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Post-Traumatic Stress

10 Best Ways to Cope with Post-Traumatic Stress
By: Michele Rosenthal

Michele Rosenthal Award winning blogger, speaker, poet, post-trauma coach, and radio talk show host, Michele Rosenthal inspires and motivates survivors to make the shift from powerless to powerful. She is the author of BEFORE THE WORLD INTRUDED: Conquering the Past and Creating the Future, A Memoir.

Liz was an American journalist on assignment to Mexico. She was smart. She knew where to go and how to move through Mexico City with a degree of alert consciousness for her safety. After interviewing a source in a populated restaurant she emerged onto the street and began the short, purposeful walk back to her hotel. One block from her destination she felt a hand grip her arm. She she was surrounded by three men who jostled her into an alley, then into a building, then into a deserted stairwell where they beat and raped her at gunpoint.

When they were finished, the men threw Liz back onto the street and disappeared into the crowd. She hobbled to the hotel and made arrangements to fly home. Back in America Liz tried to resume her regular routine but nightmares, flashbacks and a continued sense of terror, panic and fear dramatically shrank her ability to live a normal life. Eventually, she was forced to quit her job. Relying on her meager savings, Liz stayed home and tried to figure out how to cope with post-traumatic stress and memories.  She never worked as a journalist again. At the time this all occurred, Liz was just thirty years old.

When a trauma occurs it takes the brain on average four weeks to process and integrate information from the new experience into the existing paradigm of who you are. This means that during that time you might notice sleep, emotion and other personality disturbances as your mind wrestles with the idea of the trauma and what it may trigger from the past.

While the mind may complete most of the work of integration within a few months, there can still be lingering sensations, worries and fears that become a part of daily life. For many trauma survivors, the world they experience after trauma is vastly different than the one they understood before. Dealing with all of the shock, surprise, change and sudden lack of safety can introduce enormous feelings of stress resulting from overwhelming emotion, mood swings, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbing, appetite change, and insomnia.

In order to regain a sense of normalcy there are two main areas necessary to address to manage life in the wake of trauma and the ensuing stress. First, basic emotional needs must be met. Second, positive experiences need to be facilitated to create a sense of safety, connection and stability.

The following ten suggestions are geared to address both the emotion and experiential aspects of life after trauma and to help facilitate a foundation for coping that can lead to a new sense of security:

Reach out for help – There are ways and means of processing and integrating traumatic experiences and memories. The most effective way to do this is with the guidance of a trained professional. Strength and courage are found in accepting help so that you resolve the conflicts brought by trauma as quickly as possible.

Develop a support system – After trauma it’s easy to feel isolated and alone - - and to want to keep it that way! Survivors often lack the desire for social connection. However, the love and support of family and friends is actually one of the most efficient and effective ways to regain your bearings during a time of post-traumatic stress.

Structure a routine – A major side effect of trauma and its ensuing stress is a lack of familiarity. Families, employment and other grounding elements can be lost. However, it’s the structure of familiarity that helps provide calm and focus. Finding new ways to structure routine helps your mind regain a sense of balance.

Make yourself feel safe – One of the biggest losses after trauma (and an enormous source of post-traumatic stress) is the absence of safety. Reinstituting safety, whether in the reconstitution of pre-trauma safety mechanisms or finding it in new areas, critically reduces post-traumatic stress.

Find ways to feel comfort – Trauma can rock you to the very core of who you are, making you feel frightened and cut off from yourself and others. Feeling comfort can help you reclaim that sense of connection to yourself and people important to you.

Commit to self-care – When post-traumatic stress becomes overwhelming the last thing you might be thinking about taking care of is your mind, body and soul. Those are, however, the first things you should be taking care of. Regaining your equilibrium and sense of wellbeing is important in coping with post-traumatic stress and should be number one on your list of priorities.

Educate yourself – Understanding how trauma affects your mind and body is critical to elements of self-support, permission and acceptance. Normalizing your reaction clears the way to proactively approach finding relief.

Connect with others – Traumatic events can make it feel like connections to yourself, others and the world have been completely severed. Rebuilding those meaningful connections adds strength, support and life-affirming energy to the recovery process.

Develop positive coping habits – With the world spinning in the chaos of post-trauma perceptions, beliefs and interpretations it’s important to cope – and to cope in ways that are healthy. Being proactive about positive habits will help avoid falling into negative, self-destructive and unhealthy techniques.

Do things that bring you joy – Yes, the world may seem dark and the light of happiness extinguished, but you are innately hard-wired for joy, happiness and delight. Reconnecting to yourself and the world is infinitely easier when facilitated by actions, activities and experiences that allow you to tap into the part of yourself that is life-affirming.

In every country in every part of the world the opportunity exists to suffer a trauma – or to witness the trauma of another human being. When this happens the impact to your belief system, worldview, and even your connection to yourself can be hugely changed, even dramatically damaged. If the world you knew yesterday suddenly morphed into something unrecognizable, horrible and dangerous today, how  

would you cope with the ensuing fear, terror, loss, pain, and grief?

Take a look at each of the ten tips provided above and ask yourself, “What would it take for me to do this?” Then, outline a step-by-step process to strategize and implement a plan. Managing post-traumatic stress means making choices and taking actions. Even the smallest choice and action can lead to a small change that, when coupled with others, begins to move you from a sense of helplessness to one of being in control.

Award winning blogger, speaker, poet, post-trauma coach, and radio talk show host, Michele Rosenthal inspires and motivates survivors to make the shift from powerless to powerful.  She is the author of BEFORE THE WORLD INTRUDED: Conquering the Past and Creating the Future, A Memoir.