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Published on August 17, 2021

How To Cope With Traumatic Events And Stress

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How To Cope With Traumatic Events And Stress

It was about 1:45 am on a Thursday morning in June. I can vividly remember waking up and frantically clenching my sheets. Everything was shaking all around me. I felt disoriented. I had no idea what was going on. At first, I thought that perhaps I was waking up from some kind of intense earthquake-themed nightmare.

All I really knew was that I woke up feeling scared, very scared. And then all of a sudden, I started hearing the screams, and then in the distance, the sirens, lots of sirens. By that point, it was clear that something very bad had happened.

I looked outside of my bedroom window to see what was going on, but everything was unusually dark with just a handful of lights flickering like stars through what appeared to be early morning fog. Once I got my bearings and made sure that the rest of my family was safe, I got dressed and went outside to investigate what had actually happened.

I remember that the air was still full of tiny bits and pieces of debris floating around and everything was covered with a fine layer of gray dust. As soon as I stepped outside, I saw my neighbor standing on the corner in his bathrobe. He was pale and motionless, with both his mouth and his eyes wide open, as if he had just seen a ghost. I asked him what was going on, and without saying a word, he just pointed over to the building across the street. It was the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, and at least half of the condominium appeared to have collapsed on top of itself, all twelve floors, obviously still full of people at that time of day. I soon found myself standing there next to him in shock and with my mouth wide open, while my heart sank deep within my soul.

I knew a lot of lives would be lost. I knew this was going to be bad, very bad.

Although I did not know any of the victims personally, I will never forget seeing so many of them spending time out on their balconies. The ocean view must have been spectacular, especially at night, in the moonlight. Tragically, the only view that was left early that fateful morning was that of a massive pile of rubble by the sea.

In the days that followed, search and rescue teams from all over the world swarmed the site of the tragedy with cranes, probes, drones, and dogs looking for any signs of life. Even the President of the United States came by to offer his support to both the families of the victims, as well as to the first responders who were tirelessly working hard to save lives.

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But in the end, even after an exhaustive and valiant effort, no additional survivors were to be found. Although my pain cannot match that of the families of the victims, it remains embedded deep within my conscience, as I continue to feel anxiety and profound sadness associated with the tragedy.

Through my own personal experience, I have now learned that you do not necessarily have to be the victim of a tragedy to be traumatized by a traumatic event. Sometimes, all you have to do is bear witness to it.

What Is Trauma?

So exactly what is trauma? How does it affect you? And how can you deal with it effectively?

Trauma is broadly recognized as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Just like death and taxes, at one point or another, you will almost certainly experience a traumatic event in your lifetime.

Along with all of the amazing things that life has to offer, you could say that trauma is just another part of the human experience. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that 70 percent of all adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes.[1]

Trauma itself can be triggered by any variety of traumatic events, including emotional abuse, acts of violence, natural disasters, and tragic accidents. With that being said, there are essentially two types of trauma:

  • Type 1 trauma refers to a single incident or event, for example, trauma associated with a car accident or a natural disaster like an earthquake.
  • Type 2 trauma refers to a traumatic event that is prolonged and repeated, for example, continued emotional abuse by a bully in school.

Similar to many physical injuries, emotional trauma does leave scars, however, they may not necessarily be visible at the surface. As a matter of fact, symptoms of trauma can actually be both emotional and physical in nature.

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The most common emotional symptoms of trauma include feeling numb, angry, anxious, guilty, sad, confused, hopeless, and shameful. While the most common physical symptoms of trauma include fatigue, poor concentration, poor appetite, overeating, insomnia, hypersomnia, and high blood pressure.

Although most people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetimes, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will necessarily be traumatized by it. Nevertheless, perhaps the most commonly recognized traumatic disorder is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It involves being exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence that can either be experienced directly or witnessed in person. Then, as a result of the traumatic event, recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories and flashbacks of the event are experienced.[2]

Many people suffering from PTSD experience difficulty forming close relationships and often avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD are irritability, hypervigilance, exaggerated response, sleep disturbances, and self-destructive behaviors including acts of violence, suicide, and drug abuse.

I am not necessarily suggesting that you should somehow try to prepare yourself in advance for impending doom, but rather in case you experience a traumatic event, that you are in possession of the tools to deal with it effectively. So here are 5 ways to deal effectively with the stress from traumatic events.

1. Self-Expression

For me personally, I am finding solace in opening up, and sharing my experience about the tragedy that sadly unfolded right in front of me. As a matter of fact, at least in my opinion, just writing this article is a healthy way for me to express my feelings constructively.

Interestingly enough, I am still having a hard time talking about the tragedy without reliving some part of it in my mind. However, I am able to write about it with relatively minimal emotional discomfort.

I firmly believe that writing has actually helped me see my world from a more objective and self-nurturing perspective. And I am confident that journaling your feelings could work for you or anyone else who may have gone through a traumatic event as well.

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Nevertheless, if you do not have the time or the patience to write about a traumatic event that you may have experienced, you could always try your hand at illustrating your feelings through some form of artwork, after all, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

2. Counseling

Although the emotional pain of a traumatic event may never fully go away, besides self-expression, I strongly recommend counseling. A well-trained and compassionately intuitive trauma therapist should be able to help you process your feelings constructively at an emotionally manageable pace.

Counseling has the potential to help you find your way safely out of the proverbial forest in your mind by having a professional guide to help keep you on the right path. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy or EMDR is recognized as perhaps the most widely accepted clinical orientation when it comes to treating trauma patients.[3]  It asserts that after a person experiences a traumatic event, disturbing thoughts, feelings, and images get stuck in the brain, whereby EMDR essentially creates mental pathways to effectively release those disturbances with minimal emotional disruption.

3. Meditation

You may have been robbed of your innocence. Your serenity may have been shattered. However, no matter the circumstance, you are still in possession of your soul, which in my humble opinion is the gatekeeper of your emotions.

Meditation can help you reach deep within yourself to establish a greater sense of inner peace, thereby providing your soul with the emotional nutrients necessary to protect itself from negative energy. As a matter of fact, meditation, along with other non-medicinal complementary interventions, has been shown to significantly reduce severe symptoms of PTSD experienced by soldiers following combat.[4]

So go ahead and put away all of the electronics (yes, you can do it), as well as all of the things that you need to take care of for all of the other people in your life, and get ready to take a much-needed mental health moment all for you, at no additional cost, other than a few minutes of your time.

Start off by finding a safe quiet spot in your home, maybe somewhere on the floor of your bedroom, perhaps near a window. Take off your shoes, sit down slowly, cross your legs, and then gently rest your arms on top of your thighs with your palms up to the sky. Keep your back straight and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and begin to shut down your conscious mind, while gently embracing the healing power of the serenity that now surrounds you. You are welcome to stay there as long as you like. Just make sure that you’re not late to work.

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4. Exercise

Regular exercise can help reduce the stress associated with trauma by pumping up the production of endorphins, neurotransmitters in your brain that help regulate your mood. Additionally, cardiovascular exercise improves circulation which is essential for optimal health by providing adequate blood flow and oxygen to all of the organs in the body, thereby keeping your heart healthy, and your mind sharp so that you process your feeling with greater clarity.[5]

Lastly, as you tone your body and shed unwanted pounds, exercise ultimately helps build self-esteem, one of the most potent antidotes against symptoms of trauma.

5. Connection

Avoidance is one of the most common symptoms associated with trauma. In many cases, people who have experienced traumatic events find themselves frequently avoiding interaction with others as a means by which to prevent additional trauma.

Unfortunately, however, humans are fundamentally social creatures, by avoiding one another, we may be inadvertently depriving ourselves of the opportunity to live a full and productive life.

People who may have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in their childhood, often have a very difficult time trusting others and thereby forming strong interpersonal relationships as adults.[6] For that reason, I strongly encourage anyone who may have experienced any form of trauma, at any point in their lives, to join a support group with others who may have experienced a similar traumatic experience. When it comes to effectively dealing with trauma, there is strength in numbers.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, trauma is an inevitable part of the human experience. At one point or another in your life, you will probably experience at least one traumatic event. In other words, it is bound to happen.

If you spend the rest of your life trying to avoid traumatic events, you may end up missing out on a whole bunch of the amazing experiences that life has to offer.

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The good news is that you can recover from both the emotional and physical damage caused by trauma, albeit over time, and in many cases, with a lot of hard work.

Featured photo credit: Nijwam Swargiary via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evan Jarschauer

Professional Mental Health Interventionist & Licensed Psychotherapist

How To Cope With Traumatic Events And Stress How to Quit Drinking for a Healthier Body and Mind 5 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Energy Levels How To Recognize the Most Common Types of Mental Illness 5 Ways Meditation Improves Your Daily Focus and Concentration

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Published on January 18, 2022

How to Stop Being Anxious And Regain Your Calm

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How to Stop Being Anxious And Regain Your Calm

Are you sick and tired of wasting your mental and emotional energy worrying about (and replaying) events in your mind? Even sabotaging yourself, your performance, and your relationships, at times? Constantly playing the “what if” game in your mind?

Let’s be honest, feeling anxious is miserable and unequivocally sucks the enjoyment out of life. It does this because it is impossible to be in the present moment when you are constantly worried about the future or past events. Here’s the deal—it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s talk about some tips on how to stop being anxious and get your calm back.

The Difference Between Feeling Anxious and Having Anxiety

Feeling anxious is just part of the human experience and is a normal stress response. When the stress is removed, the anxiety usually goes away, too. With an anxiety disorder, the stressful trigger is removed but the anxiety can still be present.[1]

There are multiple anxiety disorders with varying characteristics. If you are concerned that you may have one of them, it is best to be evaluated by your doctor, especially since anxiety is very common. According to research, up to 33% of all Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.[2]

What Can You Do to Manage Feeling Anxious?

The good news is there’s a lot that you can do to stop being anxious. Science is learning more and more every day about ways we can manage feeling anxious.

I am a strong believer in being proactive and preventative. If you have a lot of stress in your life or are prone to feeling anxious, I always recommend establishing a foundation of good daily habits. That way, when something happens to poke the anxiety bear, you are already in a position to handle things.

Twenty tips may be overwhelming for some people but remember: you are not expected to incorporate every tip on this list. Look at it as a menu of potential helpful options. You can pick and choose whatever you want and leave the rest.

Here are 20 tips on how to stop being anxious:

1. Eat the Right Food

It might come as a surprise to some, but certain foods can make anxiety worse, such as sugary foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.[3]

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Here are some foods you can try instead that can help reduce anxiety: Brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, Turmeric, Chamomile, yogurt, and green tea.[4]

2. Stay Hydrated

One simple tip to help you stop being anxious is by staying hydrated. Even being mildly dehydrated has been shown to worsen anxiety.[5] So, drink up! Water, that is.

3. Work Some Mindfulness Into Your Day

This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Meditation and diaphragmatic breathing (breathing into your belly and engaging your abdominals upon exhale) are what usually come to mind, but there are some other fast and easy exercises that can help calm you down almost immediately.

One of my favorites is called Five Things, and it’s based upon our five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It can be done in any order.

For example, you might start by picking five things you can see. As you list each item, it’s important to take in the detail of each one. Next, you pick four things you can feel, noting each item with the same attention to detail. Work your way down to one item accompanying your last sense.

4. Get Some Exercise

Completing 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week may significantly improve symptoms of anxiety. Even as little as 10 minutes has a positive impact.[6]

In one study, exercise was shown to be as effective as medication in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety, with higher intensity exercise more effective than lower intensity exercise.[7]

5. Sit With It/Observe It

Dr. Judson Brewer recently penned a book (and an app) entitled Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind in which he discusses turning toward our emotions as a way to process them rather than distracting ourselves or bottling things up (turning away).

He encourages people to be an observer of the emotional response in their bodies, almost as if conducting a research project in great detail and noting the exact location of physical sensations (stomach, right or left side, front or back) with as much detail as possible.

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6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach that utilizes the cyclical connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as a means to control unwanted (anxious) thoughts.

One exercise to stop ruminating thoughts includes picturing a stop sign in great detail, instructing yourself to “stop,” and then changing the narrative to something positive, encouraging, or even more realistic or likely.

Another CBT exercise involves challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs for validity by asking yourself:

  • Is there evidence for my thought or am I making assumptions?
  • What’s the worst that could happen? Is this likely?
  • What’s the best that could happen?
  • What’s most likely to happen?
  • Will this matter in a week, a year, or five years from now?

7. Realize What You Can and Can’t Control

Take action where you can. Many of us spend time worrying and feeling anxious over things we can’t control.

Figure out what you can do and take action from there. Studies show that taking action reduces anxiety.[8]

8. Gratitude

Reminding ourselves of the good things in our lives not only brings positivity to us but also reduces anxiety. This is because it is neurologically impossible for our brain to focus on negative and positive information at the same time.[9]

9. Volunteer or Do Something for Someone Else

Helping others feels good. It also reduces stress, boosts our immune system, and can help us live longer.[10]

10. Journal in the 3rd Person

The practice of journaling has long been known as a valuable tool to help us manage our emotions, and it can also help us stop being anxious and regain our calm.

Making a point to name the emotions you are experiencing (“name it to tame it”) is a principle Dr. Dan Siegel discovered that heightens the value of journaling. More recently, Dr. Kross, in his book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, noted that journaling in the 3rd person (as if narrating your life) creates further value by creating some distance between you and the emotion you are experiencing, thus allowing you to breathe easier and gain perspective.

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11. Go Out Into Nature

Spending time in nature has been shown to improve attention, lower stress, improve mood, reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders, and even cause upticks in empathy and cooperation.[11]

12. Spend Time With Animals

Dogs are not only your best friend, but it turns out they are good for your mental and emotional health, too. The fact that cats just allow you to live with them as their servant doesn’t detract from the positive impact they also have on our emotional well-being.

Spending time cuddling with your pet on the couch can decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have also found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.[12]

13. Get Good Sleep

Getting good sleep can be difficult when we feel anxious, but being tired can worsen the issue. Try sticking to a consistent bedtime, make your bedroom dark, the temperature cool, and limit screen time before going to sleep.

14. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcohol changes the level of neurotransmitters in our brain. This can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, specifically stimulating our fight or flight response, which is already more sensitive for those struggling with anxiety. Use both in moderation.

15. Show Yourself Compassion and Encouragement

What would you say to your best friend? Many times we make things worse by shaming or berating ourselves for feeling anxious because we fear it makes us appear weak or vulnerable. This makes the problem worse.

What would your best friend say to you? Stop beating yourself up and be your own best friend.

16. Spend Time With Friends

Healthy friendships make us feel included, improve self-confidence and self-esteem, and thus, help reduce anxiety.[13]

17. Create Balance in Your Life

Set healthy boundaries and priorities, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Nobody else can do this for you. Value yourself. You are worth it.

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18. Have a Plan

Another tip to help you stop being anxious is to have a plan. Knowing what you will do takes away a lot of the “what if” thoughts in your mind. Being certain about some things and managing your expectations can help give you peace of mind.

19. Remind Yourself of a Past Event

You can also try to remind yourself of a past event in your life that you were anxious about but still ended up okay. Have confidence that you will make it through this situation, too.

20. Have Some Structure or Routine in Your Day

Knowing what to expect can significantly reduce anxiety and the fear that can accompany uncertainty.[14] Give yourself as much structure as you need. You’ll thank yourself for it.

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult to manage feelings of being anxious. Take charge and pick a few of these to try out. Be consistent, and see how you feel.

You can always discard what doesn’t work for you, and pick something else to try. Confide in a friend that you are implementing some new strategies, and get some support.

Always tell your doctor your concerns, and don’t hesitate to get help if you are having difficulty managing things on your own. Good luck!

More Tips for Calming Your Mind

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

Reference

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