Navigating Trauma Responses

Trauma is a deeply personal experience that can leave lasting emotional and psychological scars. For those who have experienced trauma, navigating everyday life can be a challenge, especially when faced with triggers on a consistent basis. Understanding trauma responses and learning how to respond to them with empathy and support is crucial in fostering healing and resilience. In this blog post, we'll explore what trauma responses look like, and how you can effectively cope with the triggers to be able to live without the constant reminders of trauma.

Trauma responses can appear in various ways, often depending on the individual's unique experiences and how they cope. Common trauma responses include flashbacks, feeling emotionally numb, being hyper aware of their environment and constantly being on edge. They tend to isolate themselves from others especially if those others have not experienced trauma themselves. Trauma survivors have a hard time trusting people and if they aren’t able to trust others they are unable to connect, which then isolates them even more. You may have a hard time sleeping and staying asleep. You may be irritable and be easily emotionally triggered and not know why. You may find yourself going from relationship to relationship, never feeling like you can fully connect with someone. Maybe you are easily jumpy and easily startled. The list goes on. 

One of the first things to do is to educate yourself to learn about trauma and the effects it has on your mind and body. If you are able to understand how trauma impacts your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors you can start to make sense of your experiences and begin to make changes. Trauma essentially hijacks your brain's normal responses. Making level headed, rational decisions becomes extremely difficult leaving you feeling hopeless about how things will ever be different. Reaching out to a therapist can be a crucial first step as they can be non judgmental and empathetic towards your experience. They provide a safe place for you to share your experience, which will help them determine how to help you develop effective coping strategies. Also finding trusted resources, like support groups or books, to gain additional knowledge can help to bring about normalcy and not feeling alone. 

Being able to engage in self reflection is helpful to gain some insight into your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Activities such as journaling, medication, and mindfulness exercises can be helpful tools to bring about self awareness. Through that self reflection, you can begin to understand more of how you respond when you are feeling triggered. Being self reflective is a daunting task at times, especially when the thought of sitting with your thoughts is scary and not a place you want to go. Remember this is where you are able to find out more about yourself. Not only about how to manage trauma but about finding the most effective ways to do so. 

In order to be able to cope with triggers, you have to be able to identify them. Pay attention to the triggers that evoke strong emotional reactions or flashbacks related to your trauma. By identifying your triggers, you can develop strategies for coping with them and minimizing their impact on your daily life. They may not be big triggers either and could be as simple as a smell or a feeling. Part of self reflection is being able to identify what is triggering you and be able to stop yourself from being overwhelmed by that trigger. 

Once you have identified the triggers you can begin to develop coping skills. Learning healthy coping skills helps to manage stress, anxiety and other trauma related symptoms. This can include relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, grounding exercises, and self-soothing activities. Many people who experience trauma find unhealthy coping skills like substance use, sex, gambling, and even shopping. It’s about finding something to keep the unhappy feelings away and make you feel like you are doing good, which in reality you are making things worse. Many times when you engage in these activities it leaves you filled with shame and guilt because deep down you know what you should be doing, but you are taking the easiest way you can think of to cope. It’s not uncommon. And it’s a part of the process. 

Probably the biggest and most important part of healing from trauma is finding and building a support network. Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or support groups who can offer understanding, validation, and encouragement as you navigate your healing journey. Being alone makes it more challenging to see progress. In general, we won’t notice things changing in us because we are so focused on where we should be and not where we are and how far we’ve come. That support can also be there when things get challenging and we want to throw in the towel. There has also been research done that shows healing from trauma is less likely to happen when you do it alone. Having support makes the biggest impact in change and healing. 

Prioritize self-care activities that nourish your mind, body, and spirit. This could include getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, engaging in physical activity, spending time in nature, and engaging in hobbies that bring you joy. This can be challenging especially at the beginning, but finding one thing that brings you joy can give you the momentum you need to keep going. And remember to give yourself some grace during the process. Change doesn’t happen overnight but takes time. Let yourself celebrate the small wins you experience along the way. A form of self care is also setting boundaries as it’s crucial for protecting your emotional well-being and creating a sense of safety. Be assertive about what you need and communicate your boundaries clearly to others. 

Remember that healing from trauma is a deeply personal journey, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Be gentle with yourself, take things one day at a time, and trust in your ability to create positive changes in your life.

*A great resource on how trauma affects the body is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.