How to Heal from Emotional Trauma

Trauma tears your world apart, leaving scars that can affect you emotionally, mentally and physically. The pain may feel so powerful that you doubt you can ever recover, but if trauma is left untreated, it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or the inability to function normally in daily life. However, you can find healing from emotional and psychological trauma by connecting with others and with yourself. Taking care of your mental, emotional and physical health will help you work through the pain.

That is what Jaelynn discovered in her own experience coping with emotional and mental trauma. Jaelynn says she has struggled with anxiety and depression since she was young. Her depression worsened in 2017 when she was a college freshman and was sexually assaulted by a friend. She felt overwhelmed coping with the emotional fallout from the attack. 

“People tell you to get over it and move, but it’s not simple when you’re dealing with something serious,” she says. 

Now, years later, she has dedicated time and energy to processing her sexual assault trauma and is in a healthy relationship with her fiance. For Jaelynn, it’s been important not to feel isolated in shame or blame.

“Talking about it helps,” she says. “You don’t have to feel alone.”

What Is Emotional Trauma?

Emotional trauma is caused by an event or series of events that trigger fear, anxiety and feelings of insecurity or helplessness, among others. These events can be powerful—you may feel traumatized in the immediate aftermath of the event or for weeks or months later. They may include:

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Accidents
  • Crime (attack, robbery, etc.)
  • Injury
  • Death or loss of a loved one
  • Long-term exposure to domestic violence, bullying, etc.
  • Natural disasters (fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.)

Signs of Emotional Trauma

Trauma, whether experienced in one brutal instance or over the course of many years, causes stress. That stress manifests itself in many ways, several of which can be debilitating if not addressed or treated. Emotional trauma symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of blame or guilt
  • Isolation from other people
  • Lack of mental focus
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Fear
  • Feeling numb or hopeless
  • Deep sadness
  • Disrupted sleep caused by insomnia or nightmares
  • Exhaustion
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Tense muscles and joints

These symptoms can get easier to manage as more time passes. However, some people may still find it difficult to cope after a long period of time. It’s also common to feel like your symptoms are under control, and then a memory resurfaces—and so does the emotional trauma. Wherever you’re at in your journey, here are some strategies for coping and healing.

How to Recover from Emotional Trauma

Find Support.

Jaelynn says that when she struggled with sexual assault survivor stress, she would blame herself when she was alone in her thoughts. Talking about her trauma alleviated the stress and the shame. Dr. Nicole Paglione, a licensed clinical psychologist, encourages sexual assault survivors and others dealing with emotional trauma to find someone they can talk to, building trust and rapport. This can be a family member, friend or support group for trauma survivors. 

Get Professional Help.

In addition, working with a mental health professional can be essential for processing trauma. Jaelynn meets with a therapist to discuss not just her emotional trauma but her depression as well.  

There are several types of therapies used to treat trauma, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). According to Dr. Paglione, one of the most recent—and exciting—developments in psychotherapy is trauma-informed care. This approach recognizes the importance of the traumatic event and its far-reaching effects on a patient, and all therapeutic work is done keeping this in mind. Trauma colors the way we look at the world, Dr. Paglione says, and trauma-informed care is about understanding an individual patient’s history to assure they are treated with the utmost compassion and care. She recommends finding a therapist who is knowledgeable about trauma. 

Support Your Physical Health.

As humans, we’re gifted with a strong mind-body connection. That means in the case of emotional trauma, you need to take care of yourself physically to prevent those psychological symptoms from causing issues with your health.

Sleeping and eating well are two healthy lifestyle habits that can make you feel better physically and can reduce the negative effects stress has on the body. Exercise is also important because it can lower the cortisol and adrenaline surges you feel in “flight-or-fight” moments of fear, replacing them with feel-good endorphins. Even a simple 30-minute walk offers tremendous benefits. 

Finally, make time for stress reduction in your daily routine. You can start a yoga practice or take up mindfulness meditation, both of which have a centering and grounding effect. Deep-breathing exercises can help calm a racing heart or elevated blood pressure when you feel stressed. Some people listen to music or use aromatherapy to relax. Choose what works best for you and make it something you can rely on when you need to cope with the signs of emotional trauma. With all of these habits, don’t be surprised if you feel better mentally as well as physically—it’s a win-win.

Build a Full Life for Yourself.

Your past is not your future, and your trauma doesn’t define you moving forward. Leading a rich, vibrant life is rewarding. Spend time with supportive family and friends. Take up a new hobby or rediscover an old passion. Give of yourself and volunteer for a cause you believe in. You can find healing when you make fulfilling, positive change.
You are not alone, no matter what kind of trauma you’ve experienced. Take inspiration from the people who are sharing their stories on TAG. With this streaming service, you can watch videos of real people discussing their own mental health journeys as well as clinicians offering professional insight. It’s a safe space without stigma, a tool for psychoeducation and healing where you can gain a better understanding of your own issues. Visit TAG and watch Jaelynn’s story about emotional trauma. 

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