10 Tools for Coping With Trauma-Related Anxiety
The experience of trauma causes lasting harm for both physical and mental health. One of the mental health challenges that trauma often triggers is anxiety. This is a state of stress and worry that can have a big, negative impact on daily life and well-being, but it is manageable. Healthy, positive coping strategies along with professional, trauma-focused treatment can significantly reduce anxiety.
Trauma is often thought of as an incident, but it is actually an emotional response. Many types of terrible, dangerous, or shocking events can trigger trauma, from childhood abuse to a natural disaster. If you have been through trauma, you may experience lingering anxiety.
There are many ways to cope with anxiety, some unhealthy. Use these productive, healthy coping mechanisms to both reduce overall anxiety and stress in your life and to manage negative emotions immediately. And consider getting professional treatment to address the underlying incidents that caused your traumatic response.
The Connection Between Trauma and Anxiety
It may not be surprising to hear that there is a connection between experiencing trauma and struggling with anxiety. Trauma is difficult to overcome, and its effects ripple out to other areas of your life and well into the future. Whether you experienced childhood trauma, ongoing relational trauma, or one traumatic incident in adulthood, you are more likely to also have issues with anxiety.
Trauma can generate many kinds of mental health problems, including anxiety. It can also cause depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, damaged or difficult relationships, loneliness, and isolation.
You are at a greater risk of having an anxiety disorder if you went through traumatic experiences. Trauma makes normal coping more challenging and can trigger anxiety as a result, especially in people already predisposed to having an anxiety disorder. Trauma-focused treatment is important if you had these difficult experiences, but there are also other things you can do regularly to help manage trauma-related anxiety:
1. Avoid Isolation.
It is not unusual to become isolated when struggling with the anxiety that accompanies trauma. You may experience an urge to withdraw, to stay in your home or room, and to avoid other people and talking about what happened to you.
This is not healthy. A better way to cope, although it may be difficult initially, is to surround yourself with people who support and care about you. Anything you can do that involves others will help: going out with friends, watching a movie with family, or volunteering.
2. Get Active.
One of the best ways to cope with anxiety and stress, regardless of the cause, is exercise. Physical activity helps use up the adrenaline that tends to surge through the body when feeling anxious. The endorphins released during exercise boost mood. Just 30 minutes a day can make a big difference, and it can be as simple as going for a walk.
3. Focus on Breathing.
In the moment that you feel most anxious, focusing on your breaths will help distract from those negative feelings. Simply pay attention to each breath, in and out, for about a minute or until you feel calmer.
4. Practice Mindfulness.
Focusing on your breathing is one way to be more mindful. It’s an easy, simple strategy to regain control over anxiety immediately. Other mindfulness exercises that you can use regularly will help you reduce anxiety overall while also managing it in the moment.
People have been practicing mindfulness, focusing on the present moment, for millennia. Modern science has confirmed that meditation, one of the most common ways to practice mindfulness, eases anxiety and other mental health symptoms.
5. Recognize and Acknowledge Your Feelings.
It’s tempting to try to block and tamp down negative feelings, like anxiety. Instead, try recognizing them. Say how you feel out loud to yourself. Or, use a journal to write down how you feel in the moment. Explore those feelings, trying to identify what is causing them. Sometimes, just naming the feeling and acknowledging it helps put things in perspective. Try to come to grips with the fact that you don’t have control over everything.
6. Find Your Triggers.
An additional benefit of keeping a journal related to anxiety is that it will help you identify situations, people, feelings, and other factors that trigger episodes. When you recognize what these things are that make you feel worse, take steps to avoid them if possible or find ways to minimize and cope with them.
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7. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene.
Taking care of your body will help you manage your mental health. Exercise and adequate rest are among the most important things you can do for your physical health. It’s easy to say you’ll get more sleep but not always so easy in practice. To sleep better and more, try practicing good sleep hygiene:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, with minimal variation on weekends.
- Eat less at night and avoid caffeine from the afternoon onwards.
- Exercise every day.
- Keep your bedroom quiet and at a cool temperature.
- Avoid using devices in the hour or two before bedtime.
- Create a soothing pre-bed ritual, such as taking a bath or reading with a cup of herbal tea.
8. Try Aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy can be a powerful way to change your mood. Certain scents may activate parts of your brain that induce relaxation and lower stress and anxiety. Work with a certified aromatherapist and use their advice to find the scents that work best for you. Use essential oils, herbs, candles, and bath fragrances to use these scents in your daily life as a trigger for relaxation.
9. Try Therapeutic Massage.
Massage is useful for more than just sore muscles. Anxiety affects the mind and the body, so using this physical type of therapy as a relaxation strategy can also bring peace of mind and relief from stress and anxiety.
Massage therapy helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that increases with stress levels. This may be one reason that massage is useful for reducing anxiety and stress. Make sure you work with a licensed massage therapist who understands your mental health needs.
10. Spend Time With Animals.
If you have a pet, you already have a coping strategy right in your home. Animals reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Studies show that spending time with a pet lowers blood pressure and stress levels. People who own pets have better physical health measures and are less likely to be depressed.
You may not have a pet or be in a position to get one, but you can still benefit from animals. Visit with friends who have pets; offer to walk your neighbor’s dogs to get access to animals and exercise at the same time; and, consider looking into animal therapy programs.
Get Professional, Trauma-Focused Treatment
If trauma is the underlying cause, or an important trigger, of your anxiety, you will not get real, lasting relief until you face and process those terrible experiences. No matter how well you think you have past trauma under control, it can rear its ugly head time and time again.
The best way to live better with past trauma is to face it head-on and process it in a healthy and productive way. You can do this by working with mental health professionals trained in trauma-focused therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.
Consider getting therapy through a residential program. A calm, supportive, and safe environment promotes healing. In a good residential treatment center, you can tackle your past trauma, knowing that you are safe. You’ll also learn the coping strategies that will help you in your daily life after treatment.
Anxiety related to trauma is a type of anxiety that has an underlying, identifiable cause. Coping mechanisms are essential for managing this anxiety, but it will never truly get better until you address your past. Rely on caring, experienced professionals to help you get there.
Helix Treatment Center’s innovative gender-specific mental health treatment program is designed to help women gain the life skills and strength needed to manage their symptoms and learn to better cope with the lingering effects of trauma disorders and other mental health conditions in a safe, supportive environment. Contact us to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.