Trauma: How to Cope with It and Support Others09 Sep 2020
What a year 2020 has been so far? It started with a global pandemic, and then proceeded to financial crashes, a massive explosion, multiple natural disasters, protests and even riots in several countries. And although labelling 2020 as a “train wreck of a year” might be a bit harsh, one cannot deny that it has carried a handful of traumatic events so far.
Naturally, people have had different reactions to these traumatic events. For example, we have all been living through the same pandemic, however each and every one of us has been responding to the associated trauma differently.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” A traumatized person can feel a range of emotions both immediately after the event and in the long term. There are several types of trauma, including: acute, chronic, complex and vicarious.
Immediately after a distressing event, shock and denial are typical. Some people will develop symptoms that resolve after a few weeks, while others will have more long-term effects. These may include, emotional symptoms like denial, fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness, numbness, as well as physical symptoms like headaches, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, crying spells… etc.
If unresolved trauma can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, individuals may also go on to develop other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.
Addressing the root cause of trauma can be an effective way to heal it. Hence, therapy is a first-line treatment as it focuses on improving symptoms, gaining better coping skills and improving self-esteem.
In addition to pursuing treatment, some lifestyle changes can help speed the healing process up. Below are some tips on how to cope with trauma and/or support those, in your life, who are going through it.
How to cope with trauma?
Maintain a balanced lifestyle: a healthy balanced diet, a proper sleeping routine and exercise play a major role in maintaining mental health.
Don’t avoid your emotions: Listen to your body and allow your emotions to flow. Sit with it and give yourself the permission to feel and then release it all.
Stay connected: Don’t isolate yourself. Engaging with others can improve mood and well-being. When you are ready, talk about it with trusted friends and/or family.
Seek professional help and support: If symptoms are persistent and are interfering with your daily life, seek help from a mental health professional. You can also join a support group. Talking over what you’re going through with others who’ve had the same experience, or are still going through it, can be helpful.
How to support those going through trauma?
Provide support when needed: Make time to be with that person and let them know that you are there for them, even to just sit them through the discomfort.
Listen: Allow them to talk about what happened, even if they get upset, focus on keeping yourself calm and listen carefully. Don’t try to change the topic because of discomfort, yet don’t pressure them to talk about it if they’re not ready.
Encourage them to maintain a balanced lifestyle: Suggest they take good care of themselves by maintaining routines and offer to do some activities like exercising or going for walks together. Note that while the person may need some time for themselves, spending time around friends helps relieve stress.
Offer practical support: Offer to do a grocery run or to help them to do some work around the house.
Take time for yourself: Take time to recharge. Manage your own stress. Ask other family members and friends for assistance.
- Offering unsolicited advice.
- Invalidating, minimising or denying your friend’s traumatic experience.
- Taking over with your own personal experiences and feelings.
- Judging their thoughts and feelings.
- Using general phrases like ‘look on the bright side’ and asking them to ‘get over it’.
- Straining yourself and getting burnt out.
We are all healing from something. And whether it happened in 2020 or in a distant past, remember this, you have the power to heal yourself. Reach out, you are not alone. Keep going, it will pass. And then, as Maya Angelou beautifully puts it, “as soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.”