Editor’s Note: This article is a follow-up to Veronica’s blog called “Trauma and Emotions”. Give it a read too!
Having a history of trauma leads to some predictable difficulties in life. This post is to help you understand some of what’s needed to be able to move forward.
Because of the nature of post-traumatic stress, you may find yourself feeling out of control, acting compulsively, and being overrun with unwanted thoughts. The first step of overcoming trauma is to become stabilized. This is the idea of holding yourself together and once again feeling a sense of control.
Make sure your environment is safe from physical harm or other abuse.
Make your routine predictable.
Establish a list of activities you do and assess the risk of actual danger on a scale of 1-10.
Decide what level of risk you are comfortable taking at this stage in your recovery.
Anti-depressant medication (such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor; SSRI) can help you pay attention to current tasks and decrease rumination. Your doctor may have other ideas to help based on the symptoms you experience.
Practice being fully engaged in the present
Engage in activities that are beneficial (e.g. work, group involvement, housework, community service, prayer…).
Do small things to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Notice when you’ve done something well.
Restore your social support
Learn about safe people.
Learn about boundaries and practice them!
Reconnect with safe social connections that are already in your supportive network.
Develop a secure attachment with a therapist.
Gain control of your body
Practice muscle relaxation.
Learn to control your breathing – count to four as you breathe in, and again as you breathe out.
Remain grounded in the present – name 3 things you see, 3 things you hear, 3 things you are physically touching.
Regulate your emotion:
When you feel an emotion or get triggered, remember that the trauma is not happening.
Learn to calm your fearful thoughts (otherwise you live in fight/flight/freeze zone).
Differentiate what something feels like from what is actually happening:
- What are you experiencing right now? Include physical sensations, things you perceive through your senses. (This is what something feels like.)
- What is currently happening? What preceded it? Then notice what follows it? (This is what is actually happening.)
- Then put your emotions into words – label them. (This helps us understand both.)
Stop ruminating thoughts.
When you are ruminating, obsessing, scaring yourself needlessly, or if you are thinking about a memory at an inconvenient time (e.g. work):
- Shout “Stop” and clap your hands (once).
This distracts your brain momentarily from the thought.
- Then think about something else after you’ve distracted yourself.
(You’ll have to plan ahead and come up with something you can think about.)
Use words to encourage your growth!
Write out specific phrases to help you…
- …prepare for a stressor
- “What’s the likelihood of something bad happening?”
- “Don’t think how bad I feel, think about what I can do about it.”
- …confront and manage a situation
- “One step at a time.”
- “Focus on what I am doing, don’t think about how anxious I am.”
- …cope with feeling overwhelmed
- “When I feel afraid, I will take a breath and say calm.”
- “This will pass, it will be over soon.”
- “I can expect that my fear will rise, but I can keep it manageable.”
- …praise yourself for managing a stressor
- “I did it, I got through it, and each time it will be easier.”
- “I did a good job.”
- …reach out for comfort from God
- “God is with me.”
- “God cares for me.”
Dr. Veronica Johnson is co-founder of Envision Counseling Clinic and is a Licensed Psychologist in Castle Rock, Colorado. She has specialized training and over 15 years of experience working with individuals who experience same-sex attractions and find themselves in conflict with other aspects of their identity, such as their spirituality. For women and teen girls who struggle with eating disorders, Veronica uses Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills to help clients regulate their emotions, particularly around food, perfection, and self-image. Having worked for PREP, Inc. Veronica is trained in PREP’s well-known and effective communication skills for couples. She is trained in EMDR, a technique used to overcome symptoms arising from traumatic experiences. She has also edited books and written articles for publication.
Dr. Johnson is devoted to love and authenticity whether in the counseling office or elsewhere. She is guided by biblical understandings of who we are and what life is about. She uses an interactive style of therapy that puts men and women at ease. Clients feel cared for, challenged, and encouraged in Dr. Johnson’s office.
Dr. Johnson obtained her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Regent University in 2012 shortly after completing her doctoral internship at Eden Counseling Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. During her doctoral training, she was an active research member at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. Her masters degree is in Professional and Biblical Counseling from Colorado Christian University, and she is also an alumnus of Biola University, in Los Angeles, California.
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