The brain is an incredible organ. With trauma, its natural tendency is toward healing. The importance of working through trauma with a professional therapist is supported by numerous studies. The bottom line is that therapy works and, in fact, can be extremely effective. However, since healing continues between therapy sessions, there are activities you can engage in that will promote and enhance the healing process.
Practice Self-Kindness and Acceptance
Remove expectations of how you should feel and how you should be functioning. Trauma takes a toll on even the strongest and healthiest individuals. We can never predict how trauma will affect someone. Often, people who have experienced trauma will get frustrated with themselves and the pace of their recovery. They will have expectations regarding how they should be functioning and progressing. These expectations can slow things down, particularly if they are not flexible and lead to self-criticism if not met.
Treating yourself kindly and with compassion is vital in the healing process. This does not mean you stop trying and putting effort into recovery. It simply means that when goals are not met when you wanted to meet them, you don’t beat yourself up. Instead, you accept that you are a human being. If timelines and goals are important to you, make sure they are flexible and do not include some sort of self-punishment (including negative self-talk) if not met.
Treat yourself like you would treat a loved one. When you notice self-criticism, catch yourself and replace it with words that are encouraging and nurturing.
Find Beauty, Pleasure, and Meaning in the Small Things
When someone experiences a traumatic event, the negativity and intensity of the symptoms can impact the way you view the world. You may notice that activities you once found pleasurable are no longer so. This can reinforce feelings of hopelessness and depression.
Starting with something small and removing any expectation of how you should feel can assist with the healing of this aspect of trauma. It can be as simple as taking two minutes to look at something small and beautiful, such as a flower or leaf. During those two minutes, work on focusing your entire attention on the object you have chosen, appreciating everything about it and trying to notice things about it that you hadn’t noticed before. The goal is not to feel a certain way, but rather to focus your mind on something that will likely be pleasurable in the future. Each time you do this, you are reinforcing a positive experience in the brain, which is powerful and healing.
Make Connections with Animals
Many people who are working through trauma find that connecting with an animal is a powerful way to heal. Animals have the ability to sense and react to our emotions in a way that can be comforting to the person experiencing distressful symptoms.
There is no particular type of animal that is more effective than another. It depends on your preferences. If you already have a pet, you have a great resource that is readily accessible. If you don’t have a pet, volunteering at the Humane Society, ASPCA, or other organization that helps animals can be a great outlet.
Helping animals to heal from their own trauma can have a tremendous healing impact on the brain and can also make you feel good to know you are doing something positive for another living creature.
Make Connections with People
As human beings, we are hard-wired to need other people. In the days of cavemen and -women, we did not survive going it alone. We needed others in order to hunt, for protection, and for community.
When someone experiences a traumatic event, one urge may be to isolate from others. This is understandable, as trauma can create negative beliefs that lead to shame and a sense of loneliness. Connecting with other people who are safe and healthy can be a great way to go against negative beliefs that may cause you to isolate.
If you already have such people in your life, start there. You don’t need a lot of people. It can start with making a phone call. Healing can take place without you needing to talk about the traumatic event. When you make positive connections with other people, you create positive neural networks in the brain, which help to make the traumatic neural networks and related symptoms more tolerable.
If you don’t have people in your life who are healthy or safe, finding a trauma support group is a great way to connect with others with whom you will be able to relate.
Remember that healing from trauma may take considerable time and effort. Having a good trauma therapist and the tools to enhance healing between therapy sessions can make the healing process easier, faster, and can teach you about how resilient and capable you really are.
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