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Coping After a Traumatic Event

It is normal to have stress reactions following a traumatic event. Taking direct action to cope with those stress reactions can put you in a position of power. Active coping after a traumatic event helps you feel less helpless.

For example:

  • It means accepting the impact of trauma on your life, and taking direct action to improve things.

  • It happens even when there is no crisis. Active coping is a way of responding to everyday life. It is a habit that can be made stronger.

Recovery is a process

Recovering from the trauma is a process and takes time. Knowing this will help you feel more in control. Here are some things to remember:

  • Having a response to trauma is normal.

  • Recovery is an ongoing, daily process. It happens little by little. It is not a matter of “feeling better” all of a sudden.

  • Healing doesn’t mean forgetting traumatic events. It doesn't mean you will have no pain or bad feelings when thinking about the trauma.

  • Healing may mean fewer symptoms and symptoms that bother you less.

  • Healing means more confidence that you will be able to cope with your memories and symptoms.

  • You will be better able to manage your feelings.

Positive coping actions

Certain actions can help to reduce the distress of symptoms and make things better. Plus, positive coping actions can lead to changes that last into the future. Here are some positive coping methods:

Learn about trauma and PTSD. It is useful for those who experience trauma to learn more about common reactions to traumatic events and about PTSD. Learn what reactions are normal. Find out what the signs are that you may need assistance from others. When you learn that the symptoms of PTSD are common, you realize that you are not alone, weak, or crazy. It helps to know your problems are shared by hundreds of thousands of others. When you seek treatment and begin to understand your response to trauma, you will be better able to cope with the symptoms of PTSD.

Talk with others for support. When survivors talk about their problems with others, something helpful often results. It is important not to isolate yourself. Instead make efforts to be with others. Social support includes emotional support. This means feeling connected as well as practical help, like managing your time. Your family, friends, and community can make you feel cared for and feel good about yourself. They can give you hope.

Of course, you must choose your support people with care. You must also ask them clearly for what you need. With support from others, you may feel less alone and more understood. You may also get concrete help with a problem you have.

Practice relaxation methods. While relaxation methods can be helpful, in a few people, they may increase distress at first. This can happen when you focus attention on disturbing physical sensations and you reduce contact with the outside world. Most often, continuing with relaxation in small amounts that you can handle will help limit negative reactions. You may want to try mixing relaxation in with walking or other activities. Try some different ways to relax including:

  • Muscle relaxation exercises

  • Breathing exercises

  • Meditation

  • Swimming, stretching, yoga

  • Prayer

  • Listening to quiet music

  • Spending time in nature

Distract yourself with positive activities. Activities you enjoy—either for fun or for work—help distract you from upsetting memories and reactions. For example, art can give you a way to express your feelings in a positive, creative way. Pleasant activities can improve your mood, limit the harm caused by PTSD, and help you rebuild your life.

Talk with your healthcare provider about trauma and PTSD. Part of taking care of yourself means using the help resources around you. If efforts at coping don’t seem to work, you may become fearful or depressed. If your PTSD symptoms don’t begin to go away or get worse over time, it is important to reach out. Call a mental healthcare provider who can help you turn things around. Your family doctor can also refer you to a specialist who can treat PTSD. Talk with your healthcare provider about your trauma and PTSD symptoms. That way, he or she can take care of your health better. There are effective treatments for PTSD.

For more information

Coping with PTSD Symptoms health sheet

Treatment for PTSD health sheet

PTSD Coach mobile app

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2018
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