Trauma and PTSD Blog #1
[Disclaimer: The tips in this article do not come from a mental health or medical professional. While the writer does have some background in psychology and physical health, the following content is intended to express the personal experience of one individual and not replace expert mental health and medical advice.]
Life isn't always pleasant, but normally when a stranger asks, "how are you?" someone will reply "good" or "fine" or "okay". People carry-out entire relationships without any mention of unpleasantness to the other person; we sometimes call this phenomenon between two acquaintances "fair-weather-friend".
Perhaps the average person does not worry about this covering-of-unpleasantness, their "fair-weather" friends or saying "I'm fine" when they feel do not actually feel fine. Of course, some people experience trauma: an intense, sometimes life-threatening event that leaves the traumatized person suspended in an alerted-state-of-being. These experiences affect the nervous system and the memory of the traumatic event can create future distress. The traumatized must learned to cope with alertness, flashbacks and pain; it can be hard to say "I'm fine" when you're alert and in pain.
I find my self in the aforementioned condition: traumatized and struggling to cope. I've been dealing with repeated-trauma, so recovery has yet to be an option. Rather, I have to learn to cope with regularly-occurring trauma; I always hope the future will bring peaceful days.
The first thing I've learned is that prioritizing one's health and well-being is essential to coping with or recovering from trauma. Here are several things I focus on:
1) When I budget, I make healthy food the focus of my grocery bill. These are the foods that are the focus of my weekly food shopping: Mushrooms, onions, apples, bananas, lean and local meats or tofu and tempeh. Broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, collard greens. Bread, rice/quinoa, milk, eggs and green tea. I try to shop local whenever possible, but local items can be more expensive in some areas and blow your budget. So, always opt for the cheaper, but healthy foods if you're on a tight budget. Ultimately, your priority is healthy foods in your kitchen--going local can come when you're richer.
2) Exercise or do yoga even if you [kind of] don't want to. While there are some exceptions to this "rule", coping with trauma requires an outlet for all that alertness and stress. You have to move to "unwind" your body, so to speak. If you're traumatized, daily exercise can relieve you. However, one must remain motivated to use exercise daily as a coping mechanism. If you're not used to regular physical activity, habituating daily exercise can be difficult, especially if one is depressed or traumatized. When I struggled with motivation to utilize exercise as a coping mechanism I decided to try to develop more self-discipline. I started by taking 30 seconds a day to repeat a mantra: "I need to exercise today". I said it everyday and started exercising even when my mind was saying "no, no stay in bed". It took about a month or two for me to fully habituate daily exercise. From what I recall, it took a week of daily exercise for physical activity to feel really good. The more I got in shape the more I wanted to exercise.
3) Learn to nurture yourself when others are unable to help. Mental health is not exactly the most well-understood thing in American culture, and therefore, the traumatized person is not well-understood in our culture. It is possible that your friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances may not have the foreknowledge to understand the state you are in. In order to deal with a lack of understanding from your social-support system, you may have to become an expert on your own trauma and learn to psychologically soothe yourself. By "soothe" I mean, talk yourself into calmness and take deep breaths. Soothing can start with awareness of your stress and what things trigger your stress; learn to breathe (I inhale on a 3 count and exhale on a 3 count) and then tell yourself you're in a safe place, and you're alright.
4) Be confident or practice confidence. When you've spent the morning curled up in a ball and your eyes are sore from crying, it can be hard to go out in the world and be calm, let alone confident. I am able to be more confident and calm when I validate my traumatic stress and the behavioral/emotional responses that result from my traumatic-stress: I do this by telling myself 1) it is "okay to cry" 2) what happened to me is not my fault and 3) I am not crazy, I am traumatized by a real-life event. This is a human response. I find this approach gives me the assurance I need to feel secure and seize the day--at least some of the time. If traumatic stress creeps up during the day, I find the nearest quiet-space and breath-deep 3 or 5 times. Usually that calms me down.
I suppose these are the four pillars of my coping strategy, but I've also noticed that coping with traumatic-stress is a complex process and requires a holistic (and sometimes-nuanced) approach. I want to record my experience and share my observations as I continue this journey. Hopefully something good will come from these blogs. I plan to keep each entry under 1,000 words and post weekly.
Image Credit » https://pixabay.com/en/stones-pebbles-nature-garden-2165698/