Eight Tips For Coping With Traumatic Stress

Does your chest feel like it's folding in on itself? Do you feel a tingling heat on the back of your shoulders and neck? Does it feel like too much blood is rushing to your head and not enough is heading to your stomach?

These are the symptoms I am experiencing in the wake of the US election. And if you are experiencing them too, I want you to know that you are not alone. I also want you to know that, for me, these are textbook symptoms of traumatic stress. 

I am not a doctor. But I have survived two traumas and six years of complex traumatic stress. So I wanted to offer coping tips from the toolkit of tricks I've developed through therapy, yoga, reading, self-study and experimentation. Take what's useful. Leave what's not. But know that what you are feeling is real and you are not alone.

  1. Take a deep breath. This is especially important when you feel sensation in your chest cavity. I'm a trained yogi with six years of experience and when I still struggle to deepen my breath when I experience traumatic stress. It usually takes me 5-6 effort-FULL breaths before I can actually take a deep breath. So try not to get flustered if you can't breathe deeply right away. Keep at it.
  2. Redirect your energy. At its most basic level, what you are experiencing is energy that your mind is not ready to process. So I've found it useful to redirect that energy. My personal channeling devices of choice are exercise and love letters. I typically do a cardio and a yoga class. For instance I will be doing SoulCycle and Corepower Yoga daily doubles for the next two weeks at least. Love letters are something I do to turn my suffering and fear into their polar opposites: love and light. It helps me not just lighten my burden, but others as well.
  3. Cry. As much as you need to. Cry. My favorite places to cry are in my car, in the shower and on my yoga mat. Cry. Don't judge yourself. Do it.
  4. Surround yourself with people. All of my instincts tell me to hide under the covers when I'm experiencing traumatic stress. All of my experience tells me that's the wrong thing to do. Go to the office today and tomorrow. Work in a coffee shop if you usually work from home. Go out to dinner an extra night this week. Trauma and fear love isolation. So avoid it.
  5. Create a special routine for going to bed. For me, when I'm in a traumatic state, the two hardest times of my day are going to bed and waking up. For bedtime I recommend Yoga Nidra or a guided meditation. I'll be posting some of my favorites over the next several days. 
  6. Create a special routine for waking up. For me this has always been the toughest part. If you live with a partner, I encourage you to build a special good morning ritual together that you practice for the next several days. If you sleep alone, partner up with a friend and plan a good morning FaceTime or phone call. The main goal is to get you out of bed and get your day started with some positive momentum. Here are some ideas of what your ritual could include:
    1. Breathing Exercises
    2. Affirmations
    3. Quote of the Day
    4. Word of the Day
    5. Morning yoga (I promise you there is a REASON we prescribe yoga for trauma)
  7. Journal. Journaling saved my sanity. When I'm in trauma my words often fail me. Writing down my feelings and thoughts gives me the space, without the pressure, to find the articulation that my heart deserves. Write. It doesn't have to be eloquent or cogent. You don't need to use full sentences. It doesn't have to be long. You don't have to show it to anyone.
  8. Don't believe your head. It's going to try to lie to you over the next several weeks. Sometimes it will do this to protect you. Sometimes it will do this because it is deeply suffering. It will try to tell you things like this will never get better. That we will never get better. That this is the new norm. That everything is awful. That nothing will be good again. That you aren't strong enough to change anything. Do your best not to believe that voice in your head. It means well, but it is misguided.

I'm sure that there are things I'm missing. And, I'll be sure to add and edit as I get feedback and reflect deeper. But for the sake of haste this is where I recommend starting. Remember, this is simply to deal. To heal is another story. That one will come later.

I love you. Each and everyone of you. My heart is with you. I promise this too shall pass. I promise.