In Part One, I talked about how to heal, listing five great ways I have found to release and process my own trauma. Hopefully, some or all of them resonated with you and will prove useful in your own journey towards healing. Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email here.
I would like to reiterate that you are beautiful, you are worthy and much stronger than you know. You survived the worst, and you deserve to live a full life, free of the shackles trauma placed on you, and you absolutely can achieve that, and you absolutely will.
Here are five more ways that have helped me to heal trauma and find my way to inner peace.
6 – Dance ’til you Drop
Or run, or swim, or walk! It is well known that exercise helps combat depression and other mental health issues because it releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins have a pain relieving effect and make us feel happy. Exercise boosts our appetite as well as helping us to gain confidence and sleep more soundly.
You don’t have to sweat it out in the gym, though (unless you want to!). Getting together with some friends for an impromptu dance session, or even blasting some happy tunes and dancing alone in your kitchen will have a wonderful effect on your wellbeing, as the combination of upbeat music and exercise will have you smiling in no time. Dancing is also a way of expressing feelings we might not be able to put into words, or even be aware of consciously- so just let your body move however it wants to, and you might be surprised what comes out.
Why not combine two of my methods- go and dance in the forest! Like I said before, the trees have seen it all and they won’t judge you.
7 – Attack Trigger Points
Trigger points are knots that form in our muscle fibres, causing them to contract painfully and not allowing for full range of movement. They can also cause referred pain, which is where the pain is felt in a different muscle- trigger points in the neck can send pain shooting down the arms, for example. One particularly nasty symptom of PTSD is called “muscle armouring” – the muscles remain frozen in a state of readiness for fight/flight so the neck and shoulders in particular are always stiff. Over time this causes a great deal of these knots to form and restricts movement.
Trauma and muscle memory.
When we experience trauma, especially at a young age, we tend to dissociate from it. This is our brain’s way of protecting us from things we are unable to process at the time. Unfortunately, those memories have to be stored somewhere if they are not processed and released, so they get stored in the body in the form of trigger points. I realised this for myself when I began working on my own trigger points and found to my great surprise that as they released, memories of my childhood abuse would surface alongside feelings of absolute despair, fear and shock that I had not been able to process at the time. However, after sitting with those emotions, experiencing them and expressing them through writing (and crying.. a LOT), I found that they were able to be released once and for all.
Proceed with caution.
Working on trigger points is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It hurts, a LOT. The emotions and memories it can stir up are immensely powerful and it can feel overwhelmingly awful at times, but once they are gone, they are gone. The mind is able to process them in an adult way and let them go for good. If you feel you are at a stage in your healing where you are ready for this level of intensity, you will find this to be one of the most beneficial techniques there is to heal trauma.
How to release trigger points:
Releasing trigger points is simply a case of finding them and applying pressure, however it is deceptively difficult, and some of the knots are very persistent. If you run your fingers over a muscle and feel a “good” pain (like when you have a massage), or feel a pain shooting down your arm or leg, you have likely found a trigger point. Slowly apply pressure with a massage ball or two or more fingers. As you do it you will intuitively know how much pressure to apply. For the knots in my back and shoulders, I like to lie on the floor with a peanut massage ball underneath me, but you can do it against a wall if you prefer.
Remember to relax.
The trigger point will only release if you relax. Breathe slowly and deeply into it, and keep telling yourself to relax. PTSD can make this almost impossible, and I never had any luck until I found the right medication (Sertraline) which relaxed my muscle armouring enough to start releasing. As you relax more deeply into the knot and it begins to release, you may find you are overwhelmed with emotion and need to cry- let it happen. Focus on releasing, keep telling yourself to let go. If you don’t fight the feelings, and just be with them, they will pass eventually. The knot will often go with them, but some will be stubborn and require multiple sessions.
Here is a fantastic resource for information about trigger points, including charts and body maps so you can see which points refer pain to which areas of the body- it can be surprising! I have found that for me, a peanut massage ball has been an absolute life changer, especially when it comes to getting into those deep neck and shoulder knots. They are relatively inexpensive, but for the budget conscious, a tennis or squash ball will do the trick. For trigger points on the hips and legs, a foam roller often works better- a pool noodle will also do!
Releasing the Psoas
One amazing and surprising way to release trauma stored in muscles is through the “constructive rest” position. This relaxes the psoas muscle- a large muscle that connects the hips, legs and lower back and holds a lot of “stuck trauma”. The best thing about this is that there is nothing to do but get into the right position and relax! You will probably feel some strange sensations and muscle shaking (just like the TRE exercises) – this is normal and a good sign that trauma is leaving the body. Here is a useful YouTube clip about how to relax and release the psoas:
There is a LOT more I could say on this topic but I will keep it for another article so I can go into much more detail. I hope this has given you a good overview of the subject and perhaps piqued your interest, because along with TRE, releasing trigger points has been something that has kicked my healing into high gear.
8 – Meditation Matters
Meditation helps us take control of our mind, so that we can control the racing thoughts we get from anxiety, stop catastrophising and live fully in the moment.
There are many styles of meditation, and it can be quite confusing. The best way to get started is to just make a commitment to sit with yourself for a short time each day- start with 2-5 minutes and work your way up. Sit in a comfortable chair, set your timer, and just be. It is easiest to focus on your breath when you are starting out, so just breathe nice and deeply. Feel the air rushing into your lungs, feel your lungs expanding, then contracting as the air rushes back out of your nose. You are meditating!
Go easy on yourself.
Don’t worry if your mind wanders- it will, a lot. When you catch yourself thinking about anything other than the breath, just come back to it. Don’t beat yourself up or think you are not doing it right. There is no wrong here. Gradually, with practise, you will notice it is easier and easier to focus on the breath, and the spaces between thoughts will increase. Feel the peace that exists between thought, between your breaths, when everything is still.
A great technique for those who have been through trauma is the body scan. Survivors are often dissociated from their bodies and live more in their heads. When you do a body scan you inhabit your body. Start with your feet- focus your attention there. How do your feet feel? Can you feel the blood coursing through them, can you feel the floor they rest on, the socks against your skin? Do they itch, are there any strange sensations? Move up to your legs and scan them. How do the muscles feel, the skin, the bones? Continue up your body until you have scanned every part of you.
When we make a habit of scanning, we learn to live in our bodies more, which is a wonderful thing. There are many more techniques and styles of meditation, more than I could hope to cover in one article- here is a great article by Zen Habits that has a lot of information for beginners. I will be writing a more in depth article on meditation in the future, because I would love to go into much more detail about how it has helped me.
9 – Create from your Pain
A lot of amazing art and music comes from suffering. And I’m not saying you have to be Picasso, but there is something liberating and cathartic about the act of creation, whether it’s painting, writing, making music or baking cupcakes.
Your inner child loves to play with colour and sounds, and a big part of healing is reconnecting with that inner child, so get the finger paints or pavement chalk out and go wild. Paint your feelings. Buy a beautiful journal to write down your thoughts. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed, we can find release in simply externalising these things. You might even find talents you didn’t know you had.
10 – Find the Others
Mental health issues can make us feel isolated. It is important to realise there are many other people going through similar experiences. One of the best things about the internet is that we can use it to find others who understand and empathise with us. There are forums and subreddits dedicated to everything under the sun, and the relative anonymity online can help us to express deep feelings we would find it difficult to talk about in person.
I am a frequent user of the CPTSD subreddit on reddit.com, and have found it to be a fantastic resource, full of helpful information and people who are at all stages of the healing process. Other useful subreddits include r/survivorsofabuse, r/traumatoolbox, r/anxiety, r/depression and r/mentalhealth, amongst many, many others. It can feel so validating to read about the experiences of others and realise we are truly not alone. Outside of Reddit, there are of course multiple mental health forums including SANE, Side by Side, and The Tribe.
I hope this list has given you some inspiration and some new ideas for ways you can heal from trauma. Please subscribe to my blog below to get updates by email whenever I add new articles, and check out my creative writing here– it is divided into “light/creation” which is all about self love, manifesting your dreams and becoming your true self, and “shadow/destruction” where I explore shadow work and the darker side of mental health. There is also a section for my poetry.
Thank you for reading, thank you for Being – I appreciate you!
More articles from artoftrauma:
Ten Ways to Heal Trauma Part One, Part Two
Survivor’s Guide to Self Soothing
Trauma bonds (and how to break them)
Emotional Flashbacks- and how to cope.
Understanding the Freeze Response to Trauma
5 Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adults
Trauma Symptoms you didn’t know were symptoms
5 Journal Prompts for Trauma Healing