Addiction & Trauma Part 3: Coping with Trauma

Estimated watch time: 4 mins 


When you experience trauma, it’s important to learn behavioral coping skills to deal with symptoms. These behavioral responses can help you avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance use. This video highlights how to avoid triggers, and if that’s not possible, how to fight against them through square breathing and riding the wave.

Video Materials:


Addiction and Trauma Part 3

In this lesson we will continue with coping skills. 

Now that we’ve identified your symptoms, the thoughts, and the sensations that contribute to them, it’s time to find some new behavioral responses to replace the use of substances that we do not want to go back to. There are two ways to go about it when it comes to coping with stress and anxiety symptoms that are related to trauma, fight or flight.

When you’re thinking of flight, that equals getting away from the situation or avoiding the situation in the first place.

And a fight is facing the feelings and learning ways to reduce or manage your responses.

As we learn in treatment from substance use, sometimes the best choice is just to stay away from triggers. If being at a bar makes me want to have a drink, I probably should avoid hanging out at the bar. So when it comes to a symptom like anxiety, I can choose to stay away from things that will trigger my anxiety. I may want to avoid signing up to give speeches in front of large audiences or shopping in very crowded stores, or not driving in the city during rush hour. These are things I can do to avoid triggering myself. Most of these can be a good choice if you are already triggered or while learning how to cope. But eventually you may need to learn how to face them and learn how to fight.

Fight. It is time to face our fears. Since most of our trauma symptoms are connected to a fear of something that’s most likely not happening or ever going to happen, at some point you’re going to want to start exposing yourself to these triggers and trying to build up your resilience.

We can decrease our symptoms and fears by mastery. This is a kind of trial and error experimentation that occurs as we gradually expose ourselves to things that make us anxious and cope with them, dealing with the physical sensations, challenging the anxious thoughts and tolerating the symptoms.  The secondary result is that each time we face our fears, we increase our confidence. So each subsequent try, it gets a little bit easier.

Now, every human will feel some fear when they’re trying something new. That’s what actually can help you get better. You can learn that you can approach the situation even with the nervousness, and still get that desired outcome. With a therapist or your group, please make a plan to work against your fear.

Here are a few coping skills to get you started.

One of them is square breathing. This is a thing that the Navy SEALs use when under fire or in any stressful panic situation. It’s called square breathing and it’s breathing in for a four second count, holding your breath for a four second count, breathing back out for a four second count, and then holding it out for a four second count.

And another great skill when it comes to trauma symptoms is “riding the wave”. Emotions like every wave in the ocean will build up to its peak and then it will break. And quickly and steadily drop back down to smooth water. So if you think of your symptoms that way, say it’s that anxiety or that panic feeling, the next time you feel one of these, kind of just be the observer of it and watch it as it rises up….And it builds and builds….And then it’s going to hit a peak. It can’t go on forever. It never will. And then it will break and drop back down as you start to realize that you’re not in any kind of danger. This is a great skill.

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