8 Key Ways to Heal After Personal Trauma and Setbacks

heal after personal setback

Healing after personal trauma takes time and requires consistent, and hopeful, effort.

It’s normal to wonder how you will ever heal after experiencing a personal trauma or a serious setback in your life. The truth is, life isn’t always fair. For most of us, a personal crisis can happen at any time, each one rocking your stability personally or professionally. Regardless of whether it’s a traumatic experience, crisis, or a significant setback, healing takes time and requires consistent, and hopeful effort.

Here are 8 key things you need to know to start your healing process:

1) Make sure you are safe.

Safety and health can both feel threatened in any traumatic setback. This can be your physical safety, but also can include your emotional integrity, sense of relational security or even maintaining your health. Establishing safety for yourself is a must when it comes to healing from a crisis.

2) Cope with the initial after effects. 

In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, recognize that things have changed and so will your routine for a while. Make sure to prioritize the most important things you need to do, and use your energy towards them. Everything else can wait for a moment. Direct your resources towards the things you most need to handle so you preserve your energy. Healing from trauma and setbacks takes time. By reserving some of your energy, you will have more to give to your healing process in the future.

3) Manage your anxiety. 

It’s normal for anxiety to be part of the landscape as you enter this new territory. While it’s normal, you want to keep an eye out for signs that your anxiety is getting out of control. Managing anxiety in a crisis requires being honest with yourself about how helpful or hurtful your anxiety is. If anxiety is getting in your way of functioning, this could be a sign that it’s time to see a therapist or your doctor.

4) Grieve without getting stuck.

Loss is always part of a crisis, trauma or setbacks, and it is normal and important to grieve. Be gentle with yourself and allow space to express your feelings – whatever they are. Crying can be cathartic, and good for you. No matter how you feel, make sure to treat yourself with compassion as you absorb your new reality.

5) Beware of the ‘if onlys’ and second guessing yourself and others.

Second guessing your every move is a gateway to the quicksand of fantasy. Wishing for a different reality or a different outcome or situation is a normal human reaction to an unwanted situation. That said, hanging out too long in this mindset can significantly hold you back from moving forward. 

No amount of wishing will change what has happened in the past, and spending time dwelling in alternative realities can entrap you. The only place you can effect change, and take control, is within the reality of your new situation. Embrace the choices you have rather than the ones you wish you had.

6) Engage Support. 

Lean into the support system you have, and surround yourself with positive, compassionate people as much as possible. Do your best to avoid people who are negative or judgmental. Research shows that few things facilitate healing from trauma more than social support. Don’t let your feelings of shame, pride, or fear stop you from getting the support you need. You do not have to do this alone, and help is available if you are willing to look.

7) Beware of Shame. 

Traumatic experiences commonly produce feelings of shame, anxiety, and the sense of failure. Seldom does one escape traumatic experiences without also coming into contact with feelings of doubt or self-questioning. It’s also tempting to try and resist the sheer magnitude of your feelings of grief, anxiety, shame, and even humiliation but avoiding your feelings is one way to give them power.

One of your first challenges as you work on healing is to resist letting such feelings define who you are in this moment. oneself. Healing is an internal process, but it is dramatically aided by the help and support of trusted people in your life. Push through your shame by allowing people to support you. This is a vital element to bouncing back and getting on with your life.

8) Remember you can handle this.

When the unexpected happens – because it could happen to any of us – resist the urge to fall into catastrophic thinking. It’s normal to look through the rear view mirror and see all that you could have done, but this will only trap you in the past. As you work on accepting your new reality, remind yourself that YOU CAN HANDLE IT. You can.

Yes, it will be a process, and yes, it will be uncomfortable, and yes it will take time. But you can do this, and you will.

Healing from a crisis takes time and effort. There will be times you feel crippled by the weight of the change, and times you feel strong and positive. Be gentle with yourself, and notice your progress as you heal. Just like broken bones heal stronger than before a break, we too grow stronger from weathering adversity. When we stretch bravely past the point of vulnerability, we build resilience. And it is this resilience that helps us weather adversity, and truly heal.


Looking for more help healing from a setback,  check out my anxiety blog, download my free ebook, or sign up for my newsletter.

Updated February 12, 2024.  

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD