7 Self-Care Strategies To Help Manage Trauma, According To Experts
The effects of trauma can be complex and far-reaching, and no two responses to trauma are exactly alike. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is generally defined as an overwhelming, life-altering experience that can cause ongoing pain and distress, and sometimes results in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). Because trauma response can be unique to each individual, self-care strategies for managing trauma symptoms are an integral part of any recovery program.
"Self-care is vital to trauma survivors because, by the nature of trauma, a person's neurological system is [...] on alert in fight or flight mode," Andrea Schneider, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in San Dimas, California, tells Bustle via email. "Engaging in activities that lower that physiological adrenal surge from trauma can literally be life-saving," Schneider says. When survivors are able to "reprocess and release the trauma(s)," Schneider says, recovery and healing become possible. In addition to helping with physical recovery from trauma, self-care also helps survivors encompass "the spiritual, physical, social, and emotional facets of healing. It's one of the pillars [of recovery]," Schneider further notes.
Developing good self-care habits can be a deeply empowering experience for trauma survivors. In the aftermath of a traumatic experience, good self-care strategies can make a major difference in how well we recover. Here are some strategies to consider, according to experts.
Shahida Arabi, author of Fifty Shades of Narcissism and The Smart Girl's Guide to Self-Care, tells Bustle via email that traumatic events can produce brain changes that interfere with "learning, memory, impulse control, and emotional regulation." A meditation practice can help heal the areas of the brain most affected by traumatic experiences, Arabi says, and can become a powerful tool for recovery — especially when combined with other trauma-focused treatment techniques.
2. Trauma-Sensitive Yoga
Arabi says that yoga has also been shown to help "reestablish mastery after events that can leave us feeling helpless and paralyzed." According to a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), yoga has been shown to lessen PTSD symptoms, and is a powerful complement to conventional trauma treatments such as cognitive behavior therapies and psychotherapy. Mindfulness practices, like meditation and trauma-informed yoga classes, help us learn to establish a sustained focus on the present moment, while also helping us to release judgement of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
3. Find Trauma-Informed Therapy
Arabi says that the combination of meditation, yoga, and therapy, forms a powerful "holy trinity" of healing for many trauma survivors, as they work together to mend those areas of the brain most impacted by traumatic experiences. "Since trauma can create a disconnect among memories, thoughts, sensations, and emotions, therapy is where we begin to connect the dots, and create a more coherent narrative about our experiences."
By using mindfulness and therapy to understand our traumatic memories, we can emerge from our trauma symptoms into a period of profound healing and "post-traumatic growth," Arabi further notes. Meaning that the healing process can not only help us recover, but also thrive post-trauma.
Schneider recommends adopting a good sleep hygiene habits in order to optimize your healing process. Establishing healthy sleep cycles helps alleviate PTSD symptoms like anxiety and depression, Schneider says. If you're coping with trauma-related sleep problems, check in with your doctor or therapist to see what sorts of interventions, like melatonin supplements or relaxation exercises, might help.
Exercise is a key component to trauma and PTSD recovery, Schneider says, and Verywell Mind notes that trauma-informed exercise program can help lessen PTSD symptoms over time by improving sleep and overall health, and decreasing depression and anxiety. The key to figuring out the best exercise for your recovery is to personalize the approach. While some forms of exercise will feel empowering, others might be triggering, depending on your personal experiences. Your doctor and your therapist can help you design the approach best for you, as can trauma-sensitive movement coaches and trainers.
6. Find Safe Community & Social Supports
Arabi stresses that limiting exposure to invalidating or otherwise unsupportive people is important during trauma recovery. Healing is a vulnerable process, "so don't be afraid to set boundaries," Arabi says. Feel free to limit or eliminate contact with people who don't respect your feelings, or acknowledge the demands of your healing process. Likewise, a trauma recovery support group, and supportive friends and loved ones, are invaluable resources. Psychology Today also notes that supportive, healing relationships, such as those that validate and respect your life experiences and recovery path, are a key tenet of trauma recovery — especially for those healing from childhood trauma.
7. Keep A Journal
Verywell Mind notes that journaling can be helpful for those dealing with PTSD. And research shows that journaling can help reduce PTSD symptoms while providing a safe outlet for anxiety, anger, and other challenging emotions. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also recommends written narrative exposure therapies (under the care of a therapist) to help process traumatic experiences.
Self-care helps protect our physical and mental health when we're under stress, and taking care of ourselves as best we can is non-negotiable in the aftermath of trauma. And remember that there's nothing selfish about self-care, especially when you’re feeling the strain of managing trauma and traumatic stress. To place a bit of loving focus on yourself, and avail yourself of support and resources that can aid in recovery and build resilience, means that you have more to contribute to those you care about in the long run.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.