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July 8, 2020

5 Ways to Cope with Trauma (without using Food or Alcohol).

Feeling stressed? You’re not alone.

When in the midst of a trauma, like the current pandemic, our brains and bodies respond accordingly, entering into a state of heightened arousal.

This classic “fight-or-flight” response can involve a range of emotions, including anxiety, emotional outbursts, anger, and overwhelm. Add to this the loneliness of social distancing, which one recent study suggests may trigger biochemical cravings akin to hunger, and you have the perfect storm for a quick, but unhealthy fix.

If you are like many of us, you may be turning toward that quick fix—a glass of wine (or two or three) or some chocolate cake.

Eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, compulsive spending, and internet addictions are on the rise at this time. While these may work to lower stress on a short-term basis, they often lead to problems of their own.

So what can you do? Try these healthier ways to cope.

1. Identify the emotion.

What emotion are you experiencing? Often a stressful situation results in anger, frustration, loneliness, sadness, or fear. What are you feeling and why? What can you do about the situation? By turning to our “wise mind,” rather than our “emotion mind,” solutions may be more available. For example, if the emotion that you are feeling is fear, you may work on identifying what would reduce this, such as reviewing the steps you are taking to protect yourself and your family, or those you can take, such going on a news hiatus.

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2. Delay the urge to eat, use alcohol, or cope negatively.

There are many delaying tactics, including taking a warm bath or shower, talking to someone, taking a walk, or even cleaning. If you know you must give in to an urge, delaying it by even a short time may result in a lesser indulgence.

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3. Feeling angry? Match the coping skill to the emotion.

Exercise, punch pillows, listen to music, yell (but not at someone). Do something physical to get the anger out. You’ll be surprised how quickly these things bring the feelings down. Whatever the emotion, matching the coping skill with the problem will help ensure that you are choosing the right coping skill.

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4. Many of us are feeling sad and overwhelmed.

Try to turn to positive, soothing activities when you are feeling these emotions. Some ideas are: identify things you are grateful for (gratitude lists and journals are great), take a warm bath, light candles, curl up under a blanket, drink some warm tea, or pet your dog or cat.

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5. Express your feelings.

This may be the most powerful way to cope. Talk with someone about how you feel, write down your feelings in a letter or journal, draw a picture, or make a collage about what you are feeling. Getting the feelings out (rather than internalizing) can help tremendously and can reduce or eliminate the urges to turn to addictive ways to manage feelings.

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