You CAN get through it. This will help.
“After all, when a stone is dropped into a pond, the water continues quivering even after the stone has sunk to the bottom.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Sometimes the hardest part of being victimized isn’t what happened, but how you absorb and cope with the aftermath of what happened. The trauma of it. The memories, the what-if’s, and the profound loss of feeling safe.
Far more than recovering from the incident itself, healing from trauma must involve absorbing and accepting our experience of it.
The ripples can quiver our soul long after the event is over.
For most people, this process is complicated, intensely painful, and riddled with unexpected setbacks.
Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can become a dreaded part of this ordeal delivering flashbacks, mood swings, guilt, and edginess.
Just as life-threatening trauma is a full-body experience, so too does PTSD impact every aspect of life: body, mind, and soul.
Intrusive and often unpredictable, PTSD symptoms don’t ask permission to rear their ugly heads — they simply take over sometimes.
It is your mind trying to make sense of the horror of what happened, and it is a signal of healing. Still handling PTSD is no picnic, and can seem harder than withstanding the trauma itself.
Here are 9 ways to cope, when PTSD symptoms feel like too much to handle.
1. Stay safe.
First thing is first, make sure you are safe. Whether in the immediate aftermath of the incident or later down the road, it is paramount to be and feel safe.
Trauma involves a threat to safety, and healing can only happen when you are safe.
Whether it’s getting out of town, installing more locks on your doors, investing in upgraded surveillance, taking a self-defense class, or implementing a stronger security plan for going out of the town (only with a trusted wingman, never alone with a stranger, etc), allow yourself to take action towards safety and self-protection. This is your anxiety working to protect you.
You have to be safe to heal.
2. Express Yourself.
Whether verbally or through writing, putting stress into words is one of the most powerful things you can do to offset symptoms developing if you feel like it.
Talking allows your mind to process and absorb what happened: your mind’s number one job. So talk anytime you have an understanding and supportive ear and don’t be shy about talking about anything that comes to mind. This is your mind making sense of what happened, and it is critically important to the healing process.
There is no way around this process — to heal, you have to move through it. Thinking and talking is how to get through it.
3. Tell your story.
The only caveat to unbridled debriefing is to make sure to focus on your survival.
As horrific as the trauma was, focusing too much on feelings of hopelessness can lead to more hopelessness and complicate recovery. You survived and you are healing.
Not only should this be celebrated, but studies show that forming a self-narrative of survival that includes thoughts as well as feelings promotes the most positive results in people when people journal about their experience.
This is not to underestimate your pain and suffering, but to frame it in a context of healing and growth. You did survive and you will heal…just like broken bones heal even stronger than before, you will too.
Sleep is a critical part of functioning and is well known to play an important role in memory and emotional processing. Conventional wisdom holds the more sleep the better when adjusting to new information and situations.
But who can sleep when they are knee-deep in PTSD symptoms and the racing thoughts that seem to permeate the predawn hours? And not surprisingly, sleep loss in turn makes everything worse, including your anxiety symptoms.
A recent Berkeley study found that sleep deprivation actually amplifies anxiety.
The most important take away here? Do whatever you need to do to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Try guided meditation podcasts, a hot bath, or over the counter sleep aids. If none of these work, talk to your doctor about a prescription sleep aid. You need to sleep, and the sooner you can get it, the sooner you’ll feel better.
5. Manage your symptoms, especially against the backdrop of everyday life.
Daily obligations and responsibilities will continue to demand attention well before you'll feel ready to fully engage. Know this will be the case for a while, and cut back on your responsibilities wherever you can. Ask for help, and say ‘no’ to things that aren’t meaningful to you.
Engaging in life is an important element in moving forward from trauma, and in a meaningful way, this is about not letting the victimizer take any MORE from you. But you are also busy coping with what happened and healing.
Your body is busy absorbing the trauma. Be gentle with yourself, and give your body some space to do this work. It’s important in reclaiming you.
6. Exercise, if you can.
As well as a stress reliever and cardiovascular health promoter, aerobic exercise (getting your heart rate up and sweating) is also a brain booster. A protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), often referred to as a brain fertilizer, is released through exercise which facilitates neural growth and optimal cognitive functioning.
Your mind is doing the lion’s share of healing — why not give it a boost?
7. Limit your alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
If you are sensitive to its stimulating effects, maybe opt for soothing, nutritious sustenance. Alcohol and sugar can deliver instant pleasure, but will also spike blood sugar, promote moodiness, and drive up anxiety even into the next day.
Opt for high protein, nutrient dense foods like greek yogurt, nuts and seeds, and whole colorful foods along with plenty of fluids including warm tea, broths, and soup. Aim to be gentle without being overly indulgent and you can avoid full-body nutritional pitfalls.
8. Make room for vulnerability.
In working through trauma, it can be easy to shut out parts of life that are meaningful at a time when we need meaning most. Trauma can erode our trust in everything — people, places, situations — and how we think about the world sometimes dramatically changes. This isn’t intentional, it is simply self-protection.
However, shutting ourselves off from vulnerability can be dangerous, especially at a time when we need connection and support, and isn’t sustainable. A key part of healing is allowing yourself to be vulnerable — to sleep, to love, and to life’s wonder.
Vulnerability is a ‘have to’ in life if we are to feel the connection we so crave; the trick is to do it thoughtfully with intention.
9. Reclaim YOU.
Your sense of innocence may be gone, but your sense of self doesn’t have to be.
If you are struggling to regain your footing, it may be time to get professional help. Look for therapist who specializes in trauma, anxiety, or PTSD, and make yourself an appointment. Asking for help is sometimes the most important thing we can do in a healing journey, and the bravest.
What happened can’t be changed, but how you live with it — and grow from it — certainly can be. It is your life, your journey.
You are growing through this, and you will heal.
Facing trauma is hard enough, but facing its impact can often be even harder.
Know that this is a journey, and there will be steps forward and backward, points along the journey of healing. Growth is never linear, and your path likely won’t be either.
When your symptoms feel too hard to handle, find ways to be gentle with yourself and breathe through it.
You are moving forward and growing, and will be stronger for it very soon.