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Some Suggestions For Taking Care of Yourself After a Traumatic Experience

By: Timothy T. Leung (PhD, R.Psych)

  • Trust yourself that you will survive.

  • If you need it, get help at once-this is not the time to “be brave”. In fact, it takes great courage to ask for help.

  • Acknowledge the loss. You may struggle to both believe and disbelieve that this could have happened to you. Recognize that a loss has taken place.

  • It is OK to feel.

  • It’s OK to feel numb. Expect to be in shock for awhile. This emotional numbness may be frightening.

  • It’s OK to feel fear. “Will I make it?” “Will I ever feel good about anything again?” These are familiar fears following a loss. It’s OK to feel them, but, to the degree you can, don’t believe them.

  • It’s Ok to feel anything. You may feel angry, like a failure, exhausted, muddled, lost, beaten, indecisive, relieved, overwhelmed, inferior, melancholy, silly, full of self hatred, envious, outraged, in rage, or anything else. All feelings are part of the recovery process.

  • Be with the pain. If you’re hurting, admit it. To feel pain is normal and natural. Although you may be frightened by it, be with your pain. Feel it. Lean into it. You will not find it bottomless.

  • It is an important part of the recovery process that you be with pain, experience the desolation, feel the hurt. Don’t deny it or cover it or run away from it. Be with it. Hurt for awhile. See pain as not hurting, but healing.

  • There is no need to give negative thoughts about yourself the centre of your attention.

  • Don’t punish yourself with the “if onlys”. Disregard any thought that begin “If only….”

  • The recovery process is not the smooth progression many people assume. It’s more like a lightening bolt, full of ups and downs, progressions and regressions, dramatic leaps and depressing backslides.

  • Get lots of rest. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t rush about. Your body needs energy to recover. Rest as much as you need to, but don’t become lethargic. Keep active.

  • It’s OK to make “silly” mistakes. You may forget your keys, misplace your wallet etc. Absentmindedness, forgetfulness and clumsiness are frequently experienced after a traumatic experience.

  • It’s OK to be taken care of for awhile. Be brave enough to accept help from others.

  • Get your friends, family and co-workers into a support system. You need to know that others care and, if you tell them your pain, they will help.

  • Be aware, however, of anyone’s well meaning advice containing: should, you better, it’s time you, I think you should….Such approaches, far from being supportive, only foster guilt and a sense of inadequacy.

  • It’s OK to feel depressed. Pretending to have more energy, enthusiasm or happiness than you actually have is not productive. Pretending expands energy that could better be used for recovery. It’s OK to feel “low” for awhile.

  • It’s OK to feel angry.

  • Let the anger out safely. Hit a pillow, kick a bed, yell and scream (a car parked in a deserted place makes a great “scream chamber”). Hit a punching bag. Play a piano at full crescendo.

  • When you feel guilty, you are feeling angry with yourself. It’s Ok to feel guilt, but there are limits. Some regrets are natural, but excessive self-punishment can be harmful.

  • Try to eat regular and well balanced meals.

  • Regular exercise, such as walking, cycling, jogging, helps reduce the physical effects of stress.

  • You may be more vulnerable to accidents and physical illness. It is important to look after yourself and be more careful than usual, for example, when driving.

  • Don’t try to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol; this will lead to more problems in the long term.

  • Changes in sleeping patterns-how long you sleep or when you sleep-are common while healing. Insomnia is nothing to worry about. In fact, worrying about not sleeping can cause one to lose sleep.

  • Sexual desire may change, full sexual desire and functioning will naturally return when the body has a chance to recover itself.

  • Some people find that keeping a journal or diary is helpful. Writing down your feelings can be almost as good as talking about them.

  • Believe it or not, going through the loss has lots of positive aspects. People come out wiser, stronger, and better able to cope with the stresses of everyday life. An event like this can also be a turning point when you re-evaluate your life and appreciate little things that are often taken for granted.

How you can help your friends

  • Spend time with them.

  • Offer support and a listening ear.

  • Assist with everyday tasks if and when you can.

  • Don’t take it personally if they want to be alone sometimes or seem angry.

  • Statements like “You’re lucky it wasn’t worse” or “pull yourself together” are not consoling. Instead, say that you’re sorry, that you want to understand and assist them.

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