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Alcohol and Mental Health

Healing Trauma: 8 Strategies That Can Help

July 13, 2023
14 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 13, 2023
14 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 13, 2023
14 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 13, 2023
14 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 13, 2023
14 min read

Imagine walking through a beautiful forest: the sun is shining, birds are singing, and it seems that all is well. Suddenly, a bear appears directly in front of you. Your heart races, adrenaline surges through your veins, and your body prepares for fight or flight. This is trauma: an intense response to a deeply distressing event that overwhelms our ability to cope.

Now imagine if that bear followed you home and lurked in every corner of your life. That's how living with unresolved trauma can feel. It can manifest in various ways and affect each of us uniquely — from anxiety and depression to substance abuse to physical illness.

Spotting and understanding our own "invisible bear" is the first step towards healing.

In this article, we'll explore eight potent strategies for taming the beast of trauma and reclaiming control over our lives.

Understanding Trauma

Trauma refers to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that has profound impacts on our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. This can include events such as abuse, neglect, loss of a loved one, accidents, or exposure to violence or disaster.

When we encounter an event or situation that we perceive as physically or emotionally threatening, and it overwhelms our ability to cope, it can result in trauma. This can lead to long-term consequences: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and challenges with self-regulation — and changes in our brains.

It's essential to remember that trauma is highly subjective — what may be traumatic for one of us may not be for another. Our perception of the event, our personal resilience, and our available support systems can significantly influence the impact of the traumatic event.

1. The "Brain-Body" Connection

The connection between the brain and body is a profound one. Picture it as a bustling two-way highway with constant traffic — our thoughts, feelings, and physiological responses— flowing in both directions.

Our brain, the command center, sends out signals based on our thoughts and emotions. These signals manifest physically as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Simultaneously, our body sends feedback to the brain, affecting our emotions and thoughts. This dynamic interaction forms the basis of our responses to stress and trauma.

When we experience trauma or chronic stress, the highway traffic can go into overdrive, with signals often stuck in a "fight or flight" loop. Like a car alarm that won't turn off, our body remains in a state of high alert — leading to chronic stress and health issues.

When this alarm system is repeatedly activated due to ongoing trauma or severe experiences, it can lead to long-term changes in our brain’s structure and function. For instance, research has shown that prolonged exposure to stress hormones can shrink the hippocampus (an area responsible for memory and learning), leading to difficulty in processing memory.

Mindfulness and controlled breathing exercises can guide us like a GPS. They help to slow down the traffic, giving us a chance to exit the stressful "fight or flight" loop and enter a calmer state — known as "rest and digest.”

Meditation can significantly reduce stress and improve mental health. Deep, controlled breathing can lower blood pressure and promote feelings of calm.

Practicing mindfulness helps recalibrate our brain's response to stress, creating harmony between brain and body. Gradually, this can help us cut back on unhealthy coping mechanisms — like excessive drinking — paving the way for lasting change.

2. Getting the Right Help

Unhealed trauma can also affect our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for executive functions like decision-making and impulse control, making it harder for us to manage our emotions.

When dealing with trauma, it's essential to remember we don't have to face it alone. Professional help from therapists or counselors specialized in trauma therapy can be a game-changer on our healing journeys.

Therapists trained in trauma work understand the intricate ways trauma alters our brains and bodies. They use evidence-based therapeutic approaches designed specifically to help individuals process traumatic experiences and foster resilience.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for instance, helps us identify and change the thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors or emotions. By reframing negative thoughts, CBT can help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related disorders.

Another powerful tool is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This therapy uses guided eye movements to help us process traumatic memories and reduce their long-term effects. This reprocesses traumatic memories, integrating them into our overall life narrative rather than letting them linger as disruptive fragments.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to therapy; what works for one person might not work for another. Take some time to research the resources available to you that might resonate with you personally.

3. Understand Your Triggers

Triggers are hidden tripwires in our minds. When we encounter one, our brain swiftly recalls  past experiences. If it finds a link to a traumatic event, it initiates the stress response, preparing us to "fight or flee."

They are the brain's way of alerting us to potential danger based on past experiences. However, triggers can cause us distress and lead us to unhealthy coping mechanisms. They are unique to each of us.

Understanding our triggers is critical for healing. Recognizing these tripwires and replacing our response to them with healthier alternatives — like deep breathing or taking a brisk walk — can help rewire the brain's reward system, making lasting changes more feasible. But in order to do so, we need to know and track those triggers.

4. Power of Self-Care

Self-care is not just about bubble baths and spa days; it's about taking intentional actions to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health. It means movement, good food, and enough sleep.

Movement helps promote relaxation. Eating well is also important — just as our body needs nutritious food, so does our brain. Certain nutrients can bolster our brain health, enhance mood, and mitigate stress. A balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins is crucial for optimal brain function.

Sleep is more than recharging. It's the time when our brain processes the day's events, solidifying memories and learning. Improving sleep hygiene gives the brain ample time to process trauma and accelerate healing.

Taking care of our body is taking care of our mind.

5. Strength in Numbers: Relationships as Resilience

Having a strong support system is crucial to healing.

Reach out to trusted friends or family members who can provide emotional support.

Consider joining support groups and connect with others who share similar experiences. It can be incredibly healing — and make you feel less alone.

6. Expressing Yourself: The Power of Expressive Therapies

Expressive therapies — like art therapy or dance/movement therapy — offer creative outlets for expressing and processing emotions related to trauma.

They allow you to communicate feelings that might be too difficult to put into words.

But expressing yourself can take many forms: write down your thoughts in a journal, knit a scarf, take up painting or cooking, or clip together a fun collage from old magazines. Or get back to an old hobby you once loved!

7. Being Your Own Best Friend: Practice Self-Compassion

Healing from trauma requires deep kindness towards ourselves.

Practicing self-compassion involves acknowledging your pain without judgment, understanding that suffering is part of the human experience, and being mindful of negative self-talk.

It helps to remember that healing isn’t linear.

8. Moving Into Joy: Engaging in Physical Activities

Physical activities like walking or dancing are great ways to release tension. Regular exercise improves our physical health and promotes emotional well-being. It does so by releasing endorphins — our body's natural mood boosters.

Plus, it can be a great way to reconnect with your body and regain a sense of control that trauma might have taken away.

Here are some excellent ways to get moving:

  • Walking: This is one of the simplest forms of exercise that requires no special equipment or training.
  • Yoga: Yoga combines physical postures with deep breathing and meditation techniques, making it an excellent choice for those healing from trauma.
  • Dance: Dancing is not only fun but also therapeutic; it allows you to express yourself freely through movement.
  • Tai Chi: This ancient Chinese martial art focuses on slow movements and deep breathing — perfect for stress reduction.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a low-impact exercise that's gentle on the joints while providing a full-body workout. And if you don’t swim well enough to do laps, a water aerobics or water zumba class can be a lot of fun.
  • Cycling: Whether outdoor or indoor cycling, this activity provides cardiovascular benefits while being easy on the joints.

The goal here isn't necessarily about losing weight or building muscle; it's about taking care of yourself holistically during this healing journey.

Remember to start slowly, gradually increasing intensity as your fitness level improves over time — there's no rush!

You Are the Change: Moving Forward

Healing requires patience, courage, and self-compassion. The eight strategies discussed in this article can serve as a guide.

Remember that everyone's healing journey is unique; what works for one person may not work for another. It's okay to try different strategies until you find what works best for you. In the meantime, consider the following:

  • Prioritize seeking professional help from qualified therapists specializing in trauma therapy.
  • Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routines to promote presence and relaxation.
  • Build a supportive network through support groups or by nurturing relationships with the people already in your life.

You're not alone on this journey; reach out when you need help, and remember — it's okay not to be okay.

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