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Coping mechanisms after trauma or injury

People have different ways of getting through day-to-day life after stressful experiences. Some people may use humor to deal with difficult emotions, while some look for social support, and others try to ignore or avoid uncomfortable feelings.  
 
Some coping mechanisms are healthier than others. Following a serious illness or injury, it’s not uncommon for depression and anxiety to be linked with avoidant coping mechanisms. People who are highly reactive to being reminded about trauma and rely on avoidant coping strategies may be more likely to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over time.1
 
If you’re struggling emotionally, it’s important to take steps to get help. Try talking to a trusted friend or family member, but if that makes you uncomfortable, talk to your doctor. They can usually refer you to a therapist or support group or prescribe medication if they think it makes sense. 

Tips to help restore your emotional wellbeing

Accepting that you’ve been through a lot and may need help isn’t weakness, it’s normal. Recovering mentally and emotionally is as important as your physical recovery, and it’s OK if it takes time. 
 
Some things you can do to help restore your emotional wellbeing include: 
 
  • Eating a healthy, nutritious diet 
  • Getting enough restful sleep 
  • Exercising, to the extent that you’re able 
  • Learning techniques to manage anxiety, like meditation and deep breathing exercises 

Processing the event

If you need help processing the event or experience, talking with a therapist or counselor—specifically someone specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—could be beneficial. CBT addresses the relationship between thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. It focuses on treating and managing a wide range of mental health conditions and emotional challenges that lead to distress or negative emotions—if you change your thoughts and behaviors, you can change emotional responses. CBT can be helpful for people with PTSD, comorbid symptoms, and many other mental health and emotional issues.2
 
Even if you feel like you’re fine, talking to a counselor or therapist, or being involved in a support group, can help make sure you’re processing events in a healthy way. Just being able to talk to someone about your feelings, hopes, and fears can be helpful.  
 
Your friends or family can also be a great source of support. 

Therapy and support groups can help you cope

Don't underestimate the potential mental and emotional impact of a serious illness or injury. 
 
If you have access to a health savings account (HSA), you can likely use that money to cover therapy expenses, if it's considered medical treatment. 
 
If you need assistance finding a mental health professional, your insurance company can often provide you with a list of in-network providers. You could also ask your doctor or your local hospital if they have a list of therapists or counselors who have experience working with people with your symptoms. They’ll know the common emotions that people with a similar diagnosis may experience. If you belong to a religion, one of the leaders in your area may be trained in pastoral counseling. 
 
In addition, your doctors or a local hospital can direct you to support groups. Your local hospital might even host some support group meetings.  
 
Finally, let the internet be your friend—if your searches for local support groups return limited results or you just want more people to talk to, look for social media support groups for your specific illness or diagnosis. 

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More to explore

1. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," National Institute of Mental Health, May 2022, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd. 2. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT),” Cleveland Clinic, August 4, 2022, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21208-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-cbt.

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.

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