Growth | Written by: Sam Murray

6 Tips for Overcoming Traumatic Experiences

One of the most difficult things about going through a traumatic experience is attempting to live your life afterward.

Whether it’s a death, assault, or any other distressing event, it can wreak havoc with your mental well-being and make day-to-day chores difficult.

Brushing the problem aside may only make it worse, so you will need to find a way to confront and deal with your traumatic experience.

To help you get through this tough time, we wanted to give you some tips for overcoming traumatic experiences.

What Is a Traumatic Experience?

A traumatic experience is an event that causes mental, physical, or spiritual suffering. In other words, any incident that causes significant pain can be a traumatic experience.

While there’s no right or wrong answer, traumatic experiences can include the death of a loved one, a painful accident, the separation of a family, or a natural disaster. Of course, this is an extremely small collection of circumstances, but think of it like this: if an incident causes trauma, it’s a traumatic experience.

Now, that may sound simple or obvious, but too many people dismiss their own traumatic experiences because they believe them “unworthy,” “too small,” or not as dramatic as someone else’s.

It’s important that you give your own experience the attention it deserves. If it caused you significant pain, then it’s something that needs to be dealt with.

The Signs You’re Suffering From a Traumatic Experience

Distressing incidents can cause a number of symptoms, both physical and mental. Recognizing those symptoms is the first step in dealing with them.

According to psychology expert, Dr. Seth Gillihan, signs you might be affected by a traumatic experience include:

Re-Playing the Incident

It is common for people who have gone through a traumatic experience to replay the incident in their mind, both when they are awake or in their dreams.

It could also come in the form of a flashback, a distressing event which can feel like the incident is happening all over again.

Emotional Surges

Emotional surges are intense feelings that can take over the whole body and soul. This can include feeling extremely fearful, anxious, angry, sad, guilty, or just completely numb.

Avoidance of Things Connected to the Incident

Many people who go through a traumatic event will go out of their way to avoid anything connected with the incident.

This could include trying to block it from their thoughts or physically avoiding items, places, or people related to the event.

A Change in Perspective

People who go through a distressing incident may start to alter their view on how they see the world.

For example, they might start distrusting people or start believing that danger is everywhere. They may also start seeing themselves differently like believing they are less worthy than they are or could have done something differently in the event.

Heightened Nerves

Finally, people who go through a traumatic event might find their nervous system is going into overdrive. They might be constantly on alert or become easily startled. Connected symptoms also include having trouble sleeping or becoming apathetic to sexual intercourse.

A Side Note on PTSD

It’s also worth, at this point, making a distinction between suffering from a traumatic experience and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As the National Institute of Mental Health notes:

“nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD.”

It’s very important for people with on-going suffering to speak to a doctor as you may have PTSD. Trained medical staff can help to reduce the effects through different treatments and therapy including medication.

Six Tips for Dealing with a Traumatic Experience

1. Get Physical

Looking after your physical well-being is extremely important when you’re suffering after a traumatic experience. So the first thing you need to do is get yourself moving.

If you’re naturally an active person, you should try going for runs or playing sports. If you’re not normally active, make sure you take regular walks and get your heart pumping. Exercise releases “happy hormones” such as endorphins and enkephalins, which will help you to relax and reduce stress.

2. Try to Sleep Well

A lack of sleep, as the American Psychological Association points out, can increase anger, irritability, and stress and decrease patience and concentration.  

It may be difficult at times, but getting a good night’s sleep is, therefore, important in the days and weeks after a traumatic experience.

There are a number of ways you can help yourself get a good night’s rest including sleeping in a comfortable environment and not drinking caffeine too late in the day. Make sure to read our guide on 10 Practical Tips To Help You Sleep Better Tonight.

3. Talk to Your Loved Ones

Speaking about a traumatic event can be difficult, particularly because it might mean reliving the event. But bottling up your emotions can lead to further problems in the future.

Instead, you should confide in a friend or family member. Mind, a mental health charity, notes that you do not need to speak about the actual event to describe your current feelings.

4. Understand Your Triggers

Mind also suggests you take time to understand your triggers—the things that cause you stress, panic, or flashbacks.

These could be anything, a sight, a place, a sound. It may even be a date such as the anniversary of the traumatic event. Sometimes these triggers are unavoidable, but knowing what might cause you anxiety will help you to prepare for it better.

5. Take Your Time

When a traumatic experience hits, you probably won’t get over it in a few days. It can take weeks, if not months, to start to feel like you again. Similarly, recovery will probably not be a linear process.

One morning you might feel like you’re on-the-mend, the next you feel like you’ve gone back to the beginning. That’s all part of the process. You just need to give yourself time to heal and not be too upset if it doesn’t happen right away.

6. Seek Professional Help

Finally, if you feel like you need it, make sure you speak to a professional. In their ‘Coping With Stress Following A Major Incident’ recovery booklet, the UK’s NHS suggests that “if symptoms of being very upset continue beyond four weeks, this may indicate PTSD” and you should consider seeking help.

However, you should go whenever you feel like you need to. Treatments for trauma include therapy, cognitive process therapy, and medication to help you relax.

Getting Life Back to Normal

Now you’ve learned some ways of coping with a traumatic experience it’s time to put them into practice. The most important thing to remember is that it will take time. You can’t expect to recover from a distressing incident right away.

It’s also important to understand that every person will deal with a traumatic experience in a different way. Some may not feel the effects until a relatively long time after the event, while others will be hit instantly.

Some may become angry, others upset. Just try to figure out how you’re feeling, discuss it with loved ones, and seek professional help if you need to.

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