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Working Through A Trauma

Maybe you have experienced a traumatic experience yourself, or you are close to someone who has. Most people think of the physical pain of the trauma and downplay the impact on the individual’s mental and physical suffering. The trauma can have lasting effects and cause a lot of grief for the person and caregivers. Everyone has had different experiences and processes traumatic experiences differently. Despite our differences, when experiencing trauma, many scholars in the field of psychology and counseling, such as Dr. Glen Johnson, note similar findings which can be distinguished into stages of coping. Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. 

While most people work through the different stages at their own pace, there are some things you can do to help yourself work through trauma.



It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re experiencing traumatic stress, but exercising can burn off adrenaline and release feel-good endorphins to boost your mood. Physical activity performed mindfully can also rouse your nervous system from that “stuck” feeling and help you move on from the traumatic event.

Exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs—such as walking, running, swimming, basketball, or dancing—are healthy choices. To add a mindful element, focus on your body and how it feels as you move. Notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin. Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts can make it easier to focus on your body movements—simply because if you don’t, you could get injured. If you’re struggling to find the energy or motivation to exercise, try going to a class or workout with friends. Once you get moving, you’ll start to feel more energetic. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more each day—or if it’s easier, performing 10-minute spurts of exercise are just as good.

Eat Healthily.

The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with traumatic stress. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of traumatic stress. Conversely, eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with the ups and downs that follow a tragic event.

By experimenting with new ways of eating that boosts mental health, you can find a diet plan that not only helps to relieve traumatic stress but also boosts your energy and improves your outlook.

Lean On Your Social Support.

You may be tempted to withdraw from friends and social activities following a traumatic event, but connecting face to face with other people is vital to recovery. The simple act of talking face to face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve traumatic stress. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another person can help calm your nervous system.

Look for support groups that you would feel comfortable participating in. Support groups offer the opportunity to meet with others in a similar situation to discuss experiences, share ideas, and provide emotional support for one another. Usually, support groups are lead by a member who has had some training in facilitating panel discussions. Your local Mental Health America affiliate is an excellent resource to assist you in finding support groups in your area.

Seek Professional Help.

Different types of professional therapy may work for you. A qualified therapist can talk with you about different treatment options and what will work best for you and your situation. Check if your insurance has providers or if your job has an employee assistance program. They can help find you a provider who may be covered by your insurance. If not ask your primary care physician if they can refer you to someone they recommend. They can provide you the tools and outlet to work through your situation.

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