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    What To Do After A Trauma

    Unexpected Tragedy

    Life can be more unpredictable and, like it or not, dangerous, life threatening events, and tragedy can happen. Events like these absolutely upend our world! What we thought was predictable, now feels unmanageable, frightening, and dangerous. The WORLD can begin to feel dangerous. Let’s talk about how to manage these feelings in the immediate aftermath of a dangerous event.

    Understand what’s happening

     You’re going to feel nervous and on edge. This is a normal response and your brain’s way of trying to protect you from being in danger again. In other words, these feelings do not mean that you’re crazy. Accept this as a sign that your brain is functioning in a healthy way…thank your brain for trying to keep you safe, and remind yourself that you’re NOT in that dangerous situation in this moment. Over time your brain will naturally start to regulate these responses. If it lasts for more than a few weeks, consider reaching out for professional help.

    Feel it

    Give yourself permission to feel sad and scared, and to feel angry at whatever caused the dangerous event. Allow yourself to feel the full range of your emotions, which might be both confusing and complicated. You might be mad at the person (or thing) responsible for the danger, confused as to how it all happened so quickly, recognize the sense of powerlessness that you had in that moment, gratitude that you made it through, and worried that it might happen again. Feel these feelings, rather than try to convince yourself that you “shouldn’t” feel this way. Don’t tell yourself to “get over it” or “grow up.” Let the feelings come, as much as you’re able…they’re normal and healthy.

    Try to open up

    Share your emotions with someone that you trust. Express what is bottled up inside. Sometimes a trauma is like a “bad meal.” If you’ve ever had food poisoning you know that you’re not going to feel better until your body gets rid of that bacteria. In this case, making a sudden trip to the bathroom might feel unpleasant in the moment, but it will help your body to heal. The same thing is true with the trauma. It may feel uncomfortable to talk about, to feel those feelings, or to remember it in the moment, but will help your brain to heal. When we try to avoid (refusing to think about it, trying to block it out with drugs or booze, locking ourselves in our room, etc…) that’s like trying to “boot strap” your way through food poisoning. It doesn’t work. Your brain needs to process the event. 


    Write, write, write. This is an excellent way to both express yourself but also activate your prefrontal cortex. Your PFC will help you better recognize that you’re no longer in danger. Imagine that you’re in a keep, safe behind feet of stone blocks. Allow yourself to feel secure and protected. As you write, try to capture as much as you can, both the factual data and how it made you feel. Write free-form without rules. Without concern for grammar or punctuation. Nobody will see it but you. And when you’ve transferred it to the paper, it becomes more manageable. We can learn from past experiences and having an account makes it easier to learn about ourselves over time. 


    Find something positive that you enjoy. Self-care is so important in mental health. You deserve to take a little time to care for yourself. Self-care doesn’t have to cost money. You might like to light some candles, watch a comedy, go for a walk, play some music, watch videos of puppies on YouTube, read a favorite graphic novel, or get a massage. 

    Extra support 

    Recovery after a trauma can be complex and overwhelming. If you’ve tried these things and are still feeling stuck, reach out to me today to learn how therapy can help.