Feelings of sadness, shock, numb, low-energy, and anger are symptoms of post-traumatic stress. So are addictive behaviors, such as binge drinking and eating, attempts to block-out the pain of post-traumatic stress.
Studies show that our bodies can’t distinguish between stress that happens to us personally, and stress that happens to another person. Our bodies’ empathic systems pour stress hormones into our systems, whenever we read, see, or hear about a traumatic situation. This is called “Secondary PTSD.”
I’ve lived through a lot of trauma during my 57 years, including earthquakes, riots, a car-jacking, and personal traumas. I’ve also counseled those who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and wrote about my research in my book, Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle, a book about recovering from PTSD.
Here are 4 methods for healing from post-traumatic stress.
1. Move your body to disperse stress chemicals. When a trauma occurs, our first reaction is to freeze like a deer in headlights. We hold our breath and tense our muscles. Meanwhile, our brains are being flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and histamine. It’s vitally important to move your body to disperse these chemicals so the trauma doesn’t become frozen into muscle memory. To recover from anxiety and fear related to trauma, gentle stretching or restorative (gentle) yoga can help you to release and recover a sense of inner peace and feelings of safety and security.
2. Stay away from news reports. It’s easy to fall into the trap of obsessively reading or watching news stories, to try to make sense of tragedy. There’s also a belief that news gives you more control, safety, and knowledge of what to expect next. However, studies show that traumatic news stories flood the brain and body with the same amount of stress hormones as if the trauma had occurred to you personally. This can lead to Secondary PTSD, and the symptoms of PTSD (flashbacks, anxiety, worries about safety, feeling unsafe and insecure, addictions, etc.). Limit your exposure to news stories. If you feel anxious while hearing about news, be sure to engage in stretching exercises to disperse the stress chemicals.
3. Listen to gentle music. Soothing meditation music lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and soothes us like a lullaby. Pandora Radio has a gentle music station called Nature, or you can search for music genres like “Spa music,” “Meditation music,” or “Yoga music” to find soothing background music. I highly recommend playing soothing music at home, at work, and in the car.
4. Spirituality. When tragedy occurs, it may test your faith. Still, studies show that those who have spiritual or religious beliefs have healthier responses to traumatic events. Believing in God’s protective power, and/or “that everything happens for a reason” helps you to feel peaceful. You retain a sense of safety, instead of believing the world is dangerous and haphazard. Praying and meditating are instantly effective ways to heal from stress and anxiety.
Having lived through so many tragedies, and also studying history, it seems that trauma is a part of earthly life. History books, including the Bible, show that our world has endured unspeakable violence and earth changes. One thing I do know: our souls have an inner compass that points toward peace and health. We are hardwired to be peaceful and happy individuals. And when our hearts break from tragedy, we also have the opportunity to open our hearts to new levels of compassion.
We can choose to let tragedy pull us down, or we can decide to be stronger. We can allow traumatic events to turn us into cold, angry, revengeful people. Or we can find a sense of meaning and purpose in helping others to heal and grow.
If post-traumatic symptoms continue or interfere with your relationships, job, or other functioning, please seek professional treatment from a trauma-specialist therapist. For more information on healing from the effects of trauma, please read “Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle: How to Break Free of Negativity & Drama.”