This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

Trauma

Explains what trauma is and how it affects your mental health, including how you can help yourself, what treatments are available and how to overcome barriers to getting the right support. Also includes tips for people who want to support someone who has gone through trauma.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting all our lives, and the usual advice might not quite apply. We know that some ideas for looking after yourself may feel unrealistic right now. And some treatment and support options will be harder to access, or may be unavailable for a while.
 
But we hope that you can still find information here that helps you find a path forward. Our page on coronavirus and your wellbeing has more guidance too.

How can I cope in the long term?

Coping with the effects of trauma can feel difficult or exhausting, but there are lots of things that could help. This page has some suggestions for you to consider:

Certain experiences, situations or people might seem to trigger reactions like flashbacks, panic attacks or dissociation. These can include reminders of past trauma, such as smells, sounds, words, places or particular types of books or films.

Some people find things difficult on significant dates, such as the anniversary of a traumatic experience. Particular seasons or times of year might also be hard for you, such as the Christmas period.

Recording your moods in a diary could help you spot patterns in what triggers difficult experiences, or notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.

Lots of people who go through trauma find it hard to open up to others. This might be because you’re unable to share what has happened or can't remember it clearly. But you don't need to be able to describe the trauma to tell someone how you are currently feeling.

It could help to talk to someone in your life who you trust, or a professional such as a GP or a trained listener at a helpline. You may feel more comfortable opening up to people you know than professionals, or you may find it easier to approach a professional (such as your doctor). There's no right or wrong way round.

You can find details of helplines on our pages on useful contacts for trauma, useful contacts for PTSD and helplines and listening services. For more about talking to your doctor, see our Find the Words guide.

"Some days are just as they used to be when I get lost and frightened and hideaway from everyone and everything, but even on those days I feel I have enough within me now to know that they will pass."

Everyone has their own individual response to trauma and it's important to take things at your own pace. Try to be gentle and patient with yourself.

"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."

People who go through trauma can sometimes feel pressure from those around them to 'move on' but it is important to recognise that coping with trauma often takes time and is not a straightforward or linear process.

Stages of trauma recovery

While coping or recovering after trauma is different for everyone, you might find you go through some distinct stages. These are often thought to include:

  • Coping and stabilisation. This can include finding ways to cope with strong feelings and difficult experiences - our page on helping yourself now has lots of tips you could try. You might also need support with other issues like money or housing problems. You might move in and out of this stage at different times.
  • Working through the effects of trauma. This can involve acknowledging how you've been affected and grieving for what you've lost or missed out on. Some people find it helps to talk about what happened, while others may find other ways of working through their trauma more helpful than talking. What works will be personal to you.
  • Reconnecting with your life. This might mean being less affected by your experiences, although they might still bother you sometimes. It could also mean you feel more hopeful about the future or can enjoy your life more.

Whether or not you find it helpful to think in terms of these stages, it's important to remember that it can take time and support to be able to cope and there are likely to be good days and bad days.

"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."

  • Explore ways of managing stress. It can help to think of ways to manage pressure and build your emotional resilience. See our pages on how to manage stress for more information.
  • Try some relaxation techniques. Learning to relax can help you look after your wellbeing when you are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. See our pages on relaxation for tips you could try.
  • Spend time in nature. Being outside in green space can help you feel more in touch with your surroundings. See our pages on nature and mental health for more information.

"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."

You could put together some things that might help you when you’re struggling – a bit like making a first-aid kit for your mental health.

For example:

  • favourite books, films or CDs
  • a stress ball or fiddle 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
  • a soft blanket or cosy slippers
  • a nice-smelling candle or lavender bag.

"When life is hectic me-time is crucial."

Read Matt's blog about how drumming helped him cope with trauma from childhood sexual abuse.

Peer support brings together people who have had similar experiences, which some people find very helpful. To find peer support, you could:

For more information, see our page on peer support.

If you're seeking peer support on the internet, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. See our page on how to stay safe online for more information.

It can also be helpful to see if your local area has a recovery college.

Recovery colleges offer courses about mental health and recovery in a supportive environment. You can find local providers on the Mind Recovery Net website.

"[I] dye my hair to give myself a fresh look. I always make a happy playlist and just dance around the house in my pyjamas [...]. The tiny things which make me happy have helped me get myself back into work."

You might find it useful to contact an organisation that specialises in advice and support for coping with trauma, such as ASSIST Trauma Care.

It could also be helpful to find an organisation with expertise in the particular type of trauma you have experienced. For details of specialist organisations, see our pages on useful contacts for trauma and useful contacts for PTSD.

If you've gone through domestic violence, the Freedom Programme might be helpful for you. Find out more on the Freedom Programme website.

Looking after your physical health can make a difference to how you feel emotionally. For example, it can help to:

  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. See our pages on food and mood for more information.
  • Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. See our pages on physical activity for more information.

"Exercise helps me a lot. I swim, run and do yoga, and it means I can control some of the restless energy from having to constantly be on alert."

  • Try to avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might want to use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, memories or physical pain, they can make you feel worse in the long run. They can also make other problems worse, such as difficulty sleeping. See our pages on recreational drugs and alcohol for more information.

See our pages on improving and maintaining your mental wellbeing and how to increase your self-esteem for more suggestions. Or you can read Rhiannon's blog about how sea swimming has helped her mental health.

Trauma and sleep problems

Lots of people who've gone through trauma have problems sleeping. You might find it hard to fall or stay asleep, feel unsafe during the night, or feel anxious or afraid of having nightmares.

Some people find it helps to:

  • Keep a light on. If you can't sleep in complete darkness, it might help to keep a light or bedside lamp switched on.
  • 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 on podcasts).

See our page on coping with sleep problems for more information.

 

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 January 2020. We will revise it in 2022.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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