< Back to all blogs
How to Feel Safe After Trauma
October 8, 2022
Introduction: How to Feel Safe After Trauma
Trauma has a lasting impact on our lives. It can cause us to feel unsafe and alone, even when we are not. Trauma is stored in our body, so sometimes we are triggered when we feel how we felt during the traumatic event. You may find it difficult to navigate life as a survivor of trauma and wonder how to feel safe after trauma. Also, you may be struggling with relationships, work, school, parenting or your role as a family member. You may even find it difficult to take care of yourself. This can be true for people who have experienced trauma in the past or those who are dealing with trauma right now.
However, there are things we can do to heal and to feel safe again. Here are some tips on how to feel safe after trauma.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a type of emotional distress that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. Traumatic events include but are not limited to: sexual assault or abuse, witnessing violence, neighborhood violence, a natural disaster. Symptoms of trauma can include flashbacks, nightmares, feeling unsafe, anxiety, and depression. Trauma can also lead to physical symptoms such as insomnia, chest pain, and gastrointestinal problems. Overall, trauma is very harrowing to experience and you may not even feel safe after trauma.
Understanding Trauma Responses: The Nervous System and the Brain
Trauma can have lasting effects on the nervous system and the brain. The body’s response to trauma is designed to protect us, but sometimes this response can be overwhelming and cause further damage. People may find that they respond with more intensity or quickness to a situation that triggers them, but in reality is not unsafe at all. This is because when the nervous system is overloaded with stress hormones, it can’t function properly and may even start to break down.
The brain – specifically the amygdala – is also affected post-trauma. The amygdala is like an alarm system for our brain that initiates our fear responses of either fight, flight, or freeze. Thus, after trauma, an individual’s threat-response system, which is controlled by the amygdala, becomes hypersensitive to perceived threats. In turn, our trauma responses (e.g., shutting down, lashing out, etc.) occur with more frequency, even when there is no danger. This is exhausting to experience and many survivors are left to wonder: how to feel safe after trauma?
Moreover, trauma can cause changes in the brain that lead to long-term problems with memory, concentration, anxiety, and sleep. It can also cause physical problems such as headaches, stomachaches, and muscle pain. People who have experienced trauma often feel “on edge” or “stuck” in their emotions. They may feel irritable, angry, or sad all the time. They may also have trouble trusting people or feel like they are always in danger and not safe.
In sum, trauma alters the brain and the nervous system thereby affecting how one responds to certain events, actions, people, or even smells and sounds. Thus, it can be difficult to feel safe after trauma when your body is always on alert.
The Body’s Response: Hyperarousal and Hypoarousal
After trauma, it is common to not feel safe. This is because when a person experiences a traumatic event, their body goes into survival mode. This can manifest itself in two ways: hyperarousal and hypoarousal.
Hyperarousal is the body’s way of preparing for fight or flight. The person may feel jittery, have trouble sleeping, and be on edge all the time. Their heart rate and blood pressure may be elevated, and they may be quick to startle. All of these things are the body’s way of trying to protect itself from further harm.
Hypoarousal is the opposite of hyperarousal. In this state, the body is in shutdown mode. The person may feel numb, detached from their surroundings, and have trouble feeling emotions.
Both of these trauma responses are valid and difficult to work through. You should try and identify your own trauma responses as it can help you better understand where you need to direct your healing energies towards. Regardless of your specific trauma response, you may wonder how you can feel safe after trauma.
Working Through Trauma
For many people, the aftermath of trauma can be just as debilitating as the event itself. If you’re struggling to feel safe and cope with the fallout of a traumatic experience, here are some tips that may help.
First, it’s important to give yourself time and permission to grieve and process what happened. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions or push through the pain. Allow yourself to cry, rage, or simply sit with discomfort. It’s also crucial to find a support system of friends or loved ones who can offer a listening ear and shoulder to cry on.
Second, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. A therapist can provide valuable tools and resources for working through your trauma in a healthy way.
Finally, remember that you are not alone in this journey. There are many people who have experienced trauma before and have recovered from the aftermath. Consider employing some coping strategies that have helped people feel safe again after trauma.
Coping Strategies to Feel Safe After Trauma
It can be difficult to feel safe again after trauma, but it is doable with time and effort. Consider the following coping strategies to feel safe again:
- Create your own mantra or affirmation to tell yourself during distressing moments. This can be as simple as “I am safe” and “I deserve to feel safe and happy”.
- If you are extremely distressed, take a moment to close your eyes and picture yourself in your safe space. You can do this in conjunction with the former tip of repeating mantras to yourself.
- Practice grounding techniques like 5-4-3-2-1. With this technique, you count five things you see, four things you fear, three things you could touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. This grounding exercise brings you to the present moment and allows you to become free from your fear or flashback.
- Focus on your breath. There are many types of breathing exercises, but a common one is paced breathing. With this breathing exercise, you exhale (through the mouth) twice as long as you inhale (through the nose).
- Connect with someone or something you feel safe with. This may even be a pet! Safe physical contact like a hug can help you regulate your emotions and ground you in the present moment. Sometimes a touch is more soothing and calming for your body than simply just words.
General Coping Strategies
- Doing things that make you feel good—such as spending time outdoors, exercising, or spending time with loved ones—can also help you feel more in control in your life and less overwhelmed by trauma.
- You may find it helpful to journal through your emotions. You can let it all out on the page, word-vomit if you must. Some prompts may help like: “what helps me feel safe in my body” and “how can I return to my body in times of distress”.
- Read books and articles about other people’s experiences with trauma. This can help you feel like you are not alone in your healing journey.
Besides these tips, there is also some advice regarding healing your trauma with your body to feel safe again.
The Body’s Role in Recovering From Trauma
When the body is in a state of trauma, it is constantly on high alert, looking for signs of danger. This can make it difficult to feel safe even when there is no threat present. There are, however, things that you can do to help your body feel safe again after experiencing trauma.
Coping Strategies for the Body
Something you can practice is body awareness. After all, getting in touch with one’s bodily sensations helps one come to a better understanding of their triggers. Moreover, body awareness helps you quickly identify when you are having a trauma response and provides a better sense of which coping tools are best for the moment.
In order to create body awareness, you should take a moment to scan your whole body and note any particular sensations. For example, where do you hold tension? In your jaw or shoulders? Does the tension worsen during stressful times? How about headaches and stomachaches – do you find that you have them more often? Every sensation can be considered a message from your body – one that implies you need soothing.
Furthermore, besides creating body awareness, you can also use physical coping techniques when triggered. Coping strategies that involve your body are important because when you are under distress (i.e., triggered), you can’t think your way out of trauma. One strategy is focusing on intense sensations like holding an ice cube or dunking your head in a bowl of ice water. Stomping or clapping can also help.
Lastly, it is also important to take care of your physical health after experiencing trauma. This means eating healthy foods, getting enough rest, and exercise. Exercise releases endorphins which have mood-boosting properties and can help reduce stress levels. Yoga is a form of exercise that can be very healing. It can help you relax, it can help you focus and it can improve your health.
Conclusion: How to Feel Safe After Trauma
In conclusion, healing from trauma can be a long and difficult process. However, there are things that you can do to help yourself feel safe and cope with your experiences. Seek professional help if you feel like you are not able to cope on your own. Reach out to friends and family for support. Join a support group or therapy group. Employ coping strategies like breathing exercises, journaling, grounding exercises, and visualization techniques. Incorporating your body in your healing is also important. So, consider moving your body more with gentle exercise like yoga. Most importantly, be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.