3 Healthy Ways to Get Through Tough Times

by Marcela De Vivo

MarcelaAlmost 7 years ago, during the 35th week of my pregnancy, I was told at a routine pre-natal screening that my unborn baby would die at birth. The doctor gave my son no chance of survival, and told us to enjoy the last few weeks that he had in my womb as those would be his last.

Against all odds, my son survived birth, and will soon turn 7. But surviving birth wasn’t the end of our ordeal – it was just the beginning. In his 7 years he’s had five major surgeries, a hundred hospital visits and surgeries, and countless challenges.

Throughout this journey I’ve learned to face trauma, difficulties, and sorrow. From watching my son almost die numerous times, to the stress of multiple hospitalizations, it has often felt like I was always faced with a new crisis.

What I didn’t realize in the beginning of this journey is that sometimes the most difficulty comes after you’ve overcome insurmountable obstacles. Dealing with the aftermath can be more difficult than the event itself.

Most of us who have suffered trauma are not given coping tools, or are simply offered medications as a way of dealing with our uncontrolled emotions. Wanting to avoid prescription drugs or only use them as a last resort, I focused on exploring alternative ways of dealing with trauma.

Below you’ll find three healthy ways to take control of a traumatic situation and get yourself through tough times.

(Note: The information provided here is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for evaluation or treatment by a health care professional.)

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a difficult event or experience that stays stored in a non-verbal area of our brain. This area holds onto our fight-or-flight response, making it difficult for us to process and deal with what has happened.

What many victims experience after this kind of event is a type of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). PTS is extremely difficult to treat. The key element is to transcend the trauma, and this is where alternative approaches come in.

Meditation and Trauma

Meditation is one way to deal with trauma. Simple meditation techniques can help a number of ailments. Meditation allows you to go beyond thoughts and emotions and transcend difficult experiences and events.

The idea is to find inner peace far away from the chaos. Some meditation teachers ask you to use imagery and specific breathing techniques. These techniques can alleviate stress and open up the mind and body.

My favorite meditation technique is Black and White Breathing

> Sit with your back straight and legs crossed in front of you. Rest your hands by your knees or touching at your belly button. Start by setting an intention: choose to dedicate this moment of meditation to overcome painful emotions, for example.

meditating> Focus only on your breath. Block everything from your mind and focus your attention on the air as it enters your nostrils, hits the back of your throat, travels through your body, and exits, warmer now, through your nose. 

> After a few minutes, imagine that you are breathing in powerful, healing white light. It pervades your body and mind as you breathe it in, penetrating every single cell.  As you breathe out, the white light pushes all the negativity out of your body, which leaves as you exhale in the form of black smoke. Imagine all of your worries, stress, physical and emotional pain leaving your body as black smoke.

For as long as you can, focus on breathing in white light and breathing out black smoke. A few minutes of this can change your mindset completely; imagine after weeks and months what a profound change it can have on your overall well-being.

This allows you to not only free your brain from the trauma, but from your physical body as well. Meditation takes you beyond the subconscious to a silent yet powerful, untouched place.

Drawing, Writing, and Imagery

Talking about a traumatic experience can be extremely helpful. Speaking about our feelings is a way to get past the experience and begin dealing with some of the emotions associated with trauma.

For many people, this can be difficult to do. Sometimes the experiences are locked deep into our non-verbal brains, so talking about them isn’t possible. Alternative options can be exercises in writing and drawing.

laptop_outdoorsOne of my favorite writing exercises is based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. She advocates writing three pages every day as soon as you wake up about whatever is in your mind. It doesn’t matter what you write – it could be anything – as long as you write.

I recommend using www.750words.com, an online canvas for your daily writing. Three pages is roughly 750 words, so you can use this site to do your daily journaling. It even tracks how many words you write so you know exactly when you’ve reached your goal.

This exercise has helped me identify emotions that I didn’t even know I was holding inside, from shame to grief to anger.  Over time I’ve “uploaded” so many painful feelings into these three pages, which I then never revisit, relieving a burden I might otherwise have been unable to recognize.

Drawing and creative imagery are other methods used for people suffering from PTS as they help deal with pain, stress and ongoing anxiety.  Everyone has a different way of finding creative outlets, so it’s key to explore different possibilities based on your own talents and abilities.

Alternative Approaches

If these methods aren’t working for you, there are many other means of treatment. Medication isn’t always the answer and doesn’t always work for everyone, but it can be a way to begin your journey.

I was very opposed to taking medication, but after struggling for a couple of years, I decided to try Zoloft.  I only took a tiny dose (12mg), but even at that level, it seemed to help me find more calm and balance.  After eight months taking Zoloft, I felt so stable that I decided to stop.  It has been two years and I have held on to the effects; the positive change in my brain patterns has become permanent.

getting betterSeeking help to deal with trauma means that you are taking control of your own life. There are medications that, while they cannot fix the underlying issues of trauma, can help with the symptoms of depression and anxiety that arise during the healing process. These need not be prescription drugs, either. For example, using St. John’s Wort  is a natural, safe way to regulate your emotional well-being.

Of all of the methods, the one I’ve found most powerful is called TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises). A quick overview of this method is provided on the David Berceli Trauma Release Foundation website:

“TRE is a simple technique that uses exercises to release stress or tension from the body that accumulate from every day circumstances of life, from difficult situations, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences (i.e. natural disasters, social or domestic violence).

TRE is a set of six exercises that help to release deep tension from the body by evoking a self-controlled muscular shaking process in the body called neurogenic muscle tremors. The uniqueness of this technique is that this shaking originates deep in the core of the body of the psoas muscles. These gentle tremors reverberate outwards along the spine releasing tension from the sacrum to the cranium.

Our family homeopath, a brilliant healer, introduced me to this method.  After only a few treatments at home, I found myself less stressed out, stronger, and able to deal with my emotions better.  I still do these exercises about twice a week and each time I feel that my emotional health and balance gets stronger.

What is most important is finding the right path for you and putting yourself on the track towards dealing with your experience in a healthy and constructive way.

Be a Survivor of Tough Times – Choose to Take Control of your Life

sunThrough imagery exercises, meditation, medication and alternative treatments, you can begin to heal. Choosing to train your body and mind will help give you your life back after the inner chaos of trauma.

It is important to feel empowered to control and change your life by finding the approach that is best for you. When you no longer feel like a victim, you can begin the process of healing.

About the author

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area who practices meditation to enhance her life. She has written on marketing, real estate, technology, and manufacturing, as well as a variety of health and wellness topics.


Free Cheat Sheet: Boost Your Willpower

Learn the 5S Framework to eliminate procrastination and get an instant boost of discipline and productivity even if you're feeling drained or distracted.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
PS. Ever feel overwhelmed trying to reach your goals? Watch my TEDx talk to accomplish more with less stress.

1 Comment

  • Great article, love the black and white breathing technique and writing has always been a part of my life. Creative writing is an amazing idea to put your emotions on the paper, to broaden your imagination, to brainstorm ideas… to create, because we are creators, and creating stories (or nonsense sentences) is a great way to be in a moment and release everything that’s been troubling us. Thanks!

So, what do you think?