How to cope with psychological trauma and PTSD
Psychological trauma is a type of emotional damage that occurs when a person experiences or witnesses a distressing event, such as violence, abuse, accident, or disaster. Trauma can affect a person’s mental, physical, and social well-being, and may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that causes persistent and intrusive symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3.6% of the world’s population suffers from PTSD . In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 7.7 million adults have PTSD . People with PTSD are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
However, trauma and PTSD are not hopeless conditions. There are effective ways to cope with the aftermath of trauma and recover from PTSD. Here are some tips and strategies that can help.
Seek professional help
The first and most important step to cope with trauma and PTSD is to seek professional help from a qualified mental health provider. A therapist can help you understand your trauma, process your emotions, and provide you with evidence-based treatments that can reduce your symptoms and improve your functioning.
Some of the common treatments for trauma and PTSD include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of psychotherapy that helps you identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that are related to your trauma. CBT can also help you learn coping skills and exposure techniques to face your fears and reduce your avoidance.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): A type of therapy that involves moving your eyes back and forth while recalling your traumatic memories. EMDR can help you process your trauma and reduce its emotional impact.
- Medication: Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. However, medication should be used in combination with psychotherapy, as it does not address the underlying causes of trauma.
- MDMA-assisted psychotherapy: A novel treatment that involves taking a synthetic drug called MDMA (also known as ecstasy) under the guidance of a therapist. MDMA can enhance the effects of psychotherapy by reducing fear, increasing trust, and facilitating emotional processing.
Build a support network
Another key factor to cope with trauma and PTSD is to have a strong support network of people who care about you and understand what you are going through. Support can come from various sources, such as family, friends, peers, groups, or organizations.
Some of the benefits of having social support include:
- Reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Providing emotional comfort and validation
- Offering practical assistance and advice
- Enhancing self-esteem and confidence
- Encouraging positive behaviors and activities
To build a support network, you can:
- Reach out to people who are trustworthy, empathetic, and respectful
- Share your feelings and experiences with them
- Ask for help when you need it
- Join a support group or an online community for trauma survivors
- Volunteer for a cause that matters to you
Self-care is the practice of taking care of your own physical, mental, and emotional needs. Self-care can help you cope with stress, improve your mood, and enhance your well-being.
Some of the self-care activities that can help you cope with trauma and PTSD include:
- Getting enough sleep: Sleep is essential for healing and recovery. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and screens before bed. Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Create a comfortable and dark sleeping environment.
- Eating healthy: Nutrition plays a vital role in your mental health. Eat balanced meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and water. Avoid processed foods, sugar, salt, and alcohol. Eat at regular intervals. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues.
- Exercising regularly: Physical activity can boost your mood, energy, and resilience. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Choose activities that you enjoy and suit your fitness level. Exercise outdoors if possible. Be mindful of your body’s signals.
- Relaxing daily: Relaxation can help you calm your nervous system, reduce stress hormones, and lower your blood pressure. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, or tai chi. Engage in hobbies that make you happy and relaxed.
- Seeking pleasure: Pleasure can counteract the negative effects of trauma by activating the reward system in your brain. Seek pleasure in small things that bring you joy and satisfaction. For example, listen to music, watch a comedy show, read a book, play with a pet, or treat yourself to something nice.
Challenge negative thoughts
Trauma and PTSD can affect the way you think about yourself, others, and the world. You may develop negative thoughts and beliefs that are unrealistic, irrational, or distorted. These thoughts can fuel your symptoms and interfere with your recovery.
Some of the common negative thoughts that trauma survivors have include:
- I am worthless, damaged, or broken
- It was my fault, I deserved it, or I could have prevented it
- No one can be trusted, everyone is dangerous, or the world is unsafe
- I will never get better, there is no hope, or life is meaningless
To challenge negative thoughts, you can:
- Identify them: Notice when you have a negative thought and write it down.
- Question them: Ask yourself if the thought is true, based on evidence, or helpful. Look for alternative explanations or perspectives.
- Replace them: Find a more realistic, rational, or positive thought that you can believe. Repeat it to yourself until it becomes more natural.
Be patient and compassionate with yourself
Coping with trauma and PTSD is not easy. It takes time, effort, and courage. You may face challenges, setbacks, and frustrations along the way. You may feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or hopeless at times.
However, it is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Remember that you are not alone, you are not to blame, and you are not defined by your trauma. You are a survivor who has endured a lot and still has the strength to heal and grow.