7. Trauma integration takes time. You can often get relief from the worst symptoms rather quickly but there are no instant cures. If a therapist promises you a quick-healing, 100 percent cure or a full reversal of your traumatic experience, I suggest you find another one.
Trauma takes things away from us and some can’t be returned, ever. For some, the losses are physical, and tangible, such as people we loved or a body that once functioned perfectly. For others, the losses are emotional or intangible, such as a sense of uncomplicated wholeness, pristine memories of beloved times and places. Either way, coming to terms with irreversible loss is an essential part of trauma integration. Anyone who implies otherwise makes the journey ultimately harder for survivors.
8. Try moving more and talking less. This reminder may seem counterintuitive. The urge to tell and re-tell our story after trauma over and over is understandable. Years ago, therapists considered this helpful and encouraged extensive “debriefing”. But research has found that telling the story over and over is ineffective in bringing relief from symptoms, and sometimes it’s harmful. Every time we tell our story we relive it and the imprint on our brain and body becomes more permanent.
This does not mean that you’ve caused yourself harm by telling others your story. But you’re probably better off if you have a professional therapist guide you when in working through your story.
9. Social support is key for trauma integration and developing post traumatic growth. If you don’t have adequate support systems, call a support hotline, find a support group, reach out to a spiritual community, ask your parents to help you find a therapist.
10. Maintaining routines is one of the most effective things you can do after trauma.
- Keep physical activity in your life. The pull to withdraw and rest is powerful for many survivors and should be honored. But slow, gentle physical activities are restful and help to reset the system.
- Go for walks with someone that you feel safe with.
- Give and get as many hugs as you can from your loved ones (family members, friends, pets).
- Avoid violent or loud music, movies, and videogames.
- Eat as clean as possible, and drink plenty of fluids, especially those that bring restful associations (chamomile with honey, water with lemon or mint, etc.). Avoid sugar and stimulating foods and drinks as much as possible. You may feel you need stimulants, but with your nervous system already on high alert your goal should be to support it, not activate it.
- Relaxing scents like orange blossom essential oil, chamomile or lavender have a relaxing effect on some people.
11. When you are flooded with feelings, try one of the following exercises:
- Stress ball. Hold a small ball in the palm of one hand. Squeeze tight to the count of 5. Repeat with the other hand. Hold the ball in the fingertips of one hand. Squeeze tight to the count of 5. Repeat with the other hand. Hold the ball in the open palm of one hand. Let it roll around on your hand without falling. Gently throw the ball into the air and catch it with the same hand. Repeat with the other hand. Now gently throw the ball from one hand to another.
- 1-2-3 Reset Exercise: Jump up and down (as fast as you can) 10 times. Sit down (preferably leaning back on something) and breathe in (2-3-4). Hold (2-3-4-5) and breathe out. Make an s-s-s-s or hm-m-m-m sound on the outbreath and notice how the sound changes during the outbreath. Repeat the deep breathing part 5 more times.
12. Try to be kind to yourself. Remember — you are ALWAYS doing the best that you can at any given moment. Given a choice, you may have responded differently to events at the time of the trauma. But you couldn’t. Survival mechanisms took over and helped you do whatever it took to stay alive.
When we are kind to ourselves, our brain pathways “expand”. When we criticize ourselves they “tighten”. Since you did the best that you could, you are now also doing the best that you can. This means that if it is difficult and painful you can say: “It’s ok to feel pain, it’s ok to feel ____”; “I don’t like to feel ____, but it is ok to feel ____.” Saying this helps your nervous system relax. The more you do it, the more your ability to relax by choice expands.
Gertel-Kraybill, O. (2018 in print). Suzy and The Brain 1-2-3: What Happens in Suzy’s Brain During Trauma. Riverhouse ePress. PA, USA.