Managing Trauma Impact

Question

Why is it so difficult for me to manage my emotions?

Answer

When you experience something traumatic, your body temporarily goes into “fight or flight mode,” meaning that it is adapting to stressful stimuli and going into survival mode to protect itself. Unfortunately, sometimes even when the threat has passed, particularly when it was chronic or repeated, your body can become stuck in that state of high alert. Being in a state of high alert can cause you to feel very emotionally reactive, sometimes to even the “smallest” of stressors. This can feel very frustrating for survivors and can often place strain on relationships when individuals do not understand what they are going through. First, it is important to recognize that this is a normal human reaction to abnormal events. While you may feel “crazy” your body is just trying to protect itself. This does not mean you will be like this forever. Below are some strategies you can try to manage your emotions. One suggestion is to act like your own scientist. Notice or write down times where you have lost your cool, and begin to see if there are any patterns or triggers. Triggers can be dates, places, people, or even things that impact your senses like sounds or smells. If you are aware of things that upset you, you’ll be in a better position to understand what’s happening and take steps to calm down. Next, pay attention to what your body does when you begin to feel stressed or unsafe. Some examples include feeling tense, shortness of breath, hot flashes, vision blurring, dizziness, or nausea. If you can recognize the warning signs your body gives you, you can attempt to self-soothe before your emotions become unmanageable. Self-soothing is not always easy, and sometimes it takes some practice to figure out what works for you. Sometimes just leaving the situation is enough to calm you down. Other times doing opposite actions may help (for example, if you feel short of breath, take intentional deeper breaths or if you are feeling hot flashes, put a cool paper towel around your neck). Another thing you can try is grounding yourself in the present to direct your attention away from your emotions. Grounding strategies include counting ceiling tiles, repeatedly tapping your arms or legs, or listing things you can see, smell, or touch in a room. Finally, be gentle with yourself. Learning how to manage your emotions takes practice and time. Just recognizing that your body may be overcompensating based on what you have been through is a really important first step. If you would like to learn more strategies to manage your emotions, talk to a mental health provider or see what other survivors online have mentioned worked for them. You are not alone. Have a question about survivorship that you have always wanted the answer to? DM us and your question may be featured in a future FAQ Friday!

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