This post originally appeared on Forbes
From Puerto Rico to Texas, Mexico, Las Vegas, not to mention Washington, we are surrounded by trauma whether we’re affected directly or indirectly. So, how are we coping; how can we cope? As an expert in the science of resilience, which is the ability to cope and bounce back from stress, setback and adversity, I think that understanding why we respond in the ways we do, and what we can do to heal mentally, physically and emotionally can be our guide.
Experiencing a traumatic event can cause emotions ranging from anxiety to anger, and feelings of paralysis and isolation. Persistent trauma can lead to long-term effects, including outbursts of aggression and withdrawal from friends and family. However, no matter the triggering event—an accident, a tragedy, ongoing relentless stress, or even commonly overlooked causes such as a breakup or surgery—trauma can cause us to become less focused, less empathetic, and less productive in both our personal lives and in the workplace.
How Trauma Affects Well-being And What We Can Do
Traumatic events affect our mental and emotional well being so deeply because they represent a shattering of “Iceberg Beliefs”—deeply held beliefs, developed early in life, about the way the world should work. In the case of trauma, we want to believe in a sense of control over our own lives, or on the world stage, that “good things happen to good people” or vice versa. When a sudden tragedy occurs, it challenges our sense of order and feelings of safety in the world and throws our minds, bodies, and emotions out of balance.
Three Ways To Cope With Trauma:
Recovering from trauma can be a long road, and there is no quick fix to restoring that balance.
But there are ways to move through the process and with more ease.
-Emotionally, it’s important to re-establish a sense of safety and create new ways to center ourselves when feeling shaken or distressed. By investigating our deeper Iceberg Beliefs, we can better understand what safety signals were threatened and how we can reframe them. Techniques such as meditation and journaling can help us create the space for this introspection. But this is not something that we need to do alone. Research shows that one of the most effective ways of overcoming trauma can be through a sense of community and reaching out to others. Making a list of people in our lives we feel close to can help us in reaching out for support in our recovery, and deepen our ability to weather traumatic events in the future.
Mentally, the first step is to rebuild our belief systems to make them stronger and more realistic. The second is in relinquishing our need for the control that these beliefs impose because while control gives us a sense of safety, total control is limiting. Trauma can open the door for growth and joy. Trauma can help us take a broader view, shining a light on the things in life that are truly important to us, helping us appreciate what we have, and reconnecting with our sense of values and priorities.
-Physically, it’s important to develop a self-care plan, engaging in healthy behaviors to enhance the ability to cope with stress and rebuild externally as well as internally. Food and rest, and avoiding excessive use of prescription drugs, alcohol, and other numbing diversions that can detract from and delay active coping. It also means carving out time and space to grieve and building positive routines and things to look forward to even in distressing times.
Experiencing Post-Traumatic Growth
While recovering from trauma can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently wrote in her book Option B, people can achieve enormous insight and growth recovering from trauma—something psychologists refer to as “post-traumatic growth.” As Sandberg writes, “In the wake of crushing blows, you can find greater strength and deeper meaning.” Sandberg chronicles how, after the sudden death of her husband in 2015, she felt she would never experience joy again. In the process of recovery, she discovered more meaning in her work. She became more sensitive to employees dealing with loss in their own lives, and worked to create new ways that Facebook users could use the social media platform as a way to connect with others in times of pain.
For employers whose employees are suffering from trauma, whether in the world or in their personal lives, this is an ideal time to show empathy and be proactive in reaching out to employees who are having difficulty. It goes without saying, but allow flexibility for people who have been affected by recent events, whether to help recover themselves or to help family and friends who have been affected. Given the state of the world, it is unlikely that we will see an end to trauma anytime soon. If we can’t change the world, we can at least change the way we respond to it.
Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the digital coaching platform based on the science of resilience.