Resilience And Trauma: How To Move Forward In The Wake Of Trauma

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Traumatic events can be shocking, dangerous, and scary, and it’s natural to have a range of reactions afterward. The body responds to trauma by activating the fight-or-flight response, which can result in having trouble sleeping, ruminating about what happened, having trouble concentrating, or feeling anxious, scared, or sad. 

Everyone handles trauma in their own way. Some people may recoverbounce back quickly, while others may experience long-term effects on their mental health, like post-traumatic stress disorder. However, there are steps you can take to boost your resilience and move forward after trauma—we’ll explore a few of these strategies here. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Moving forward after trauma can feel overwhelming

Resilience and trauma

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible, disturbing, or frightening event or experience like rape, war, an accident, or a natural disaster. Many people may have a similar response immediately following the event, like denial, shock, anxiety, or trouble sleeping. For some, these symptoms fade over time; for others, they continue and may be accompanied by other symptoms, like flashbacks, depression, anxiety, nausea, or headaches. 

The ability to overcome and successfully adapt to challenging life experiences is known as resilience. Resilient people may recoverbounce back from trauma faster, but they will typically still have strong reactions and emotions in the immediate aftermath. Some of the common reactions to trauma include unpredictable feelings, changes in thought and behavior patterns, and changes in relationships. 

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience after trauma is not unusual; in fact, resilience and recovery are the norm. Research has found that most people can recover from trauma and bounce back over time. Within a few months, the heightened emotional and physical responses often start to fade, and most people return to functioning as they did before the event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

When people continue to experience distressing symptoms after a traumatic event, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, and while they usually begin within three months of the traumatic event, it can sometimes take longer for symptoms to arise. 

PTSD symptoms are divided into re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms. Some examples of these symptoms in each category are listed below, but this is not an exhaustive list. 

Re-experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Flashbacks that can include physical symptoms, like sweating or rapid heart rate
  • Recurring dreams or memories of the event
  • Physical signs of stress
  • Distressing thoughts

Avoidance symptoms such as:

  • Avoiding places, objects, or events that are reminders of the traumatic event
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event
  • Changing routines to avoid things that are reminders of the event

Arousal and reactivity symptoms such as:

  • Startling easily
  • Feeling on edge, tense, or on guard
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having sleeping problems
  • Feeling irritable or angry

Cognition and mood symptoms such as:

  • Trouble remembering key parts of the event
  • Having negative thoughts toward the world or oneself
  • Blaming oneself or others
  • Continuing negative emotions, like anger, fear, or guilt
  • Feeling isolated

Anyone can develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event, but some risk factors make some people more vulnerable. These include having a personal or family history of substance use or mental illness; experiencing childhood trauma; getting hurt or seeing other people being hurt or killed; and having to face additional stress following the event, like an injury or loss of a loved one. 

Resilient people can still experience PTSD, but they are less likely to develop this condition because of certain actions they may take. There are some things that they are more likely to do that can reduce their chances of developing it, including seeking social support, having strong coping strategies, and learning to accept their response to the event. 


How to move forward after trauma

Trauma can be devastating, but it is possible to move forward. Resilience is something anyone can learn and develop, and there are some steps you can take to enhance your resilience and start healing. They include the following:

Give yourself time to adjust

Depending on the extent of the trauma, you may not recoverbounce back right away. Try to have patience with yourself and the process. Give yourself time to mourn and be kind to yourself as you navigate life after trauma.

Turn to your support system

Traumatic stress studies show resilient people usually have a solid support system and are willing to turn to them for help. Family and friends can offer valuable support after a traumatic event, and you may also consider joining a support group for people who have had a similar experience, so that you can connect with other people who are facing similar challenges. 

Express your feelings

You may be tempted to close yourself off after a traumatic experience, but sharing your feelings with others can be helpful in your recovery. It can be crucial to open up about how you’re feeling. Talking to people you trust about your emotions is one way to do this, but you may also try journaling or doing something creative for emotional expression, like painting, drawing, or sculpting to tap into your emotions and let them out in a healthy way.

Practice self-care

Self-care can play a significant role in managing mental health, and it can involve a range of different practices that support your well-being. Try to prioritize getting enough exercise, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep. You can also try meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or other activities to help you reduce stress and promote relaxation. 

Try to maintain routines or establish new ones

Having a plan can help you stay on track and including something to look forward to can help boost your mood. Try simple actions like eating meals at regular times, getting a shower every morning, going to bed at the same time every night, or taking a walk after dinner every day. Having clear routines may also make it easier to incorporate healthy habits and self-care activities more regularly. 

Moving forward after trauma can feel overwhelming

Getting help

If you have experienced trauma and are having ongoing symptoms that are affecting your ability to meet your daily responsibilities, or if you think you may be experiencing PTSD, therapy can help. Mental health professionals can also help you learn the skills to promote resilience in your everyday life, take care of your well-being, and manage secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue if you care for someone during the healing process after complex trauma or PTSD.

Trauma can take a tremendous toll on a person, and some of the common effects of trauma may make it feel difficult at times to leave the house and seek help in person. In these cases, online therapy may feel a bit easier, as it allows you to have therapy sessions from wherever you have internet, including the comfort of your own home. 

Research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy. In fact, one research study found that online therapy was just as effective as in-person therapy for reducing PTSD.


Different people may have different experiences in the aftermath of trauma. Resilience after trauma is not unusual, and many people can recoverbounce back over time, but when distressing symptoms continue, this can be a sign of PTSD. However, there are steps you can take to cultivate resilience and move forward after trauma, including giving yourself time, leaning on your support system, and practicing self-care. For additional support, talking to an online therapist can help.
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