5 Common Ways to Help With PTSD
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, can develop after a person has experienced a traumatic or terrifying event. While this evolutionary trait helped our ancestors get out of life-threatening situations—today, the lingering effects of PTSD can seriously affect a person’s ability to cope with life’s everyday activities.
Fortunately, PTSD is treatable. We always recommend talking to your healthcare provider for an official assessment and diagnosis. In the meantime, if you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, these five tips may help.
Find a qualified psychotherapist
Traumatic events put your ‘fight or flight’ instinct into gear. When put in a dangerous situation, your brain gets a signal to release more adrenaline and norepinephrine—the stress hormones that give your body enough energy to outrun whatever is threatening you. Your heart beats faster and you may experience symptoms like numbness, confusion, or shock.
PTSD is when you continue to relive your traumatic event and experience the same negative feelings long after the situation has resolved itself.
But there are ways to manage the condition. Talking to a qualified professional can go a long way toward recovery. Psychotherapy in particular is proven to help alleviate the negative effects of PTSD. By discussing your health history, how you experience PTSD, and any thoughts you’re having, your psychotherapist can assess your individual needs and create a management plan for you.
Research suggests that cognitive processing therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment are all effective ways to deal with the symptoms of PTSD.
Here’s how they work:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps patients talk through their trauma and identify negative patterns in their thoughts and emotions. It encourages people with PTSD to have more control over their feelings and lessen avoidance behaviors.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): This therapy is a collaboration between therapist and patient. It’s designed to help patients cope with the emotional and mental part of the traumatic situation by working through any thoughts that are blocking recovery.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment (EMDR): This therapy addresses patients’ past, present, and future through a technique that uses side-to-side eye movements to help process the negative thoughts, memories, and feelings of PTSD.
Manage PTSD through exercise
There’s a mountain of evidence proving that physical activity is beneficial to the body and mind. It reduces anxiety and depression, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and improves overall cardiovascular health.
So could exercise help manage PTSD symptoms too?
One study looked at people who had experienced two to six traumatic events in their lives including combat, sexual or physical assault, or a severe accident. Researchers asked them to exercise two to three times per week at a moderate intensity for 10 weeks.
Participants showed reductions in PTSD, anxiety and depression following the exercise intervention. Not only that, researchers noticed a significant decline in some of the negative behavior brought on by PTSD. Participants were less likely to engage in avoidance and numbing habits normally associated with the condition.
But remember to tread carefully. You should always clear any kind of intense exercise with your physician first. Occasionally the effects from exercise like an elevated heart rate, can cause PTSD symptoms to reemerge.
Avoiding drinking and drug abuse
PTSD and alcohol or drug dependence often go hand in hand. People who are suffering may find comfort in the desensitizing effects of these substances, and rely on them to get through stressful situations (or even normal situations).
In a study of 10,000 people receiving medical care, those with histories of trauma were at greater risk of developing alcoholism, depression, and drug abuse. The longer the traumatic experience lasted, the more likely the patient tried to dissociate.
But this is only a band-aid solution. Using alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings won’t solve the underlying issue—in fact, long-term abuse can exacerbate PTSD symptoms and make the condition more difficult to treat.
If you’re having problems with PTSD-related substance abuse, the techniques used in psychotherapy (and listed above) can help.
Rebuild your sense of self
After going through a traumatic event, it’s common to experience feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. However, if these feelings continue for months or years and the traumatic memory continues to dominate your consciousness—it may be time for an intervention.
Lots of times, people who suffer from PTSD describe their experiences as losing their sense of self, saying that “they are no longer the person they once were and they no longer see the world in the same way”.
Rebuilding your sense of self can be a challenge as many victims report feelings of self-loathing and undeserving of good things or a positive life. But with the right coping strategies, it’s possible to overcome these emotions and make a full recovery.
These strategies recommended by the PTSD Association of Canada include:
Being aware of triggers: Keeping track of the events or situations that cause PTSD triggers can be the first step in learning how to manage them.
Doing more ‘feel-good’ activities: Meditation, volunteer work, or connecting with your community are activities that can help rebuild self-worth.
Practicing mindfulness: Engaging in mindfulness can help people who suffer with PTSD remain in the present. This can also help ease triggers.
Seek external support
PTSD is an isolating experience. Those who suffer often feel alone, abandoned, or misunderstood.
It makes sense in a way.
Isolating from friends or family can be a form of self-preservation. Going outside and interacting with people is a lot more mentally stimulating than staying indoors (and under a blanket). So logically, the less social contact you have, the less likely you’ll be triggered. It’s a form of risk control, however unhealthy it seems.
But just like substance abuse, self-isolation is only a temporary fix for PTSD. Real relief comes from medical intervention and support from your loved ones.
Support can come in many forms—inviting people to visit, checking in with loved ones to open up about your struggles, or making more of an effort to get outside with your friends or family.
If things feel especially tough or if you don’t have a support system to rely on (not everyone does), having a home caregiver or nurse visit a few times a week to chat, help with everyday chores, and sit down to listen to what you’re going through can add structure to your routine and help you feel less alone in the world.