What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
As most of us are aware, mass shootings and violent acts of intolerance have increased in the last few years. While politicians and pundits try, mostly ineffectually, to explain these events, we are left reeling from the rapidity of one horrific nationwide trauma to the next. But we can address how our natural curiosity for more information; the whos, whats, whys and wheres of each incident, is quickly capitalized on by the media as their videos are placed in an endless loop on every news source. They continue with their mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads.” That means violence is attention getting and showing it up close and often gets more viewers which get higher ratings which get more advertiser dollars on those media channels. While a heightened awareness of the violence that plagues our country is important, it can also leave us feeling anxious and depressed.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (often abbreviated as PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that may develop as a result of exposure to a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience (such as a trauma). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life, and therefore, coping with PTSD in healthy ways is important. The distressing symptoms of PTSD can negatively affect close relationships, mood, and ability to be effective at work or school. The symptoms of PTSD are difficult to cope with, and they often lead people to use more unhealthy ways of coping, such as alcohol or drug use. However, there are a number of ways to develop healthy coping skills.
The event precipitating PTSD may involve the threat of death to oneself or someone else. PTSD may develop after a sexual or physical assault, unexpected death of a loved one, an accident, war, or a natural disaster. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a lasting consequence of such stressful ordeals.
When trauma survivors take direct action to cope with their stress reactions, they put themselves in a position of power. Active coping with the trauma makes you begin to feel less helpless.
- Active coping means accepting the impact of trauma on your life and taking direct action to improve things.
- Active coping occurs even when there is no crisis. Active coping is a way of responding to everyday life. It is a habit that must be made stronger.
Know that recovery is a process, not an event
Following exposure to a trauma most people experience stress reactions. Understand that recovering from the trauma is a process and takes time. Knowing this will help you feel more in control.
- Having an ongoing response to the trauma is normal.
- Recovery is an ongoing, daily process. It happens little by little. It is not a matter of being cured all of a sudden.
- Healing doesn’t mean forgetting traumatic events. It doesn’t mean you will have no pain or bad feelings when thinking about them.
- Healing may mean fewer symptoms and symptoms that bother you less.
- Healing means more confidence that you will be able to cope with your memories and symptoms. You will be better able to manage your feelings
However, for those living with PTSD, these feelings increase and often become so strong that they prevent the person from living a normal life.
How To Cope With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:If you’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, you may feel ashamed, guilty, you may face survivors guilt and feel stupid that you can’t simply “get over it” like everyone expects you to. Here are some ways of coping with PTSD.
Positive coping actions
Certain actions can help to reduce your distressing symptoms and make things better. Plus, these actions can result in changes that last into the future. Here are some positive coping methods:
Learn about trauma and PTSD
It is useful for trauma survivors to learn more about common reactions to trauma and about PTSD. Find out what is normal. Find out what the signs are that you may need assistance from others. When you learn that the symptoms of PTSD are common, you realize that you are not alone, weak, or crazy. It helps to know your problems are shared by hundreds of thousands of others. When you seek treatment and begin to understand your response to trauma, you will be better able to cope with the symptoms of PTSD.
Talk to others for support
When survivors talk about their problems with others, something helpful often results. It is important not to isolate yourself. Instead make efforts to be with others. Of course, you must choose your support people with care. You must also ask them clearly for what you need. With support from others, you may feel less alone and more understood. You may also get concrete help with a problem you have.
Practice relaxation methods
Try some different ways to relax, including:
- Muscle relaxation exercises
- Breathing exercises
- Swimming, stretching, yoga
- Listening to quiet music
- Spending time in nature
While relaxation techniques can be helpful, in a few people they can sometimes increase distress at first. This can happen when you focus attention on disturbing physical sensations and you reduce contact with the outside world. Most often, continuing with relaxation in small amounts that you can handle will help reduce negative reactions. You may want to try mixing relaxation in with music, walking, or other activities.
Distract yourself with positive activities
Pleasant recreational or work activities help distract a person from his or her memories and reactions. For example, art has been a way for many trauma survivors to express their feelings in a positive, creative way. Pleasant activities can improve your mood, limit the harm caused by PTSD, and help you rebuild your life.
Talking to your doctor or a counselor about trauma and PTSD
Part of taking care of yourself means using the helping resources around you. If efforts at coping don’t seem to work, you may become fearful or depressed. If your PTSD symptoms don’t begin to go away or get worse over time, it is important to reach out and call a counselor who can help turn things around. Your family doctor can also refer you to a specialist who can treat PTSD. Talk to your doctor about your trauma and your PTSD symptoms. That way, he or she can take care of your health better.
Many with PTSD have found treatment with medicines to be helpful for some symptoms. By taking medicines, some survivors of trauma are able to improve their sleep, anxiety, irritability, and anger. It can also reduce urges to drink or use drugs.
Understand that the body has a memory for stress – so the worry and panic or anxiety may be a natural reaction that we’re programmed for. The body remembers and acts – reprogramming can take many years.
Remind yourself as often as you need that you don’t have to be a veteran or the victim of a sexual assault to experience PTSD.
Don’t compare your story to another’s. There are no better or worse reasons for developing PTSD – and if someone tries to play a game of the “Pain Olympics,” you don’t need them in your life.
You’re not weak for developing PTSD – it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal and messed-up situation.
Many people who have PTSD also struggle with survivor’s guilt.
Don’t hesitate to tell people what you need from them. Many times, people will become confused by PTSD; unsure of how to behave and act around you. So tell them – if you need help around the house or with errands, ask for help.
Coping With Specific PTSD Symptoms:
PTSD has very specific and very debilitating symptoms. Here are some ways to cope with these symptoms:
Intrusive memories, thoughts or images:
- Remind yourself that they’re just memories.
- Remember that while these can be overwhelming, the reminders often dissipate over time.
- Remind yourself that it’s normal to have memories of the traumatic event.
- Talk about these things with someone that you trust.
PTSD often leaves us with our hearts pounding, feeling light-headed or spacey (often caused by quick breathing.) If this is something that happens, remember:
- These reactions aren’t dangerous – you wouldn’t notice if you had them while exercising.
- These feelings may come with scary thoughts, which is what may make them so upsetting. These scary thoughts are not true.
- Try to slow down your breathing.
- These awful sensations will pass.
Difficulty concentrating or focusing:
- Slow down – give yourself time to focus upon what it is you need to do.
- Make “to-do” lists every day.
- Break big tasks into smaller doable chunks.
- Plan a realistic amount of tasks to do in a day.
- You may be suffering depression – if so, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Trouble feeling or expressing positive emotions:
- Remind yourself that this is a common reaction to trauma, not something you’re doing on purpose.
- Don’t feel guilty for something you can’t control.
- Continue engaging in activities you like or used to like. Even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it now, once you get into it, you may find yourself feeling pleasurable feelings.
- Take really small steps to tell your loved ones you care – write a card, leave a gift, send an email, call them to say hi.
- Keep your eyes open – look around and see, really see where you are.
- Talk to yourself. Remind yourself that you’re here, that you’re safe. The trauma is long-since over and you are in the present.
- Get up and move around. Take a drink of water or wash your hands. Interrupt the flashbacks with movements.
- Call someone you trust and tell them that you’re experiencing a flashback.
Irritability, anger, and rage:
- Before reacting, take a time out to cool off and think.
- Walk away from the situation.
- Exercise every day – exercise reduces tension and relieves stress.
- Talk to your doctor about your anger.
- Take anger management classes.
- If you blow up at family or friends, find time to talk to them and explain what happened and what you are doing to cope with it.
Nightmares about the trauma:
- If you wake from a nightmare in a panic, remind yourself you’re reacting to a dream. The DREAM is responsible for the panic, not any current danger.
- Get out of bed, regroup, and orient yourself to the present.
- Try a pleasant and calming activity like taking a bath or listening to soothing music.
- If someone is awake, talk to them.
- Tell your doctor that you’re having nightmares.
Difficulty falling – or staying – asleep:
- Keep a regular bedtime schedule and routine.
- Avoid heavy exercise for a few hours before bed.
- Use your bed only for sex and sleeping.
- Don’t use alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine – these hurt your ability to sleep.
- Don’t lie there in bed thinking or worrying. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something quiet like drinking herbal tea, or warm milk. Read a book or do something else quietly.
Recovering from PTSD is a gradual, ongoing process that can take many months or years. The memories of the trauma will never disappear completely, although in time they will become manageable. Here are some ways to cope with residual complications from PTSD.
Remember that recovery is a process, not an event, that happens gradually. Having an ongoing response to stress is normal. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting the event or removing all pain while thinking about the event – healing means learning to cope with the symptoms.
Learning about trauma and PTSD in response to a traumatic event as well as some common signs and symptoms may help you to realize you’re not alone, weak or crazy. It helps to know your problem is something shared by many, many others.
Find a “support partner,” or a “spotter;” a person to willingly and lovingly learn about your PTSD and will support you in whatever way you need.
Sometimes, relaxation techniques can be helpful for people with PTSD. These activities include: muscle relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, spending time in nature, yoga, listening to quiet music. In others, however, these may increase distress at first. If that happens, simply try relaxation techniques for smaller periods of time, or mix them with other activities like listening to music or walking.
The urge to pull back and isolate is very strong for many who have PTSD. It’s easy to feel disconnected to everyone around you, withdrawing from loved ones and social activities. It’s very important to have support from others while you recover, so resist the urge to isolate.
Find a support group for people who have experienced similar types of trauma. Being around people who understand what you are going through is priceless when it comes to recovery. It can remind you that you are not alone and provide you with invaluable information and tools for making a recovery from PTSD. If there are no local support groups, try online.
Don’t self-medicate – While you’re struggling with traumatic memories and painful emotions, the urge to use alcohol and drugs to numb your emotions can be overwhelming. It’s a temporary fix. And unfortunately, these substances worsen PTSD in the long run, because they worsen symptoms like emotional numbing, social isolation, anger and depression. If you are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, it is best to enter a rehab facility to help you deal with your drug or alcohol addiction.
Overcome helplessness – trauma leaves you feeling vulnerable and powerless. It’s easy to forget that you do, in fact, have both coping skills and strengths.
One of the best ways to overcome these feelings is to help other people. Donate time, money, help friends, or take other positive action. Taking positive action directly refutes the feelings of helplessness common in PTSD. We’d love to have you volunteer with us – email firstname.lastname@example.org
How To Help A Loved One Cope With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:Of all of the mental illnesses in the world, post-traumatic stress disorder may be the most confusing one to understand – especially if you were witness to the same trauma as your loved one. Supporting your loved one who has PTSD is vital for their recovery. Here are some tips for helping a loved one cope with PTSD.
Be patient and understanding – Recovery from PTSD takes time – even if a person is actively trying to get better. Be patient with the pace (slow as it may be) and offer a kind ear. Someone with PTSD may need to talk about their trauma over and over – this is part of the healing, and while it can be frustrating to hear, don’t tell your loved one to “move on,” or “stop talking about it.”
Try to prepare for PTSD triggers – many people who have PTSD will have triggers around the anniversary of the trauma, certain sights, sounds, or smells. If you’re aware of what these triggers are, you can offer support and help to calm your loved one.
Be there – sometimes the biggest help for someone who is suffering from PTSD is to have a partner, friend, or other loved one simply be there for them. Do simple favors. Offer unconditional love. Don’t push. Simply be there for them.
Help yourself – if handling the flashbacks, the anxiety, the numbing, and the other PTSD symptoms are too stressful for you, seek help for yourself. No one ever said you had to go through this alone. Seeing a therapist or attending a support group yourself can ease the burden tremendously.
Offer to help your loved one. Suggest bringing over some meals, or asking if they’d like a hand with some things around the house. Some people with PTSD don’t feel as though they can ask for help.
What To Say To Someone With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
“I’m here for you.”
“How can I help?”
“How does PTSD affect you?”
“Can I go to your support group to learn more about PTSD?”
“Let’s do something together – can I come over?”
“You’re not alone and you’re not crazy.”
“You’re not wrong for your feelings.”
How NOT To Help A Loved One With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned of us say or do the wrong thing. Here are some ways NOT to help a loved one with post-traumatic stress disorder:
PTSD is Not “In Their Head” – being the partner of someone with an invisible illness can be very stressful. You may wonder why they don’t just “get over it.” The thing is – PTSD is a real illness, and your loved one may already feel as though they’re going crazy. Don’t add to it by making your partner feel badly for having these emotions or guilt them for “not getting over it.” It’s not as simple as that.
Don’t pressure – Sometimes, it can be very hard for someone with PTSD to talk about their trauma. For some people, it may make the situation worse. So never, ever force someone into discussing their trauma. Simply let them know that you are there if they’d like to talk.
Don’t take it personally – Some of the more common PTSD symptoms can hurt your feelings. These may include anger, withdrawal, and social isolation. If your loved one seems distant or irritable, remember this probably has nothing to do with you.
Don’t imply that your loved one is being weak or silly for his or her PTSD. It’s embarrassing and shameful enough to admit that you have PTSD – implying that your loved one is weak only intensifies the shame.
Don’t imply that only soldiers have PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone, period.
An experience doesn’t have to match your definition of “extreme enough” for it to be PTSD. Don’t downplay the experience to your loved one – it’s unfair and inappropriate.
Don’t become frustrated when your loved one isn’t “over it yet.” It’s not as though someone with PTSD doesn’t want to be better – it’s just not as simple as switching a light on or off.
What NOT To Say To Someone With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
“Stop being so dramatic.”
“You’re being weak.”
“Relax and forget about it.”
“It’s just for soldiers – you don’t have PTSD.”
“You’ve been through so much already, how can this possibly have given you PTSD?”
“Aren’t you over it yet?”
“Yeah, well, when So and So’s kid got (insert traumatic event), he/she didn’t get PTSD.”
Have any more tips for coping with PTSD? Email email@example.com