As much as we all don't want to, everyone experiences traumatic events in their lives. But the types of trauma and their lasting impact can vary — from childhood trauma, generational trauma, racial trauma...and much more. In 2023 alone, the US has experienced the police killing of Tyre Nichols, as well as dozens of mass shootings. All of which can take a serious toll on our mental and physical health.
With all of this, it's no surprise many of us are wondering, 'How do we cope with all of this?’ That’s why we reached out to award-winning therapist Joy Harden Bradford, founder of Therapy for Black Girls and author of “‘Sisterhood Heals”, for guidance on how to start healing from traumatizing events.
I think I've been traumatized. What signs should I look for?
Bradford said that there are many to look out for — from sleep issues to chronic pain to panic attacks. (You can read more about them here.) Here are some other red flags to look out for:
You ruminate or replay images from the traumatizing event: The event likely left a lasting negative impact on you, which makes it difficult to forget.
You're in a constant state of hyperarousal: You might find yourself much more tuned into your surroundings than you used to be. Example: You find yourself feeling more "activated" when a police car is behind you.
Your eating or sleeping patterns change: Because trauma is stressful for your body. These changes may be more subtle but there's a chance they're connected to your trauma, Bradford said.
Figuring out how to recover from trauma can feel daunting, but there are some practical ways to get started.
How can I cope after a traumatic event?
No matter what you've experienced, experts generally recommend talking to a therapist on a regular basis. Finding someone can feel overwhelming, but we've got pointers on where to start: Ask your primary care provider or insurance provider for in-network recs. See if a friend can give you a referral. Or check out online sites like Zocdoc or directories like Therapy for Black Girls.
But therapy isn’t the only solution. Here are some other ways to cope. Important to note: Some methods might work better for you than others — and that's ok.
If you’ve experienced trauma firsthand…
Give yourself grace
Take the time to allow yourself to tap into what you're feeling. But Bradford explained that it's important to be mindful of when and how often you're doing this — otherwise, you could find yourself constantly rehashing the trauma.
Move your body
“Sometimes, trauma gets stuck in our body,” Bradford said. So doing something physical, like a brisk walk, jog, or yoga can help you heal. “It doesn’t have to be super strenuous,” she added. Just enough for a quick boost in serotonin to improve your mood.
Find a support system
Whether it’s a therapist or a close friend, having someone you can lean on can provide a much-needed outlet for you to talk about your feelings.
Maintain a normal routine
Sticking to a regular routine is a great way to hold on to at least a little normalcy while you navigate your healing. Just remember to give yourself grace as you move forward.
If you’re the support system for someone who is coping with trauma...
Move your body
A light workout can provide the serotonin boost you might need after hearing about traumatic events. Bradford told us that when it comes to trauma, it can be difficult for the brain to decipher between what happened to you, and what you saw or heard. That’s why vicarious trauma can impact you just as much as trauma you experienced firsthand.
Reducing your exposure to trauma is a good way to make sure you have the time and space to process your own feelings. Bradford says a good way to do this is suggesting a therapist who specializes in trauma.
If you’ve seen something traumatic in the news…
Know your limits
Bradford says the best way to avoid being traumatized by news events is to skip watching them. “The human psyche is not built to be able to consume those kinds of images,” Bradford warns. Especially the stories that you know could possibly stick with you after the broadcast.
Limit social media
Which means you’ll need to resist the urge to scroll through endless tweets or TikToks about an event that traumatized you. That way, you aren’t taking on everyone else’s distress as you work to cope with your own. Doomscrolling through your social media feed can cause just as much trauma as watching negative news.
What if I know someone has experienced trauma?
If you know someone may have been traumatized, but they haven’t opened up to you about it, there are still ways to be there for them:
Let them take the lead
Bradford said there are tons of ways to offer support, but one thing you shouldn’t do is force them to talk to you about their feelings. If they decide to open up about their feelings, offer support through listening.
Help with their routine
Bradford said traumatic experiences can sometimes lead to a person feeling depressed and unmotivated. Which is why it’s a good idea to help out with the day to day tasks, like cooking dinner for them or babysitting to give them a little me time.
Help find pro support
Finding the right therapist can be tough. Another great way to offer support is to search for a few therapists they can reach out to for help, when they’re ready.
Trauma comes in many forms — and can be from something you experienced firsthand or from afar. There are a number of ways you can find support as you heal. And know that you don’t have to take on recovery alone.
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