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Healing from trauma is no simple task. Fortunately, there is a lot of research out there on what actually makes a difference for people who want to heal more quickly and not let trauma drag them through the mud for years.

Trauma happens to people. It’s not a choice. Trauma happens when life events create extreme fear and worry and a sense that everything is out of control.

Healing is not an accident. And it doesn’t always happen just because time has passed. Healing from trauma should be done on purpose. Preferably, it should be done with a trained professional.

In this article, I’ll share five things you can do today to start healing from trauma and taking your life back.

 1. Breathe on purpose

Breathing is something we do automatically. We don’t have to think about it. But breathing on purpose is different. Slow down. Notice your breathing. Pay attention to how your body feels. Notice that as you slow down your breathing, your muscles should begin to relax and your body will feel better. Breathing isn’t just for survival. If we breathe on purpose, our body is designed to engage systems that calm us down and help us cope with pain and distress. Many people learn breathing techniques as they practice yoga.

2. Figure out what it means

Trauma isn’t just what happens to us. It has a lot to do with what the events mean to us, or about us. If I get in a terrible car accident, it could mean any number of things. If I survive, I might tell myself that I was rescued from death in order to do something amazing with my life. But if I decide the accident means that the world is hostile and I’m in danger of dying at any minute, the event feels scarier to me.

Try to figure out what meaning you’ve made from the traumatic event that is causing it to feel scarier, more dangerous, or more unpredictable. If you understand the meaning you have made, you can change the meaning–which goes a long way toward healing.

3. Open up

Most of the time, doing things alone in life turns out worse than doing them with other people. As humans, we just function better in community. Find some safe people. Share your feelings. Ask for emotional or other help. Tell your story of trauma. Whether you’re meeting with a professional or just opening up with a trusted family member or friend, having other people involved will speed up the healing process.

4. Change the meaning

Now that you have some help and you understanding what the traumatic event means to you, it’s time to take the next step. Healing from trauma usually involves changing the meaning of the trauma itself. You get to decide what it means. Choose something you can believe and that feels empowering and hopeful. Here are some options:

My life has purpose and this trauma will help me find that purpose

This experience showed me how strong I really am

I now know how to protect myself in ways I couldn’t have learned without this event

5. Experience something new

Our brains don’t know the difference between the experience itself and the memory of the experience. To our bodies, remembering feels the same as when it happened for the first time. This makes memories of trauma hard to deal with. It also gives us a huge help in healing from trauma.

If you add a new experience, feeling, thought, or behavior to a traumatic memory, your brain will act like it’s all part of the memory. If you laugh, or feel safe, or feel loved, or get a hug while sharing a traumatic memory, your brain will decide that the new experience needs to be recalled with the traumatic memory next time.

So if you do that enough as your’e sharing the story of the trauma or as you experience flashbacks–then the memory actually changes. Your brain connects the new, positive experiences with the traumatic memory and helps you experience the memory in a way that reduces trauma. The memory itself becomes a healing one.

Healing from trauma is not quick or easy, It takes time. But using the five concepts from this article, you can be on your way to healing today. We certainly recommend you seek professional help if the trauma experience feels prolonged or is significantly getting in your way of basic life functioning.