning to self-destructive habits just to cope with the lingering emotional scars. You might be grasping at addictive substances or unhealthy diversions just to quiet your mind and numb your pain.
You might not even be aware you’re doing it. You can’t hope to heal, though, unless and until you put those demons of the past to rest. And you can’t do that until you learn to love yourself enough to stop hurting yourself and start practicing self-care.
1. Understanding When You’ve Been Traumatized
One of the first steps in overcoming your unhealthy trauma-coping habits is learning to recognize when you’ve been traumatized in the first place. Sometimes it’s easy to recognize trauma.
A serious accident or injury. A physical or sexual assault. There’s no question those are traumas. But other life events, whether they occur as single incidents or repeated incidents over time, can be just as traumatic.
Seemingly “ordinary” events, ranging from sickness and divorce to workplace accidents or financial stress, can be traumatic if they are serious or prolonged enough. The important thing is to recognize the physical, psychological, and emotional signs that you are suffering from the effects of trauma.
The tell-tale signs of trauma-induced depression can include insomnia, weight loss or gain, lack of energy, irritability, difficulty concentrating, tearfulness, and emotional volatility, just to name a few. If you find yourself exhibiting these signs, then it’s a good idea to take stock of your daily behaviors to identify those patterns and habits that might not be serving you well.
2. Talk It Out
No doubt about it, the coronavirus pandemic has us all a little traumatized as we face life under quarantine. As we are forced to distance ourselves from those who give us joy and comfort, we find ourselves with more time to be alone with our thoughts.
When you are suffering from the after-effects of trauma, though, social isolation is especially dangerous. That’s when you’re most at risk of filling the silence with precisely the things that can most hurt you: drugs, booze, tobacco, gambling, binge eating.
Social distancing, though, doesn’t mean emotional distancing. You don’t have to be lonely just because you’re alone. In fact, there’s probably never been a better time to reach out to those you love for help and support.
Communicating, even at a distance, with the ones you love and trust is probably exactly what you need to drown out the voices of the trauma that threatens to overwhelm you.
You might even consider joining an online support group. This way, you will always have a way to connect with others who understand exactly what you are going through. Your support group can help light the way through your dark moments.
3. Take a Hike
As tourist spots around the world begin to reopen, you should seriously consider the perks of getting away from it all. When you’re looking for a mental health reboot, even a mini stay-cation can be just the ticket!
Whether you’re traveling solo or with your immediate family, a vacation can help you get your mind off your troubles. It can provide a sense of a fresh start, a new perspective on a new day.
When you’re trying to close the door on your past and open the door to your future, there’s no better way to begin than by embracing new people, places, and habits, even as you turn your back on those unhealthy coping habits you’ve been relying on so far. As you discover a new place, you may just discover a new you!
4. Enlist the Experts
Sometimes, trauma is simply not something you can handle on your own. And that’s okay. We all need a little help sometimes.
So if you find yourself unable to shake the fears, sadness, or anger of yesterday, or constantly reverting back to those self-destructive patterns as a way to cope, reach out to a qualified therapist. Even in the age of social distancing, you can still connect on your computer or smartphone with psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists specifically trained in trauma recovery.
Life is hard, and no one knows that better than a trauma survivor. But having survived a trauma doesn’t mean you have to live the rest of your life struggling to cope with it through whatever means available. You can replace your unhealthy trauma-coping habits with self-nurturing ones. Reach out to your loved ones or cultivate a new support network online. Take the time to get away from it all.
And, above all, when you need the help of experts, take it. You deserve a happy and healthy life, not despite your trauma but because you have used it to become a stronger, healthier, and happy version of you.
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