5 Healthy Coping Strategies For Trauma | Highland Springs
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Posted on: October 16, 2019 | Steve Havertz, Clinical Director

A photo of a women coping with issues after a tragic event.

Trauma has a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it. We rarely see it coming and never know what the after effect will be. There are a number of life events that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder such as death, war, and abuse of any kind. Life can take unexpected twists and turns, and it is impossible to expect that we will be the same person we were before the traumatic event. Questions may go through our minds like:

  • How do I feel safe after trauma?
  • Will I ever feel better?
  • Why did this happen?
  • Are there ways to effectively cope?

When something like this happens, it can be difficult to understand and process what’s happened. Coping after a traumatic event can be difficult and confusing. In addition, finding healthy coping strategies can be even more challenging. At Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we are here to help you through the coping process, as well as assist you in finding coping strategies for trauma.

How Do You Learn to Cope After a Traumatic Event?

It is impossible to come up with concrete steps, that everyone who experiences trauma can adhere to, but there are some time-tested skills and thought-provoking statements we can consider, such as:

  • Accept that you are going to be different as a result of this traumatic event.
  • Identify things that are good about the change resulting from the trauma.
  • Identify the undesirable things regarding the change from the traumatic event. From this list, consider how you can work with these changes, work around them, or even reframe them as a growth opportunity.
  • Realize that any emotion you experience is normal.  If things start to feel out of the norm, seek professional help.
  • Move forward realizing that it is normal to have waves of emotion continue to pound at and around you. These waves of emotion will generally lessen in intensity and frequency as time goes on. However, from time to time, some intense waves may come at you seemingly out of nowhere. This is normal.

While this isn’t an all-encompassing list, it is a great place to start when trying to decipher and understand how a traumatic event is affecting you. Once you’ve acknowledged these statements and began to think about them, it’s time to start working on healthy coping strategies.

A couple coping with a tragic event.
Two individuals coping with a tragic event.

Healthy Coping Strategies for Trauma

There are many, many coping strategies you can utilize and it’s important to look into this in order to find which are best for you. This list is designed to be a starting point, not the only strategies to consider. Here are the top five coping strategies we have seen success in:

  1. Develop a toolbox of deep breathing, relaxation skills, and meditation skills. A favorite of ours is circular breathing. This is where you take a slow breath in and as you are doing this count to five in your mind. At the top of your breath, hold it for 5 seconds as you count to five in your mind. Then slowly let your breath out, again counting to five as you do this. Lastly, at the bottom of your breath, before you breathe in again, hold it for the same 5 seconds. This is where you start all over again. Try this for a couple of cycles.
  2. Re-engage in a hobby or activity you have not done in a while.
  3. Find a new activity, sport, or hobby that you can participate in.
  4. Make a list of people you trust that you can call when you are not doing well.  Help them understand you just need them to be a listening post or sounding board for you.
  5. Search on the web for people who have experienced similar trauma and have seemingly come out on the other side. Listen to their stories, see what they did that helped, and if you could implement one of their skills.

As you begin finding the right coping mechanisms for yourself, it’s important to keep in mind that these should be healthy strategies. Unhealthy coping strategies are easy to utilize, but that doesn’t mean they should be.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies for Trauma

  • Overeating – This is a very common coping method, but is an unhealthy strategy. Using food to cope can cause an unhealthy relationship with food, as well as weight issues.
  • Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol – Another very common strategy, this can have detrimental consequences. If drinking alcohol or using drugs gets out of control, you may need to seek addiction treatment.
  • Oversleeping – While getting enough sleep is vital to your health, too much sleep can be a problem. If you’re using sleep to avoid your problems, this is the sign of an unhealthy coping mechanism.
  • Overspending – Retail therapy is actually not therapy at all. This can be another way of avoiding your problems and ends up causing more trouble. Spending more than you should adds another stressor and makes existing problems worse.
  • Avoidance – Arguably the most common unhealthy coping strategy, most people feel if they just avoid the problem altogether it will somehow be resolved. Utilizing healthy coping strategies will help you recognize and understand your trauma much faster and with positive, lasting results.
A photo of a women and therapist dealing with a past traumatic event.
Women and therapist dealing with a past traumatic event.

Coping After a Traumatic Event: When to Seek Help

If your functioning seems to be decreasing and you have bouts or outbursts of extreme anger, you may want to reach out for help. When triggers cause you to re-experience the trauma or if you start to have nightmares about the trauma, you again may want to reach out for help.  If your mood, sleep, appetite, relationships, school, or job performance seems to be slipping, it would be wise to reach out to a professional for help through trauma therapy.  If you feel any thoughts of suicide or a desire to hurt someone else, immediately seek help. Every person and every trauma is unique. At Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we understand this and do not take a one-size-fits-all approach with our trauma therapy program. Our reputable trauma and PTSD treatment centers in Utah and Idaho consist of highly trained therapists and clinicians that have experience in helping people cope and recover from various forms of trauma. For any questions you may have, please give us a call and we’d be happy to help.

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