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A Guide to Mental Injury

what is mental injury

If you’ve been through a traumatic experience at some point in your life and now things are feeling a bit off, you may be dealing with mental injury.

The turning point in boosting our wellbeing, for many of us, stems from two questions:

What is mental injury, and how do I know if I have it?

By understanding what mental injury is, and how it impacts our lives, we can learn to heal from it and rebuild. Because knowing is the first step.

A Guide to Mental Injury

What Is Mental Injury?

Mental injury is emotional and psychological trauma caused by stressful events or experiences in your life.

These experiences can shatter our sense of security in the world around us. They can lead to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, fear, and isolation.

What causes mental injury?

Generally, a traumatic experience is something that threatens our immediate safety, but this isn’t always true. The loss of a loved one, the end of a long-term relationship, or a negative medical diagnosis can all be considered traumatic experiences.

Similarly, ongoing stress—like that caused by emotional or psychological abuse and neglect—can contribute significantly to your risk of mental or psychological injury.

The specific experience is less important than your individual emotional reaction to it.

If you feel a strong, negative reaction to something you experience, and this reaction doesn’t ease considerably in the short-term, you are likely to be suffering from mental injury.

psychological injury

What puts me at risk of mental injury?

Not everyone who experiences an event—even the exact same event—will suffer mental injury because of it. Your risk of experiencing mental injury increase if you are:

  • Already under a lot of stress.
  • Have recently suffered the loss of a loved one or relationship.
  • Have suffered from a traumatic experience in the past.
  • Are a survivor of abuse, abandonment, or neglect—especially in childhood.

What does mental injury look like?

It can be different for all of us, because we are unique individuals. There is no right way to respond to a situation, but you may notice symptoms like:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Denial of the event or experience
  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Shame, guilt, or self-blame
  • Wanting to isolate yourself
  • Sadness, hopelessness, or lack of control
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Increased heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension, aches, and pains
  • Loss or increase of appetite


Coping Mechanisms for Managing Mental Health

There are several lifestyle changes we can make to help ease the symptoms of mental injury. These can go a long way to improving your mental health.

Practice self-care

  • Get some sleep. Setting a routine for sleep can ensure your body and brain are given time to rest and recover. Try to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, in a cool, dark room.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Both drugs and alcohol impact our emotional state short-term, but they aggravate our body’s healing processes and delay our ability to cope with trauma.
  • Eat well. Small, well-balanced meals help maintain your energy levels. Omega-3 fatty acids—like you find in salmon—also benefit your brain and hormones.
  • Meditate. How meditation helps mental health is multi-faceted. It helps us to be mindful, to focus on the sensations in our body, regulate heart rate, and improve concentration.
  • Accept your feelings. It is important not to push our feelings down or pretend they don’t exist. Acknowledge what you are feeling, and try to understand why you are feeling that way right at this moment.
  • Exercise. When you suffer from mental injury, your body is producing cortisol—the stress hormone. One of the best cognitive techniques for stress is to burn this off and produce endorphins. Endorphins make us feel good, and reduce the damage cortisol is doing to our nervous system. Try to choose exercises that involve the whole body, and require coordination. These can encourage you to focus on the task at hand, and get out of your own head.

Know when it’s time to reach out

If your symptoms affect your quality of life, it’s best to talk to a mental health expert. Your doctor can suggest someone for you to talk to, if you don’t know where to find a counsellor or psychiatrist of your own.


Working on Confidence

Following a traumatic experience, we tend to withdraw from our loved ones and isolate ourselves. Connection is how we feel supported, and it gives us the confidence we need to be open about our struggles.

activities to boost confidence

There are many activities to boost confidence, if we aim to work slowly and consistently:

  • If you’ve retreated from—or ignored—people you care about, make an effort to reconnect.
  • Even if you don’t feel like being social, go to an event or activity you used to enjoy. Remember: you can leave whenever you want.
  • Volunteering to help others helps us regain a sense of independence and power we may have lost following mental injury.

Conclusion

Working to rebuild your confidence and support network, and practicing good self-care, can dramatically improve our level of wellbeing. When we are dealing with mental injury, our wellbeing and mental health are our most valuable tools.