If you were to hear that someone experienced ‘trauma,’ what do you envision? Do you see a combat-weary veteran, returning home and struggling to cope with what they have been through? Perhaps you think of a person who has just left a relationship with a physically abusive partner.
Both of these scenarios are examples of what we refer to as “Big T” trauma. “Big T” trauma is the trauma we tend to hear about most on TV or we read about in newspaper articles. This could include serious life-threatening injuries, a major accident, sexual assaults, abuse, or deaths of those we care about.
However, did you know that there is a lesser-known section of trauma that you probably have not thought of, yet have more than likely experienced?
Trauma is not a term reserved strictly for major events. There are day-to-day life experiences that can be traumatic, but they do not quite fit the “Big T” category. These are referred to as“Little t” traumas.
“Little t” traumas are upsetting occurrences that can affect a person’s day-to-day life, and sometimes they can occur on a day-to-day basis. They carry the same weight and potential for mental health complications as “Big T” traumas, and should not be disregarded or tossed to the wayside.
Some examples of “Little t” Traumas:
- Emotional abuse
- Legal Trouble
- Financial Worry
As humans, we tend to brush aside many of these “Little t” events as a simple part of life, not realizing that deep down they can be more harmful than we notice on the surface level.
For example, when you experience a particularly rough breakup, your friends and family can surround you with thoughts of “just let it go” or “it’s time to move on,” but suppressing your feelings or downplaying your emotions can be harmful or cause you to fixate on them further.
In a study by social psychologist Daniel Wegner, PhD, it was found that people who try to suppress their thoughts instead of accepting or acknowledging them were more prone to depression, anxiety, and obsessing over those thoughts.
So how do we cope with “Little t” events in our life?
Although one of the most obvious answers is to set up some time to talk with a counselor or therapist, There are also some options to work on your “t’s” from home in between therapy sessions.
1.) Exercise! Yes, we know that exercising can seem strenuous, especially when your emotions and tensions are high, but it has many wonderful benefits. Find some way to exercise that you would enjoy. If going to the gym is your preference, then that is great! If the gym is not your scene, then take your pet for a stroll around the neighborhood, find a YouTube yoga tutorial and follow along, or just make a conscious effort to increase your steps during the day. By choosing an exercise that you will enjoy, you will in turn increase your motivation and likelihood to continue.
2.) Meditation. This probably seems like another obvious answer for a coping method, but finding even 10 to 15 minutes in your busy day to make some quiet space to relax can mean a world of difference. Focus on your breathing, be steady in your intakes and exhales, and do your best to just exist in the moment.
3.) Perform a body scan. No, we are not talking about heading to the doctor’s office. A body scan is a mindfulness technique that we can perform in almost any location. Start by closing your eyes and picking a place on your body. You could start at your head, your fingertips, your toes, anywhere! Slowly start to mentally inventory your body from that point throughout the rest of you. Do you notice tension in your shoulders? Maybe your jaw is locked tight subconsciously from anxiety. By bringing attention to these areas that are responding to your thoughts, you can release that tension which in turn will help your body to relax.
4.) Create something! When we start to feel ourselves heading down the path of reliving a trauma, redirect that energy into something else. You do not have to be an artist to draw, a musician to sing, or an author to write. Find some facet of creation that sparks joy within you and get to work!
Everyone has experienced some level of trauma in their life, and it does not matter if it is in the “Big T” or “Little T” categories, you are not alone. There are methods to help ease the stress and anxiety that comes from trauma, and by making a conscious effort to move forward, you have the power to lessen the impact and grow through it.
Take Home Exercise: Containment Practice
This containment exercise is a practice in self-regulation that has been utilized in therapy and treatment for many years.
When you are having overwhelming thoughts or a cycle of negativity begins to envelope you, picture a container of some sort. It can be any sort of container you wish, be creative! You could have a treasure chest, a safe, a large plastic bin, anything you choose. The most important part is that the container has a lid that you are able to open and close as you wish.
Take the thoughts that are overwhelming you and lock them away in the container. Close that lid, and put the box back into your mental storage. You are not disregarding your feelings and thoughts, you are not ignoring them, you are simply putting them away so you are better able to handle the moment that you are in now. When you are ready, you can open the box and examine the contents, but not until you are ready. You dictate when you want to open the box again.
If you are someone who sees a counselor, consider saving what is inside of the box for your next session, and unpack the contents together!