In the wake of trauma, certain places, people, or activities can make it easier for us to feel like we’re reliving a traumatic event all over again. For this reason, it is important for our mental and physical health to avoid the things in life that can bring on waves of traumatic memories or a flood of negative emotions.
Fortunately, the development of new habits and thinking patterns can have an enormously beneficial effect on our lives, often providing a sense of closure and freedom from trauma. Here are just seven things to avoid when dealing with a traumatic experience, and why they are so important for our sense of well-being.
It is unfortunately true of life that we can’t always complete avoid toxic people, but where possible, it is healthy to get away from people who thrive on negativity, especially when it is directed at ourselves. Not only will toxic people tend to minimize our feelings around trauma, they will also likely overstep our boundaries: A sure way to make us feel overwhelmed and even hopeless fast.
So how do we get toxic people out of our lives? The fact of the matter is that it is easier than we might think: If a friend’s, parent’s, or other relative’s behavior is negatively affecting our mental health, it is perfectly acceptable to go “no-contact,” a process that is not always easy if we tend to feel guilty for asserting healthy boundaries. Our first priority in life must be ourselves!
For the most part, remaining in a toxic place such as an abusive work environment, school, or living situation just isn’t worth our mental health. When our boss neglects their duties or our housemate ignores our boundaries, there is nothing wrong with seeking new ground where we can be healthy and happy. It is important that we realize how often in life that our environment plays a key role in how we feel each day.
For many people, a toxic environment can unfortunately become something of an emotional anchor that weighs down even the good parts of their lives: Too many people who have experienced trauma avoid leaving a toxic situation because of a fear of change or of hurting the feelings of others. Sometimes change is the best medicine, however!
Negative Thought Patterns
In the wake of trauma, depression, and anxiety, it is very easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking. Negative thoughts are often a downward spiral into debilitating depression, as mental health professionals such as drjanezhao-o’brien will tell you: Imagining that we are worthless or undeserving of good things, we begin to seek out evidence for our negative beliefs in our personal lives. And like any self-fulfilling prophecy, there is always evidence to be found that reinforces an irrational belief.
This is why it is so important to criticize negative thoughts each day, whether through journaling or even monitoring one’s thought process via meditation. Try challenging the thoughts that bring you down: What is the evidence against them? More often than not, we’ll find that irrational thoughts can be reduced simply by examining the facts.
Too often with trauma, self-blame becomes the defining characteristic of our view of the situation, even when the traumatic event was utterly out of our control.
Just as we must remain vigilant against negative thought patterns, so must we be sure to criticize the irrational guilt that we feel about trauma. It can be tricky at first to challenge feelings of shame, but realizing that traumatic incidents are beyond our control can get us back on our feet. This will in turn give us power over what we actually can control in life.
Have you ever been having a good day when out of the blue something or someone brings on a tide of negative thoughts and emotions? These overwhelming moments, often called emotional triggers, can be make us feel like we’re always taking one step forward and two steps back.
Identifying emotional triggers is a great way to realize what is negatively affecting us and why it has a hold over us. Perhaps a particular person refuses to validate our feelings, for example, or a location we associate with trauma always makes us feel down in the dumps when we drive or walk past. When we know what is setting us off onto a wave of anxiety and depression, however, we can learn to better avoid the triggers that overwhelm us.
When it feels like exercise, positive self-talk, and other helpful activities aren’t working, it is easy to fall into the trap of using substances to boost our mood. In the short-term, substances will certainly seem to provide relief from issues related to trauma, but the long-term consequences of substance abuse can be profound indeed. Even mild stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine can be enough to push us towards an anxiety attack.
Of course, it is difficult to avoid substances if we don’t have something in place to substitute for their effects. To this end, it is important to have coping activities that mitigate feelings of anxiety or melancholy. In recent years, meditation has become widely seen by mental health professionals as beneficial for dealing with trauma, for example, while exercise is known to release chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that will help boost our mood and get us back on track. It’s all about healthy coping!
Places with Negative Associations
As we saw when discussing emotional triggers, it is often the case that when we are at or near places that we associate with the site of trauma, we will be flooded with negative thoughts and feelings. If possible, avoiding such places can give us a clean break from traumatic memories. When we can make the journey, even a small trip to a new location can give us time away from feelings related to a traumatic event: Visiting friends in a different city, a vacation where we can get away from it all, or even just a weekend camping jaunt are often just the things we need to feel better.
For these reasons, finding a way forward after trauma isn’t always easy, but there are many things that we have control over in our lives that can help to ease the feelings of pain and frustration created by a deeply negative experience. Whether it’s through saying goodbye to the toxic people who are keeping us back or in spending a bit of time each day to criticize the negative thought patterns that make us feel down, life can and will get better. And that is self-care done right!