How you can re-establish a feeling of safety after enduring trauma

Trauma usually happens when you least expect it. As such, it can shake you to the core and undermine your sense of safety and security in what you usually take for granted. The home you live in, the routine you’ve established, and even how you spend your free time can give you a sense of security in the predictability you’ve created. Trauma can undermine that precious sense of security and disrupt many of your basic assumptions about life.

Surviving a natural disaster, seeing homes destroyed, and feeling thankful for your own survival, while at the same time feeling insecure and cut off from life as you always knew it, is debilitating. Having no way to protect yourself, your family, or your property is profoundly disempowering. Being unable to contact the outside world is terrifying. How can you possibly move past the experience when you keep feeling triggered or have flashbacks? How can you reestablish your sense of safety when there’s no assurance in life that it won’t ever happen again?

You’re right, there is no unequivocal guarantee. But somehow, you have to figure out how to heal in order to start moving forward. Let’s examine what trauma is and how it affects you, in order to understand how you can start moving past it.

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How trauma disrupts your central nervous system

Any time you experience daily stress, your body is instantly triggered to respond quickly. Most of the time, this refers to mild everyday events such as the moment of panic thinking that you’re locked out of your apartment or suddenly jolting awake on the weekend, panicked when you think it’s a weekday and that you’re extremely late to work.

Usually, the stress response settles down when the urgency subsides, and your hormones restabilize to regain equilibrium. However, experiencing significant trauma can keep your nervous system on high alert, where you develop hypervigilance and struggle to regain your sense of calm afterward. This can cause anxiety or depression, restlessness or lethargy, and impact your capacity to maintain healthy relationships by diminishing your ability to connect in a healthy way with other people.

When confronted with an emergency, you WANT your survival mechanisms to kick in to ensure your safety. But afterward, you need to be able to work through the trauma so you don’t have to remain stuck where you are for more than is absolutely necessary.

6 things you can start doing from home to heal your trauma

  1. Allow yourself permission to feel whichever emotions come up, without any guilt or moderation. Not only are you entitled to hurt and entitled to grieve, but actually you NEED to allow yourself full permission to do so, as part of your healing.
  2. Use your senses to help you feel safe and grounded. Be fully present as you snuggle into a warm blanket or squeeze a stress ball. Enjoy some essential oils or fragrant candles or spices. Using your senses can help you reconnect with where you are, reaffirming your sense of safety and stability.
  3. Continue your usual routine as much as you can, so you don’t get completely too caught up in recurrent thoughts about the trauma.
  4. Allow yourself time and space to grieve. Don’t feel compelled to push yourself too hard when you need some time and space for yourself.
  5. At the same time, limit how much time you allow yourself to be on your own, and push yourself to interact with others at least a few times a week. Ideally, try to go out and attend events or participate in whatever is happening around you. Pick up the phone to call a friend or, better yet, meet friends in person.
  6. Think about how you can use your skills for the benefit of those around you. Helping others not only does a tremendous amount of good for other people; it is also cathartic to healing your own pain.

Therapy can help you “get your trauma out” and start healing from your experiences

If you’ve already tried healing from your traumatic experiences on your own, or if you haven’t known where to start, professional counseling can truly help you process the trauma in a safe and supportive way so that it no longer has to hold any power over your life. Chrisanna Harrington-Wright is available to listen and to be a resource to those experiencing trauma from Hurricane Ian.