When dealing with a difficult and traumatic experience, it’s often very confusing to know what to do or where to turn to make things better. Anxiety and depression can compound an already distressing situation and make it worse, and intrusive negative thoughts can make even ordinary life events or obligations seem fraught with difficulty. Work, school, and self-care can often go by the wayside when coping with trauma, and conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can often cause sufferers to experience terrifying nightmares and flashbacks that may reinforce the feelings of isolation that are a major part of the condition.
Misconceptions about mental health can also make the process of overcoming traumatic experiences extremely difficult. It is important to remember that experiencing trauma and processing the thoughts and emotions that result from that trauma are not a sign of weakness; in fact, it takes much courage to admit that trauma has affected us, and most people who view the experience of trauma as a weakness have never actually experienced trauma themselves. (Go figure!) Fortunately, there are ways of dealing with traumatic experiences, and with the right approach, things can truly get better. Here are just a few ways to manage a difficult experience so that you can feel your best and enjoy the great opportunities that life has to offer.
01. Challenge Negative Thoughts
When we experience negative thoughts, few things can feel “right” in our lives, especially as those thoughts cloud our perceptions about ourselves and the future. This is why it is important to challenge negative thoughts as they occur and to remember that it’s just our brain formulating feedback that isn’t correct. When our minds tell us that nothing is going to ever get better or that we’re not good people, we can think positively and use logic to discredit so-called “stinkin’ thinkin'” before it escalates. Try challenging your negative thoughts with phrases such as, “What if things go well?” or “What if it turns out that I can manage my problems, like I have in the past?”
Negative thoughts can be particularly damaging when we’re feeling depressed or anxious. Because we feel that things cannot get better, in other words, we extrapolate from that feeling that the future must be bleak. This is why it’s important to realize that our emotional state in the current moment does not determine the future; in fact, how we feel about a situation might just be a by-product of anxious thoughts. Try writing down evidence for why intrusive negative thoughts are wrong, and you’ll often find that things aren’t as bad as your anxiety would have you believe!
02. Become Comfortable With Your Thoughts
When we habitually avoid thinking about a traumatic experience, we tend to reinforce the idea that it is too painful to deal with. The brain will often acclimatize itself to thoughts that we may at first find frightening, however, and if we can sit down and let the thoughts stay in our mind, the negative feelings associated with the thoughts will eventually die down. This means that our mind will learn not to associate negative feelings with the thoughts, and that even if such thoughts sneak up on us, they will no longer bother us as much.
03. Find a Trusted Therapist
Although the process of finding a therapist may feel frustrating at times, the right therapist can do worlds of good when we’re dealing with trauma. A good therapist will have a number of effective ways to treat conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and they can quickly become a trusted confidant that can offer us unbiased and nonjudgmental counsel. For many people, the experience of seeking professional psychology help can be a truly life-affirming decision.
04. Find Friends Who Acknowledge How You Feel
Imagine visiting a little known island that few tourists ever see. You return to your life at home from your trip and describe your visit to friends and neighbors, none of whom have ever been to the island. “That’s not what the island is like,” say these friends and neighbors, after only a few seconds of listening to your descriptions. “It’s actually very different than that,” they say. When you offer to tell stories about the island, they interrupt you to tell you that they know best about what the island is like. To wit, although others may not understand trauma, they may behave like the friends and neighbors in this scenario; too often, other people who’ve never experienced trauma are convinced that they know the right way to go about treating a traumatic experience.
Indeed, it can be very difficult at times to discuss traumatic experiences with others. People may feel uncomfortable with the subject of trauma, or they may give misinformed advice about “getting over it” or “toughening up” that is simply unhelpful at best and lacking in empathy at worst. People such as this may mean well when they prescribe tough love as a treatment for conditions like PTSD, but their words can be extremely detrimental to a traumatized person. Talking about trauma with people who are good at listening and who don’t simply proffer advice to others can help enormously in successfully dealing with traumatic memories.
05. Finding the Right Support Group
And if you don’t feel comfortable at the present time discussing your traumatic experiences with family or friends, you might try finding support groups in your area that focus on letting trauma survivors express their concerns and feelings in a judgment-free environment. Such groups can be a great way to get rid of negative feelings and form strong friendships in the process.
While dealing with difficult and traumatic experiences is no walk in the park, you should take a moment to pat yourself on the back. The fact that you are reading this article shows that you are already considering ways of managing the difficulties that traumatic experiences can bring. That is no easy feat! Fortunately, the process of seeking information about a condition is often the first step towards creating a new plan on how to deal with it. Whether it’s in finding someone who truly understands what you’re going through or seeking help from a therapist, know that there are many ways that life can improve even after trauma, despite what our negative thoughts would sometimes have us believe. Remember, what you’re going through is a perfectly normal reaction to traumatic experiences. You’ve got this!