Life is full of surprises. Sadly, not all of them are good. Experiencing trauma of any sort is something that may happen to us, whether it’s witnessing a traumatic event unfold on the news, being in an accident or watching some we love battling cancer or other illness. It isn’t always easy to deal with a traumatic event or to bounce back afterwards, no matter how trivial the event might be. For some, flashbacks can be vivid and recollection of the event can cause immense stress.
It is often difficult to know what to do after a traumatic incident, as there is no one-size-fits-all model. However, here are a few tips for how to move on after a traumatic event and give yourself space to heal. Hopefully, one or more of these can help you process the event to limit its mental health implications.
Take Your Time
While many people say that “time heals all wounds,” there really is no quick-fix solution when it comes to dealing with trauma. Everyone experiences these events in a different way, and processing such things rarely happens overnight. Be patient with yourself and understand that there is no right or wrong way of dealing with a traumatic event.
My grandparents died four years ago, but I still find myself getting caught with grief at odd moments. One evening, I was joking with my husband about the phone numbers I still have memorized—phone numbers from my childhood, which nobody answers anymore. One of those numbers is my grandparents’, and as I thought of picking up the phone and hearing my grandpa’s voice on the other end (he usually sat closest to the phone), I found myself fighting tears. I gave myself a couple minutes to cry, think of him, and pray for him, and then I turned back to my husband. Even after four years, it’s okay to still be missing my grandpa.
Staying positive in the aftermath of a traumatic event is easier said than done. However, positivity is a key part of a person’s recovery and helping build resilience. Although it may not seem like it at times, it is important to believe that things will get better. Taking baby steps and focusing on solutions rather than dwelling on the problems will also help you move forward.
Tragedy can often make even little things seem overwhelming. When my uncle passed away, my aunt talked about how she had so much to do—and she didn’t know what to do next. She kept putting things to the end of the list because she couldn’t deal with them. I love the scene in Frozen II where Anna thinks she’s lost both Elsa and Olaf—her best friend and her entire family—and she’s crippled with grief. Yet she chooses to do “the next right thing.” Your next right thing may not be as dramatic as Anna’s, but focusing on one little task can help you.
Rely on Your Support Network
Having a solid support system is vital in trying times. Try to identify those closest to you that you can call upon for help and talk to about your mental health. Your support network could include family and friends but also more neutral actors such as a support group or a counsellor. Just as you’d call your family doctor about a physical problem or injury, you may need the help of a professional to deal with a mental struggle or trauma.
When you are struggling to deal with a traumatic event, it can be hard to reach out to those around you. One afternoon when I was missing my aunt and uncle greatly, I shared a photo of them on Facebook. I didn’t really feel like talking about it, but I also wanted to share how I was feeling. (Depending on your support network, sharing on social media may or may not be a good idea.) A friend of mine quickly messaged me with a video of Maroon 5’s song “Memories,” which left me in tears. I played it over and over again as I thought of my aunt and uncle. She’s also lost a dear family member in the last few years, so I knew she understood how I felt, and she shared something that had helped her.
It’s understandable that being exposed to a traumatic event can have a negative impact on a person’s worldview. In such circumstances, to avoid dwelling on things you can’t change, try to find small things that give you some form of comfort. Treat yourself to a meal, set up a relaxing spa day at home, or spend some time outdoors in nature. Find things that uplift you and use those to distract you a little.
While it may seem ridiculous to try to help others when you yourself can barely keep your head above water, you’d be surprised how much similar sharing experiences can assist in your recovery. Furthermore, helping others allows you to focus your attention elsewhere can be a positive distraction from your own stresses.
It’s important to note that one can’t really predict how and when the world will throw an unexpected traumatic event our way. While it is impossible to preempt these events or protect ourselves from such things, we can build our resilience and find ways to cope. Be kind to yourself, and realize there is an end in sight as long as you take action to drive your own healing process.