Are you wondering how to heal trauma and find peace?
It can be hard to know where to begin. A lot of people will tell you to just “get over it” or remind you it is in the past, but those of us who have been through it understand that trauma remains in the mind, body and soul no matter how long ago it happened. Thankfully, there are many ways to heal yourself from trauma, and I want to share with you some of the best I have found in my own journey to wholeness.
There is a lot to say, and so in this post, I will cover the first five, and in part two I will cover the rest.
If you are struggling
I want you to know that you are strong, you are beautiful and worthy. There are many of us who walk this path with you. It can feel lonely sometimes, but it doesn’t have to. Please feel free to reach out to me here if you need someone to talk to. It is not easy, healing from invisible wounds.
Without further ado, here are my first five ways to heal from trauma and find peace.
1 – Be One With Nature
There is nothing more soothing than nature- sitting in a beautiful park under a tree or lying on a beach listening to the ocean just has the most calming effect on the soul.
I have found that when I suffer with poor mental health, I tend to isolate myself in the house for days on end. Depression can make me unmotivated, anxiety fearful and PTSD avoidant, which makes it hard to get out there and interact with the world sometimes. When I finally manage to drag myself outside for a walk after these episodes, I always feel ten times better for it. Especially if that walk is somewhere with trees and endless rolling skies.
Get out of the house.
There is just something about nature that rejuvenates the spirit. Even if you just sit in the garden for ten minutes, try to get outside at least once a day. Focusing on the beauty of all the plants, animals (and even critters) out there, or just simply admiring the clouds will help you reframe your mood and can make a huge difference in your day.
If the weather permits, feeling the grass under bare feet is the best way to “ground” yourself, which really helps if you are feeling spacey, dissociative or out of touch with reality. Try it! If you are feeling more adventurous, why not head out and get lost in a forest for a few hours? Tell the trees a few of your darkest secrets. They have seen and heard it all, and they’re much less judgmental than humans!
2 – Learn to Relax
It sounds super obvious- but this is one of the hardest things to do for people who have been traumatised. You have probably heard of the body’s natural defence system- the sympathetic nervous system (SNS for short) which activates the fight or flight response (there are other responses, particularly in trauma survivors, but I will refrain from going into too much detail here). Basically, when this system kicks in- which it does very often in people who have been traumatised- the body prepares to either fight or run.
How the fight or flight response affects the body.
Essential functions such as digestion shut down. Adrenaline and other hormones are pumped into the body, giving a short term energy boost. Thinking becomes less clear as parts of the brain go “offline”- this is why, in emergency situations, people often remark afterwards that they were acting on “autopilot”. Muscles become tense and rigid and breathing becomes shallow and rapid.
Stuck in “survival mode”.
Someone who has suffered a lot of trauma, particularly early on in life, can get stuck in this “mode”- almost permanently “braced for impact”. Survivors must learn to consciously relax and let go of the tension in their muscles. This in turn will activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which has the opposite effect to the SNS, lowering blood pressure and heart rate and allowing the body to return to its normal state.
How to relax- the conscious way.
The best way to consciously relax is to be conscious about your breathing. Long, slow, deep breaths tell your body it is safe to relax and activate the PSNS. There are many wonderful breathing techniques out there, but don’t get too bogged down in the details at first. It is best to take a slow, deep breath in, hold the air in for a few seconds and then an even slower, longer breath out. That’s all there is to it really! As you focus on your breathing, allow your muscles to relax naturally. This will feel very strange at first- believe me, I know! Practise makes perfect, though and before you know it you will be relaxing like a pro. A soak in the bath combined with mindful, deep breathing is a lovely combination, particularly before bed if you struggle with insomnia.
There are apps for your phone or PC, and YouTube videos that teach breathing techniques (you breathe along with prompts on screen) and also mindfulness apps that will ring a bell every so often to remind you to be aware of how you are breathing and holding yourself. You will be amazed if you try this, how much tension you carry in your neck, shoulders and jaw (and, well everywhere really)- and how shallow your natural breathing is.
After a few weeks it will become second nature to breathe more deeply, and this will help combat stress, rising anxiety, panic attacks and the rest.
Take a breather.
Before you read further, take this opportunity to breathe deeply and consciously. Feel the tension release from your muscles, feel your heartbeat slowing. Let go of the need to control yourself so tightly- remember, it is okay to let go!
3 – Diet is Important
I know, I know. You have heard it a thousand times, so I will keep it brief. Your diet is important for mental health- and I am not just talking about food, but let’s start there.
I have always found it difficult to eat when I am feeling very low. Some people have the opposite problem and tend to overeat for comfort. Either way it is important to eat the right foods- it is hard to overeat broccoli, and if you are undereating, you are already somewhat malnourished so it is best to eat something healthy for your one meal a day. My go-to foods for bad times are things like peanut butter on wholemeal toast, porridge (which is a great comfort food, especially in winter), or a plate piled high with vegetables and gravy.
A tip for when you really can’t face food:
I have protein shake mix for when I go to the gym, and sometimes if I am struggling to cook or cannot face eating I will blend up milk, a banana or two, peanut butter with the chocolate shake mix, or milk, banana and frozen strawberries with the strawberry mix. It tastes great, is easy to chug down when I have low appetite, and is full of the right nutrients and vitamins.
The other kind of diet.
The other diet you have to be aware of is your mental diet. Look objectively at the media you consume- the films you watch, the news you pay attention to that is full of negativity, the lyrics in the music you listen to. Ask yourself if social media is helping or harming your brain. Make a conscious choice to improve your mental diet by reading inspiring books, having deep conversations, limiting social media time or using it in a different way.
Ways to improve your mental diet:
Feed your passions, not your anxieties. Your subconscious brain notes everything. Those lyrics affect you even when you don’t consciously notice them. Think about thinking– how do you talk to yourself in your own mind? You are stuck with yourself- you may as well be your own best friend. Trauma can make us savagely critical of ourselves but by paying attention to our thoughts we can reject the criticism.
4 – Heal Trauma with Laughter
How to heal trauma with laughter? Well, what makes you laugh? It is all too easy to take ourselves and our lives much too seriously when we are dealing with mental health issues. Laughter is just as therapeutic as tears when we need to release.
So get together with that one friend who never fails to make you laugh. Watch some stand up comedy or a funny film. Laugh at the absurdity of this life. Laughter releases “happy chemicals” in the brain just like exercise, and is a good way to let go of tension that has been building up. And just like with exercise, we never fail to feel lighter and more positive after a good belly laugh.
But what if there’s nothing to laugh about?
If you really don’t feel like laughing, fake it ’til you make it. People who practise “laughter yoga” often feel very silly at the beginning, laughing at nothing in a room full of people, but after a couple of minutes the laughter is genuine as the situation becomes more and more hilarious.
There is a reason the Buddha is often depicted as smiling or laughing. And he dedicated his life to finding the way out of suffering.
5 – Learn TRE (trauma release exercises)
One great way to heal from trauma is to practice TRE, which is a set of exercises developed by Dr. David Berceli. He noticed the natural response to trauma in animals, which is to shake (sometimes quite violently). After a period of muscle shaking the animal can easily return to its baseline and the trauma does not seem to affect them afterwards.
Dr. Berceli realised that humans have this natural response too, and developed a set of exercises to facilitate muscle shaking so as to release stored traumas (muscles have memory too!). Abuse and trauma survivors often dissociate from the trauma in their mind and so more of it gets stored in the body, expressing itself through trigger points (more about them in part two) and muscle tightness.
How TRE helps us heal trauma.
By using TRE, we can literally “shake it out”, releasing years of pent up trauma from our bodies, which frees our mind in turn. In my personal experience, TRE has been much more effective than years of talking therapies. The exercises are simple, easy to learn and can be done by almost anyone. Information about the technique is widely available online.
Here is a video featuring Dr. Berceli himself talking about and demonstrating the method.
TRE is something that has helped me massively, and I hope you get the same benefits if you choose to give it a try. I feel my own healing has advanced in leaps and bounds since I started practising it.
That’s all for Part One, thank you for reading and thank you for Being! I really hope I have inspired you to try some of these methods and that they help you to heal your trauma.
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Part Two is here, with five more ways to progress in your healing journey. You can subscribe below to receive email updates when I post. Always remember that you are not alone, there are many of us struggling with similar issues. Keep reaching for that light within you, and don’t ever be afraid to reach without and ask for help if you need it.
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