Post-traumatic growth: 4 strategies to help you get stronger after a crisis

Olivia Remes, a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge, wrote the book Rapid Self Therapy. In it, she shared evidence-based and proven practices that will help to cope with difficult mental states. With the permission of Alpina Publisher, Lifehacker publishes an excerpt from the ninth chapter.

We are used to hearing that painful loss or terrible news can have a negative impact on us, plunge us into depression and derail our lives . Of course, such a scenario is possible and such events do inflict deep wounds, but it is important to know that when we go through hard times, we become stronger. It tempers us. Such an experience can strengthen our inner core, which will help us withstand even more difficult trials that are possible in the future. This phenomenon is called post-traumatic growth.

Beliefs and ideas about the world around us give us solid ground under our feet. Driven by a sense of stability, we feel secure and able to focus on what is important here and now, without focusing on the rest. For example, we believe that we can predict events : if we work well, the boss will be pleased and will promote us; if we take care of our health now, we will not get sick. But when disaster strikes—we are diagnosed with a serious illness or we lose our jobs despite hard work—our visions collapse. Old beliefs turn out to be wrong, and if we want to maintain peace of mind, we have to revise them. In this case, it makes sense to analyze your previous judgments and, perhaps, even replace them with others. […]

Interestingly, having overcome difficult obstacles, we do not remain the same – we become stronger. In the long run, the changes are positive. If you are going through a difficult time and would like to experience post-traumatic growth or find spiritual well-being, below you will find some helpful strategies.

1. Don’t Suppress Your Emotions

Harvard researcher Ichiro Kawachi has shown that by avoiding or shutting out their feelings, people are at a higher risk of premature death. By not giving vent to anger, frustration, or sadness, we damage our health and try to deal with it in potentially dangerous ways, such as overeating or drinking too much.

By suppressing emotions, people tend to feel dissatisfied with life, and their self-esteem drops.

Constantly restraining ourselves, we feel false: trying to maintain the appearance of calm and confidence, we are perfectly aware of our inner experiences. The discrepancy between how we present ourselves to others and what we really feel can even more negatively affect our well-being.

So, if you are facing an ordeal and you are feeling sad, angry or desperate, give vent to your unpleasant emotions . Don’t try to silence them – accept them.

2. Keep records

To facilitate the healing of emotional wounds, you can start writing down your thoughts. Research shows that journaling during difficult times can help you feel better both mentally and physically. Tensions are down and we’re doing better. However, it is important how you keep records. In an experiment designed to study how people cope with trauma and stress, one group of participants was asked to record only the emotions that accompanied a stressful event, while the second group was instructed to record their process of making sense of the situation. It turned out that the subjects from the second group observed post-traumatic growth in themselves, unlike the rest of the study participants. Such results can be called both unexpected and surprising.

Written practices help get on the path of healing.

Why is honest self-talk so helpful? When we share our feelings about what happened, when we put these thoughts on paper, we solve “unresolved problems.” When events occur that deeply affect us, we lose our balance and our inner core may turn out to be too weak a support.

If we do not express and do not try to articulate thoughts clearly , their vagueness and uncertainty can confuse us. Have you noticed that as soon as you start talking openly about the problem (even if just writing down your thoughts), everything becomes clearer and you may even find a way to cope with the situation? When we try to express feelings in words, we concretize our emotions. When we write down thoughts, they cease to be vague and take on form and clarity. Whether you share your thoughts with others or keep them to yourself, you will surely experience a positive effect.

3. Talk about it with those who have gone through similar experiences.

In a difficult situation, we can talk to other people who have experienced similar difficulties. It can also serve as an important impetus for post-traumatic growth. According to research , when we share experiences with others, such as support groups who have gone through similar experiences, we learn how they behaved in that situation. We get to know different points of view and beliefs, and in doing so, we can begin to share these beliefs, thereby strengthening our inner core. This will help not only to survive in the future, but also to realize how the current event fits into the overall picture of our life, and to endow our suffering with meaning.

4. Try to exercise

When we are physically active, the body releases endorphins, which reduce the perception of pain and act as a sedative, which can alleviate suffering in difficult times. Scientists say that exercise acts like a drug – it can even be addictive. Go for a light jog or any other type of physical activity, and the regular release of endorphins will make you feel better over time. Studies show that physical activity helps with depression and anxiety, and among other things reduces the risk of premature death.

Quick Self Therapy contains 50 simple techniques that can be applied anytime, anywhere. After reading the book, you will be able to cope with indecision, lack of motivation, lack of willpower, stress, burnout , anxiety, loneliness, discouragement and frustration.

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