If you’ve experienced trauma, you know its effects can ripple throughout your entire life. This is true no matter what type of trauma you’ve experienced or how recent or long ago it was. While different on the surface, childhood abuse, natural disasters, accidents, war, sexual assault, severe health problems, and verbally abusive relationships all can lead to similar types of trauma experiences.
One of the frustrating things about trauma is that it often leaves survivors feeling stuck and frozen in their daily lives. While this is partly a protective emotional mechanism, it can also make it difficult to move toward healing. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to heal.
Because of the way trauma works, we often suffer its effects without realizing that trauma is the source. Perhaps this is your situation. If you’ve experienced trauma but haven’t identified it as causing your symptoms, it’s time to look at those.
Trauma often manifests itself as physical complaints within our bodies. This includes headaches and muscle tension, easily catching minor illnesses, insomnia, and stomach problems. You might just think you have a weak immune system or don’t handle stress well.
If those sounds familiar, it’s time to connect the dots. As you learn to address the somatic symptoms associated with trauma, you may notice that they lessen and go away as you heal emotionally.
Because our bodies, brains, and emotions are so tightly connected, making sure you meet your body’s basic physical needs is an important step in healing from trauma.
Physical exercise is a great way to do this. As mentioned, trauma is often experienced in a somatic way. When you exercise, this allows your body to burn off the lingering stress of trauma. It also helps your tight muscles relax and boosts your immune system.
Likewise, exercise often improves sleep. When you feel more refreshed, you’re better able to handle the effects of trauma.
You don’t have to run five miles every day to reap these benefits. Neighborhood walks and yoga are also effective.
Trauma often causes anxiety. Anxiety can cause you to berate yourself for being afraid to do things. You get impatient and frustrated by how trauma is holding you back.
But rather than treat yourself this way, try practicing self-compassion. Think of what you would say to a friend who is going through something similar. Would you tell them they’re being unreasonable and just need to snap out of it? Probably not.
In the same way, be kind and patient with yourself. You can even give yourself a big hug when you feel the need for comfort. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself and don’t let negative self-talk deepen trauma’s effects.
In our efforts to avoid the uncomfortable emotional consequences of trauma, we often keep ourselves very busy and distracted. We’d rather rush around all day long than sit still and examine how we’re really feeling. This isn’t our fault, but is rather a way that our minds try to protect us. It thinks that we can avoid pain if we ignore what we’re feeling.
But the opposite is true. If you can learn to sit quietly with yourself and focus on your breath and emotions, you will make inroads toward healing. Just observe and notice; don’t judge or ruminate.
Everyone experiences trauma differently, but some trauma is so powerful that therapy is often the most effective way to tackle it. An experienced therapist will have the skills and resources to help guide you through trauma’s effect on your life. They can implement a variety of proven therapeutic techniques that often make healing easier than if you tackled it on your own.