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Explains what trauma is and how it affects your mental health. Includes tips for helping yourself, what treatments are available and how to overcome barriers to getting support. Also has tips for supporting someone else who has gone through trauma.
Coping with trauma
Trauma can cause strong feelings and difficult experiences. It can take time and support to be able to cope. But there are things you can try that might help with how you're feeling.
This page has tips to help you:
Looking after yourself straight after a trauma might not be possible. You might not realise you've been through something traumatic. Or you might not have time or space to care for yourself. Your mind might be in a survival mode, or you might not have full control of your actions.
But if it feels possible, there are things you can try to care for yourself. You may also be able to get support from other people in your life, or helpful organisations.
Keep yourself safe
If the trauma has made you feel unsafe or threatened, it can help to go to a safe space. This could be a friend of family member's home, a refuge, a hospital, or just somewhere away from the trauma. If this isn't possible, our useful contacts page has organisations who can support you.
Get medical help if you need it
If your body has been harmed, get any medical help you need. When we experience trauma we can go into shock. So you might not realise you've been harmed right away.
Try to look after your basic needs
After trauma, we might forget to eat, sleep and look after ourselves. These things might feel very difficult. But resting and hydrating ourselves gives our mind the energy it needs to process the trauma. And can help us think what we need to do next.
If sleeping is difficult, giving yourself some time to sit or lie down can help. Sleep when you need to, even if this isn't when you'd normally sleep. Our relaxation tips might help.
If you're finding it difficult to eat, try to snack throughout the day. Or change your meal times to when you feel more hungry. Bland foods might feel easier to eat, rather than food with lots of flavour. Our information on food and mental health has some tips that may help.
Prioritise what to decide now and what can wait
After trauma, you might need to make some decisions for your safety and wellbeing. But trauma can make us feel confused. This can make it harder to make decisions.
Where you can, try and think of whether you need to make a decision now. Or whether it can wait a while.
If there are important decisions that you don't feel you can make, some of these organisations might be able to help:
- Citizens Advice – free support for issues such as benefits, debt, employment and housing.
- Shelter – free support on housing problems.
- Bereavement Advice Centre – practical advice on what to do when someone dies.
- Refuge – support and information about your rights if you're experiencing domestic abuse.
- Scope – help with your rights if you have a disability. And access to things like disability benefits and adaptations to your home.
- PALS – help with complaints and issues with NHS care.
You may also be able to get support from your local council's health and social care team. But you will have to meet certain criteria. See our page on health and social care rights for more information.
Feel your emotions
You might feel like you need to be strong. Or that showing certain types of emotions is a sign of weakness. You also might find the way you feel is not what others expect.
It's ok to cry, be angry, or laugh. Try and speak with someone you trust so you can express how you're really feeling.
If people are being judgemental, you could show them our page on trauma for friends and family. It might help.
Focus on your breathing and ground yourself
When we experience trauma, we can become very anxious and overwhelmed. You might feel like your heart is beating fast, you're struggling to breathe, or you're shaking. In these moments, try to focus on your breath. Breathe in and out slowly.
You can also try some grounding techniques. These can help to bring you back to the current moment. And can help you do what you need to right now – such as getting somewhere safe.
The effects of trauma can last a long time. They might go away and come back. Or they can show up for the first time, long after the trauma has happened.
We might experience overwhelming, distressing feelings related to the trauma at random times. This can happen even if we're feeling happy and well overall.
These are some tips for coping with difficult feelings in the moment.
- Tell yourself that you're safe and the trauma isn't happening now.
- Touch or hold an object that reminds you of the present.
- Describe your surroundings out loud, count your footsteps while walking, or try to remember the lyrics to a song to distract yourself.
- Count objects of a certain type or colour.
See our page on self-care for PTSD for more tips.
- Breathe slowly in and out while counting to five. There are videos online and apps you can use to help pace your breathing.
- Stamp on the spot.
- Taste mint-flavoured sweets or gum, or something sour.
- Touch or cuddle something soft.
- Wrap a blanket around you. A weighted blanket can help, if you find a sense of pressure comforting.
See our page on panic attacks for more tips.
Dissociation or feeling spaced out
- Breathe slowly while counting.
- Hold an ice cube or splash cold water on your face.
- Touch something with an interesting texture or sniff something with a strong smell.
- Imagine a place that feels safe to you.
See our page on coping with dissociative disorders for more tips.
- Remind yourself that you're safe.
- Do something calming before you try going back to sleep. This could be out of bed, if it helps you feel calmer.
- Have an object next to your bed that helps ground you or makes you feel calm.
- Try to avoid drinking, eating or smoking things that keep you awake and alert.
- Try a relaxation exercise.
Feeling sad, depressed or lonely
- Write down your feelings or keep a journal.
- Do something creative.
- Talk to someone you trust. Or try peer support, to share how you feel with people who have similar experiences.
- Spend some time in nature. This could be going outside, or just opening a window for some fresh air.
See our page on self-care for depression for more tips.
Feeling like you want to self-harm
- Rub ice over where you want to hurt yourself.
- Massage your hands or the place you want to hurt yourself.
- Stick sellotape or a plaster on your skin and peel it off.
- Take a cold bath or shower.
See our page on helping yourself cope with self-harm for more tips.
Music always helps me. Lying down with my headphones on and blocking out the world is the best way [for me] to stop panic/overthinking.
Talking about panic attacks
Watch Lewis, Polly, Faisal, Shelley and Brian talk about what it's like to have a panic attack and what has helped them cope in this video.
Get to know your triggers
Some experiences, situations or people might trigger reactions like flashbacks, panic attacks or dissociation. These can include reminders of past trauma, such as smells, sounds, words, places, or books and films.
You might find things difficult on significant dates, such as the anniversary of a traumatic experience. Or some seasons or times of year might be hard, such as Christmas.
You might not always be able to avoid your triggers. But understanding them can help you be prepared and help manage them when they do happen.
Recording your moods in a diary could help you spot patterns. Or it might help you to notice early signs of your feelings changing.
I learned a lot of new vocabulary on my journey... things like triggers and flashbacks seemed such powerful words that I couldn't begin to imagine how they could be applied to me... but I now know how subtle these things are too.
Talk to someone
Some of us who've been through trauma can find it hard to open up to others. This might be because we feel unable to share what has happened or can't remember it clearly.
If you struggle with this, you can still talk about how you feel right now. This doesn't mean you have to describe the trauma itself.
It could help to talk to someone who you trust. This might be someone you know. Or a professional, like your doctor or a trained listener at a helpline.
I am pleased to say that with support from my family and loved ones the coming days and weeks got easier, and my body began its slow road to recovery. This in turn helped with the reaction to mental trauma I had been through too
Give yourself time
Everyone has their own response to trauma. It's important to take things at your pace. Try to be gentle and patient with yourself.
You might feel pressure from people around you to move on. But coping with trauma often takes time. It's not a straight-forward process.
I refer to my bad days as a 'write off', and on those days I forgive myself for not participating in daily activities. I accept that my mind and body need to just rest and do nothing.
Find ways to relax
Finding ways to relax can help with our wellbeing, especially when we feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Our pages on relaxation have tips you could try.
It may also help to spend time in nature. Being outside in green space can help us feel more in touch with our surroundings. See our pages on nature and mental health for more ideas.
I have to be patient and trust in my recovery. It won't happen overnight. I've learned that I need to find ways to relax, whether it be mindfulness, reading, gaming or becoming invested in a new television series.
Make a self-care or sensory box
A self-care box can contain things that make you feel calm, relaxed or comforted during difficult times. They can help with anxiety, low mood and depression.
A sensory box is similar, but is filled with things that can help ground you in the moment. They can help manage experiences like panic attacks, dissociation, or flashbacks.
Some things you might include in a self-care box could be:
- Favourite books, films or CDs
- A stress ball or fidget toy
- Helpful sayings or notes of encouragement
- Pictures or photos you find comforting
- A notebook and pen to write down your thoughts
- Puzzles or colouring books to distract yourself
- A soft blanket or cosy slippers
- A nice smelling candle or lavender bag
- Something with an interesting texture or feel
Certain smells trigger me, such as alcohol or a certain colour. So for sensory grounding I make sure that I use non-triggering things
Try peer support
Peer support brings together people who have had similar experiences. To find peer support, you could:
- Ask your doctor or healthcare team
- Try an online peer support community, such as Mind’s Side by Side
- Find a local support group through an organisation such as the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), Together UK or Rethink
- Contact an organisation specialising in trauma, such as those listed on our useful contacts page, to see if they offer trauma-informed peer support
- Contact Mind’s Infoline or a local Mind to see what support there is in your area
See our pages on peer support to find out more. If you're seeking online peer support, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. Our page on looking after your mental health online can help.
I spoke to some other survivors and realised they felt the exact same way. Talking to them was brilliant. It made me realise that while my behaviour had changed, I was just coping the way I could, that we all were.
Find specialist support
It may help to contact an organisation that specialises in supporting trauma. Or with expertise in the type of trauma you've experienced. See page of useful contacts for trauma for organisations who can help.
If you're experiencing difficult physical or mental health effects of trauma, speak to your GP. They may be able to refer you to specialist support, or suggest things that can help.
I still get anxious or have the odd panic attack from things I see, smell or do. But from what I had learned from my counsellor, I could use to help calm myself down and manage the feelings a lot better.
Build a routine
Trauma can disrupt our usual daily routine. This might be because of how trauma makes us feel. Or because a traumatic event has changed a big part of our lives.
Building a new routine can help us adjust to the changes in our lives after trauma. And help make sure that we aren't always focusing on the trauma.
In your routine, you might want to consider things like physical activity, food, and spending time with others. These things can feel difficult to do after trauma, especially if they aren't part of our routine.
Our pages on wellbeing have more ideas that you could build into your routine.
Managing sleep problems
Many of us who've experienced trauma have problems sleeping.
You might find it hard to fall or stay asleep, or feel unsafe during the night. Or you may feel anxious or afraid of having nightmares.
It may help to try these tips:
- Keep a light on. This may help if you struggle to sleep in complete darkness.
- Comfort yourself. For example, you could curl up in a soft blanket or cuddle a pet or soft toy.
- Play soothing sounds. If silence makes it harder for you to sleep, you could try listening to something as you fall asleep. For example music, nature sounds or people talking, such as podcasts.
- Plan a relaxing bedtime routine. This can help to manage anxiety that might make sleeping difficult. It could involve reading, using a hand cream, or doing breathing exercises. The routine can be as long or short as you need it to be.
See our page on coping with sleep problems for more information.
Try something creative
Expressing yourself creatively can help to process traumatic experiences. You could join a group or do something creative on your own. It doesn't have to be something you show other people if you don't want to.
You could try:
- Acting and theatre
- Writing, such as poetry or short stories
- Singing or playing music
- Painting, drawing or making sculptures
- Knitting, crochet, embroidery or cross stitch
Learning to sew and recently to crochet... has brought me into contact with others with the same interests in environments where I can feel safe... it helps me to focus and stay still, as well as producing something which is beautiful.
How I deal with panic attacks with doodling
Watch Stuart's vlog on how he uses doodling to cope with panic attacks.
This information was published in December 2023. We will revise it in 2026.
References and bibliography available on request.
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