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How to Deal With Traumatic Experiences in a Positive Way

A positive attitude really can have an effect on our entire body making the recovery process easier. Whenever we have things to look forward to, family and friends encouraging us, and a good life we want to get back to, it makes it easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
08/17/2015 05:20pm ET | Updated August 17, 2016
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Receiving a driver's license is a rite of passage across the nation. For many, it marks important progress toward adulthood and becomes a stepping-stone in every 16-year-old's life. Most teenagers eagerly await the day they're granted permission to sit behind the steering wheel and set off on the open road. For them, finally becoming a driver is an adventure. For me however, it has become a point of anxiety and a slight dilemma when my parents need me to run errands or be their personal chauffeur.

In my family, we've experienced both loss and scares as a result of car accidents. At just 18, my cousin died in a vehicular accident not long before she was due to graduate. Before this, my uncle suffered a severe concussion -- affecting his daily routine so much that he didn't return to work -- from a car accident, and just three years ago, my parents were involved in a collision themselves. The car was totaled and my mom required 15 stitches.

Though the latter occurred long after my 16th birthday, I've had an uneasy relationship with cars for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it derives from years of navigating the heavily congested streets of Cairo, Egypt when I was younger, or maybe I've been scarred for life after scrubbing the front bumper of my car against a brick wall when I had my permit. Or, more reasonably, my fear of driving (a long-standing joke within my family, actually) could stem from the traumatic events that my family members have endured over the years.

Whatever the case, it's prevented me from driving anywhere I'm not familiar with, limited "road trips" to four hours max. on the few highways I've driven on, and set my job priorities to "must be located in city with public transportation." This probably sounds like paranoia at its finest, but it's something I've lived with ever since the woman at the DMV handed me my license seven years ago. With that being said, I can't even begin to imagine what it must feel like for those who have been involved in a car accident firsthand and have had to cope with the trauma of that every day. Whether a death, an injury, psychological suffering, or even just a bruised up vehicle, the aftermath of an accident can carry a heavy burden.

However, as with any obstacle, there are ways to overcome it. And thanks to my family, I've witnessed just how resilient people can be through these hardships. Though the journey may be difficult, coming out of a traumatic event with a positive attitude and outlook on life is 100 percent possible. In fact, because of this, I have forced myself to explore why it is I have such a fear of driving and how exactly others and myself can grow from these experiences.

Find and Embrace Your Support System
I have a bad habit of shutting down when I feel distressed about something and typically cope by keeping my problems to myself. Though there isn't a "wrong" way to handle the plethora of emotions you encounter after a harrowing obstacle in your life, facing your issues alone isn't always the most practical solution.

"I have clients who are victims of severe motor vehicle accidents, especially those with brain injuries -- even mild brain injuries -- who really like to be around people who have it worse," says Ramzy Ladah, a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer who regularly helps car accident victims. "There are group rehabilitation settings where they can interact with people who have injuries worse than their own and this really helps them realize how much worse it could have been and how lucky they really are to not have been injured more severely."

Though that's not to say that this should be your method, meeting others who have been through similar experiences to you can be helpful. And whether with a group of strangers or family and friends, don't be afraid to let people in. Surround yourself with a diverse group of individuals, whether that person who will offer their shoulder in your time of need or the one who will challenge you to stand up in the face of adversity.

Get Involved with Positive Activities

There are numerous things you can do to use any pent up anger, grief or anxiety and turn it into something positive instead. Whether you choose to become a vocal activist against drunk driving, pursue meditation, dive into yoga or any type of exercise to help ease your stress, or help others who have been in accidents as well, try using your energy for the good.

Cope the Way You Know Best
For many, forgetting the past is impossible. Yet rather than attempting to erase that chapter from our lives altogether, we merely learn how to live through the pain. And in the end, you know yourself better than anyone else. Certain people may simply tell you to "move on" but only you will know when you're ready.

"Obviously the severity of the injury has a huge impact on how easily someone can bounce back," Ladah says. "But a positive attitude really can have an effect on our entire body making the recovery process easier. Whenever we have things to look forward to, family and friends encouraging us, and a good life we want to get back to, it makes it easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Trust yourself, because you can and will get through it.