It seems to me that whether we experience traumatic stress or full blown PTSD after a traumatic event, once we’ve come out the other side and are able to start to reassess our lives, we realise that we have just two choices: We can give up (briefly, long term or permanently) or we can start to recover.
Giving up is absolutely, totally understandable. Some temporary giving up is to be expected even once we’ve made the decision to recover. Even when we’re a good way down the line there are going to be off-days when we question our sanity.
The choice to give up
For anyone reading this who hasn’t experienced them, have no doubt about it: The symptoms of PTSD can be every bit as devastating as the original trauma that caused them: The flashbacks, the nightmares, the mood swings, the effects on physical health, on self-confidence, on relationships and on everyday lives. We implement survival strategies to deal with the symptoms – alcohol, drugs, thoughts of suicide, eating disorders – but in the end these often make us feel worse rather than better.
We might gather some courage and look for help only to find that it’s not available – people don’t “get” how we feel (even those close to us), even trained professionals don’t seem to have any answers, except to offer a prescription for anti-anxiety/depression medication. Then what?
If this is YOU, if you have experienced any kind of trauma that has left its mark on you, understand that in 2017, there is much knowledge out there that CAN help you to recover. Not instant transformation, but there are things that you can do to help yourself to start to feel better immediately. All you need to do is to make the decision to TAKE CONTROL.
Now, your poor exhausted emotional brain will do all that is within its power to stop you taking control. Your basic survival instincts are deeply wired into the reptilian part of our brains and so your inner lizard will be shouting that you’re too tired, too scared, not ready, that the situation is too hopeless. But you STILL HAVE A CHOICE!
The choice to recover
Yes, the lizard brain will keep telling you it’s all hopeless BUT the rational side of your brain, the part that has enabled you to survive until today, that enabled you to feed and clothe yourself and keep going, at least at some level, is WELL ABLE to steer you into recovery.
How can you enlist the powerful help of your rational brain? Take the following 7 steps
1. Get hold of some information
The right information you need at this point, in order to start to recover. You don’t want overload. Just simple, straightforward, reliable information. This blog past might help!
2. Do a safety inventory
Safety is your number one priority on the road to recovery. so ask yourself the following question: “In all areas of my life right now, am I safe? If not, how can I make myself safe?” When you are in any kind of ongoing danger, all your effort needs to go into surviving from day to day and you won’t be able to focus on recovery. This article might help.
3. Motivate yourself
It might seem like an impossible task, but you need to gather together every bit of motivation you can – you don’t need to be overflowing with it, just a willingness to have a go – you will find the more you do, the more results you see, the more the motivation builds up on its own. You might find that having another person, someone who has your best interests at heart, can help enormously. This might be a partner, family member or close friend, a support group or a therapist. See this article for more information.
4. Work on your Emotional Brain
Work on your inner lizard! CALM your system down so that your rational “life goes on” brain can get a look in. Just learning and practicing a few techniques will make a HUGE difference here. See this article for more information.
5. Practice mindfulness
By mindfulness I mean start to stand back, observe yourself and, like a research scientist, start to gather as much information as you can about yourself. Honest but kindly self-examination. Gathering information is the first step to gaining control. so, what are your most difficult to handle symptoms? (These could include fear, panic, anxiety, shame, guilt, feeling stuck, feeling worthless or an outsider, anger, low mood, little energy, disturbed sleep, flashbacks, a tendency to avoid people and places that you find challenging, dysfunctional relationships, poor physical health. ) Once you know this, start to spot what triggers those symptoms.
6. Learn some new tools and tricks
If you don’t do things differently, you won’t feel any better! for some example see these articles:
And SLOWLY, BIT BY BIT, YOU WILL START TO NOTICE CHANGES….which leads to the next essential part:
7. TRACK the changes
Making any kind of changes in our lives involves many small steps which can sometimes feel frustratingly slow. In order to motivate ourselves it’s very important that we track our own progress as we go, to look for patterns. We need to accept that there will be good days and bad days and “two steps forward, one step back” but being able to see overall trends can keep us going on those bad days. We need to be able to look back to earlier days and to compare how we feel now to how we felt then. How do we do this? Well, the most basic level involves simply scoring yourself on a scale from 1 to 10) on different aspects of how you are feeling. For more information, see this article.
The Two Simple Choices of Trauma Recovery
Recovering from the effects of trauma and PTSD isn’t easy. It takes time and effort. BUT making the choice to recover can be as quick and easy as one single action: making one phone call perhaps to a trusted friend, or looking up an article or video online. Just getting started.
Need some advice and support?
If you have experienced trauma and would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.