There is a lot you can do after a traumatic experience.
Recovering from trauma doesn’t mean forgetting your experience or not feeling any emotional pain when reminded of the event. Recovery means becoming less distressed and having more confidence in your ability to cope as time goes on.
To help yourself recover, try some of the ideas below.
Even if you don’t feel like doing these things, they might help you to come to terms with the trauma and reduce some of the distress associated with it.
- Recognise that you have been through an extremely stressful event and it is normal to have an emotional reaction to it. Give yourself permission to feel rotten, but also remember your strengths. Even though it’s tough, you can deal with it.
- Look after yourself by getting plenty of rest (even if you can’t sleep) and regular exercise. Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Physical and mental health are closely linked, so taking care of one will help the other.
- Cut back on tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drink, and cigarettes. Your body is already ‘hyped up’ enough and these substances will only add to this.
- Try to avoid using drugs or alcohol to cope, as they can lead to more problems long term.
- Make time for relaxation, whether it’s listening to music or taking a bath – whatever works for you. It might be helpful to learn a relaxation technique like meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises.
- Plan your days and try to schedule at least one enjoyable or meaningful activity each day. Try making a timetable for each day, including some exercise, some work, and some relaxation.
- Get back to your normal routine as soon as possible, but take it easy. Don’t throw yourself into activities or work in an attempt to avoid painful thoughts or memories of the trauma. Tackle the things that need to be done a little bit at a time, and count each success.
- Try not to bottle up your feelings or block them out. Recurring thoughts, dreams and flashbacks are unpleasant, but they are normal, and will decrease with time.
- Avoid making major life decisions such as moving house or changing jobs in the days and weeks after the traumatic event. On the other hand, make as many smaller, daily decisions as possible, such as what you want to eat or what film you’d like to see. This can help you to feel more in control of your life.
- Spend time with people you care about, even if you don’t want to talk about your experience. Sometimes you will want to be alone, and that’s OK too, but try not to become too isolated.
- Talk about your feelings to someone who will understand, if you feel able to do so. Talking things through is part of the natural healing process and will help you to accept what has happened. As you start to feel better, you may even wish to provide support to others who have been through similar situations.
- Write about your feelings if you feel unable to talk about them.
- Keep informed (about the event you experienced) through media and other information sources, but don’t overdo it. Try to avoid repeated viewing of disaster or trauma scenes.
- Give yourself time to re-evaluate. A traumatic event can affect the way you see the world, your life, goals, and relationships. Again, talking this through with others might help.
If you’ve tried these strategies and things still aren’t improving after a couple of weeks, or if you are having trouble coping with work or with relationships, talk to your GP. Your GP can assist and refer you to services and professionals that can help.