If you’re struggling to cope with the effects of trauma, know that you’re not alone. Trauma is a life-altering experience that can take time to heal from. However, recovery is possible. Below, we explain what trauma is and how to deal with it, including trauma therapy activities to try on your own.

What is trauma?

Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that can have a significant impact on an your emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. Traumatic events can take many forms, such as physical or emotional abuse, sexual assault, natural disasters, accidents, life-threatening illness, military combat, or witnessing violence or death.  

Typically, everyday stressors such as minor illnesses or injuries, normal life transitions, disappointments, and failures are not considered traumatic events due to that fact that they are not severe or prolonged.

Trauma is not a specific event or experience, but rather a subjective and individualized response to an event that overwhelms your ability to cope.

Everyone experiences and responds to trauma differently, and what may be traumatic for you may not be traumatic for someone else. Additionally, you may experience traumatic events without being aware of or acknowledging the impact it has had on your mental health.

Many times, trauma can have a lasting impact on your life, affecting your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. Symptoms of trauma can include intrusive thoughts or memories, nightmares, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), avoidance of certain places or situations, hyperarousal, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and a range of other physical and psychological reactions.

Signs of post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD is one of the more well-known mental health conditions that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Someone with PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when you’re no longer in danger.

PTSD is a debilitating condition that affects your daily life and relationships. If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek professional help, as effective treatments are available to manage and reduce symptoms.

The signs and symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, but some common ones include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Feeling on edge or easily startled
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or destructive behavior
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from others
  • Hypervigilance or being overly aware of your surroundings
  • Guilt or shame related to the traumatic event
  • Substance abuse
  • Negative changes in mood and cognition
  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event

Who is at risk of developing PTSD following a traumatic experience?

While most people who go through a traumatic event will not end up developing PTSD, you are more at risk if you have:

  • Pre-existing mental health problems (like depression or anxiety)
  • A family history of mental health problems
  • Experienced additional life stressors
  • No post-trauma social support
  • Experienced a dangerous or childhood trauma

On the flip-side, you may reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD by:

  • Seeking support from friends, family, or support groups
  • Becoming okay with your actions in response to the traumatic event
  • Developing a coping strategy for learning from and getting through a traumatic event
  • Preparing to respond to upsetting events as they occur, despite feeling fear

Women who experience trauma are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD

According to the National Center for PTSD, more than half of all women will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime and about 10% of all women will develop PTSD compared to about 4% of men.

Several factors may contribute to this, including differences in biological and psychological responses to stress, and differences in societal and cultural expectations and support systems for men and women. But one of the main differences is in the type and frequency of trauma exposure experienced by each sex.

For example, women are exposed more than men to high-impact and interpersonal trauma like sexual assault, and often at a younger age. Sexual assault carries one of the highest risks for developing PTSD, and can lead to feelings of fear, helplessness, and horror.

When a trauma is experienced early in life, it typically has a greater impact and can interfere with personality and neurobiological development. For example, chronic fear can alter the regulation of glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, due to the repeated activation of the physiological stress response system.

Everything you need to know about trauma recovery

After experiencing a trauma, you may feel helpless, vulnerable and emotionally drained. In the early stages of the healing process, it is very common to feel like you will never get out from under the effects of the trauma you experienced. But it’s important to remember that recovery is possible.

Working through trauma is a gradual process that takes time, effort, and support. It will most likely involve facing and processing painful emotions, memories, and beliefs, which can be challenging but ultimately will lead to growth and healing.

With the right resources and support, you can learn to manage symptoms of trauma, develop coping skills, and find new meaning and purpose in your life.

How long does it take to recover from trauma?

The road to trauma recovery is a unique and personal journey, and will look different for everyone. It is gradual and ongoing, taking weeks, months, or even years depending on the severity and duration of the trauma, your personal history and resilience, the availability of support and resources, and the type and effectiveness of the treatment received. Recovery is not a linear process and it is normal for setbacks and relapses to occur.

There are several factors that have been found to be associated with a more expedited or prolonged recovery process.

Factors that may expedite trauma recovery:

  • Social support

Having a strong network of supportive friends and family can help you feel less isolated and more able to cope with the aftermath of trauma.

  • Early intervention

Accessing professional support as soon as possible after the trauma can help to prevent the development of long-term psychological difficulties.

  • Coping strategies

Developing effective coping strategies, such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and exercise, can help to manage symptoms of trauma.

  • Positive outlook

Maintaining a positive outlook and focusing on personal strengths and abilities can help to build resilience.

Factors that may prolong trauma recovery:

  • Severity of the trauma

More severe or traumatic events may require a longer recovery time and more intensive therapy.

  • Lack of social support

You may find it harder to cope with the aftermath of trauma and require more professional help if you lack a strong support network.

  • Pre-existing mental health conditions

If you have pre-existing mental health conditions, it may be more challenging for you to cope with the added stress of trauma and may require more support.

  • Avoidance coping

Avoiding the trauma or suppressing emotions associated with it may prolong the recovery process by preventing you from processing your experiences and working through your emotions.

Types of trauma therapy

Utilizing trauma therapy can help you recover from your traumatic experiences. Fortunately, there are several different types of trauma therapy, each with its own unique approach and set of techniques.

Some of the most common types of trauma therapy include:


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, gives you an opportunity to speak about your trauma and work through the healing process. In order for you to feel comfortable sharing, you need to form a bond of trust with your therapist.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be effective in helping you to challenge negative beliefs about yourself and the world around you that may have developed as a result of your traumatic experiences.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps you learn how to modify and challenge unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR uses eye movements, tapping, or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help you process traumatic memories. EMDR has been shown to be particularly effective in treating PTSD.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy focuses on helping you to reframe your experiences in a more positive and empowering way. It can be useful in helping you gain a new perspective on your traumatic experiences and develop a sense of agency and control over your life.

Somatic Experiencing (SE)

SE focuses on your body’s physical responses to trauma. In SE, you are guided through exercises that help you become more aware of your body sensations and release tension and trauma-related emotions.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness practices. It can be useful in helping you develop coping strategies for managing intense emotions and distress.

Mindfulness-based therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), can help you develop skills to reduce stress and manage trauma symptoms by being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on exploring unconscious thoughts and feelings that may be contributing to your emotional difficulties. It can be helpful in helping you identify and work through underlying emotional conflicts related to your traumatic experiences.

Group Therapy

Group therapy provides a supportive and validating environment for you to connect with others who have experienced similar traumas and gain insight and support from them.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy involves becoming gradually subjected to the source of your trauma in a safe and controlled environment. This can help you learn to tolerate and eventually overcome your fears.

Trauma therapy activities for adults

There are many activities that can help you cope with the effects of trauma and promote healing. Under the guidance of a therapist, these activities can help you process your emotions, reduce stress, and promote resilience.

Mindfulness exercises

Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and the world around you. It can also help you to develop a greater sense of self-compassion and direct attention away from negative thinking. Mindfulness takes practice and patience, so start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend practicing.

Art therapy

Art therapy involves using art materials, such as paint, clay, or markers, to express yourself creatively. Art therapy can help you process and communicate emotions that may be difficult to express in words.

Writing exercises

Writing about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to the trauma can be a helpful way to process and integrate difficult emotions. Journaling, writing letters to yourself or others, and writing poetry or stories are all examples of writing exercises that can be used in trauma therapy.

Mind-body practices

Mind-body exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong promote the connection between the mind and body, and can be helpful in therapy to manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Guided imagery

Guided imagery involves using the imagination to create calming and safe mental images. This technique can help you reduce anxiety and increase feelings of safety and relaxation.

Trauma group therapy activities

Trauma group therapy activities can be a powerful way for individuals to connect with others who have experienced similar traumas, provide support and validation, and promote healing.

Some common trauma group therapy activities include:


Psychoeducation involves teaching group members about the nature of trauma, its effects on the body and mind, and common responses to trauma. This can help people feel less alone and more informed about their experiences.

Support groups

Support groups provide a safe space for members to share their experiences, emotions, and struggles with others who have gone through similar traumas.


Role-playing can be an effective way to practice communication and boundary-setting skills. For example, group members may role-play scenarios related to asserting boundaries or dealing with triggers.

Group outings

Group outings can provide a way to practice social skills and build connections outside of the therapy setting. This may involve going to a museum, park, or other community activity.

It’s important to note that trauma group therapy should always be facilitated by a trained therapist who can help group members feel safe and supported, and provide appropriate interventions if necessary.

28 trauma activities for adults to try at home

While it’s important to work with a trained therapist, there are also some trauma activities that can be done at home to complement therapy or to help manage trauma symptoms.

1. Grounding exercises

Bring yourself back to the present moment and manage feelings of anxiety or distress by deep breathing, focusing on the sensation of your feet on the ground, or noticing five things you can see, hear, and touch.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation

Tense and relax different muscle groups in the body to promote relaxation and reduce physical tension.

3. Self-compassion exercises

Self-compassion exercises can help you cultivate a kind and caring attitude towards yourself. This can involve writing yourself a compassionate letter, practicing self-care activities, or using self-compassion phrases, such as “may I be kind to myself” or “may I accept myself as I am.”

4. Journaling

Journaling can be a powerful way to process trauma-related thoughts and feelings. You can try free-writing, writing about specific traumatic events or memories, or reflecting on the ways that trauma has impacted your life.

5. Mindfulness meditation

Focus on your breath or body sensations in the present moment. There are many guided mindfulness meditations available online to help you get started.

6. Gratitude practice

Take a few minutes each day to write down or reflect on the things you are grateful for, which can help cultivate a sense of appreciation and contentment.

7. Body scan

Lie down and bring your attention to each part of your body, starting from your toes and moving up to your head. As you focus on each body part, you become more aware of any physical sensations and tension.

8. Mindful breathing

Simply paying attention to your breath can help you become more present and grounded. You can do this by focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nostrils or your chest rising and falling.

9. Walking meditation

Focus on the sensation of your feet touching the ground and the movement of your body.

10. Mindful eating

Eat slowly and pay attention to the taste, texture, and smell of food.

11. Pay attention

Notice things in a busy world by taking the time to experience the environment with all five of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste.

12. Be present

Intentionally bring open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.

13. Free drawing and painting

Express yourself through freely without any specific goal or outcome in mind.

14. Collage-making

Use magazines, newspapers, photographs, and other materials to create a collage, which can help you to explore and express your emotions and experiences.

15. Clay sculpting

Create three-dimensional clay sculptures, which can help you process your feelings in a tactile and physical way.

16. Mandala coloring

Color pre-drawn mandalas to help you relax and focus your minds while expressing your creativity.

17. Mask-making

Create masks using various materials to help you explore and express different aspects of your personality or emotions.

18. Letter writing

Writing a letter to yourself or someone else, such as a past or present therapist, expressing your thoughts and feelings can help your process difficult emotions and gain a sense of closure.

19. Creative writing

Writing short stories, poems, or other forms of creative writing can help you explore your imagination and express your emotions and experiences in a creative way.

20. Yoga

Physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to promote relaxation, stress reduction, and emotional balance.

21. Tai Chi

A form of Chinese martial arts that involves slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation to promote relaxation, balance, and well-being.

22. Breathwork

Practice various breathing techniques to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and increase energy and focus.

23. Guided Imagery

Visualize peaceful, calming scenes or scenarios to promote relaxation, stress reduction, and emotional well-being.

24. Self-massage

Use gentle pressure to soothe different parts of the body such as rubbing your temples or massaging your feet.

25. Taking a bath or shower

This can be a relaxing experience to help you calm down and feel refreshed. Adding aromatherapy oils or candles to the bath or shower can enhance the calming effects.

26. Engaging in a relaxing hobby

Hobbies such as painting, drawing, knitting, or gardening can be soothing and help relax and reduce stress.

27. Positive self-talk

Repeating positive affirmations or self-talk can help you feel more confident and self-assured. Examples include “I am strong,” “I can handle this,” or “I am capable.”

28. Physical exercise

Exercise can help release endorphins, which are natural mood-boosters. Even gentle movement, such as walking or stretching, can be helpful in reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

Our NYC trauma therapists can give you the support you need to heal. 

Seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can be an important step in the recovery process. Mental health professionals can provide support, guidance, and evidence-based treatments to help you manage symptoms of trauma and work towards healing and recovery.

At NYC Therapeutic Wellness, our compassionate counselors work with you on how to cope with the long-lasting effects of trauma. Whether you are struggling with intrusive thoughts or memories, nightmares, anxiety, depression, PTSD, avoidance, hyperarousal, or difficulty sleeping or concentrating, we provide a safe environment and caring professionals to help and empower you.

When you partner with us, we work together to help you process your trauma in a healthy way. With patience, self-compassion, and support, it is possible to move forward and live a fulfilling life after trauma.

Is a past trauma affecting your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships? Contact our caring counselors at NYC Therapeutic Wellness to schedule a consultation.