Trauma can have a dramatic effect on our brain and our bodies. But it is the impact of trauma on the mind that is often the most disturbing.

Traumatic events can leave us feeling unsafe give us insomnia, night terrors, poor appetite/weight gain, headaches, extreme anxiety, rage and many other health problems. Life after a traumatic event can become very difficult. It can disrupt our beliefs and assumptions about the world. You may question how much influence you have over your life and your life choices. Holidays can sometimes be a trigger from a traumatic experience, and with the holidays fast approaching, I wanted to give you some tips on how you can manage triggers related to your trauma.

What types of things can be a trigger? There are typically two types of triggers -- internal and external triggers. Internal triggers happen inside your body and external triggers are situations, people, or places that you might encounter throughout your day. Internal triggers can be things such as feeling abandoned, pain, feeling out of control and memories. External triggers can be things such as certain smells, an anniversary, a specific place or the holidays.

Triggers can happen unexpectedly and have debilitating effects. In that moment there are things you can do to ground yourself and tell your mind you are safe. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, these things include:

  • Call an advocate at Support Within Reach. Advocates are available 24/7. We provide basic peer to peer counseling and can talk you through a triggering experience. Our number is (800) 708-2727.

  • Breathe deeply and slowly. Remember to inhale through your nose and either exhale through your nose or through pursed lips. A good rhythm is to inhale for four counts, hold for four counts and exhale for eight counts. This helps your body calm and return to the present moment.

  • Laugh a lot. According to NAMI, laughter can be used as a type of medicine, and is now being used more commonly as a therapeutic method. It is proven to reduce stress by releasing specific hormones that boost your immune system and rewire your brain. So, have a go-to funny video to watch when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Or spend time with a friend or loved one you feel safe with who can make you laugh.

  • Focus on your five senses. Start with five different things you hear, see, sense, taste and smell. Then notice four of each, three of each and so on. Be as specific as you can to make you really concentrate on external factors and get out of your head.

  • Connect with nature. This has been shown to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and calm you down. Spend time sitting by water or feel the wind on your face. This is a time when healing can occur.

  • Practice self-care. Eat well, exercise, make an effort to improve your sleep. Do things that bring you joy.

  • Use a weighted blanket. According to NAMI, a symptom of trauma can be sleep disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks and high anxiety. Not getting enough of the type of sleep you need can cause you to have problems concentrating, leading to difficulties at work or school. There is research to show that using a weighted blanket, which stimulates being held or hugged safely and firmly, can assist in reducing anxiety and insomnia.

What you have experienced is real and changes you. Remember that what happened to you is not your fault. What you’re going through is a normal response to trauma. It is important to remind yourself of this, to validate your experience so that you are able to begin healing.

To the survivors out there I say:

  • You are allowed to struggle.

  • You are worthy.

  • You are allowed to talk.

  • You are not alone.

  • This too shall pass.

  • It is OK if all you did today is breathe.

  • You deserve to be loved and treated well.

  • You are allowed to ask for help.

  • It is OK to not know what you need.

  • You are not a mistake.

  • All of your feelings are valid.

  • It is OK to not be OK.

  • You are enough.

“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose” -- Michelle Rosenthal.

Ashli Lyseng is a program supervisor with Support Within Reach.