Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental health condition that can lead to feelings of intense anxiety. However, certain coping strategies along with treatment can help to relieve the symptoms and facilitate a faster recovery.
Dealing With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is caused by experiencing or witnessing, directly or indirectly, a traumatic, shocking or frightening event. The condition can not only affect the sufferers mental, emotional and physical well-being, it can also affect their ability to function in daily life. This is why it is crucial to seek medical attention under the guidance of a certified mental health professional. With the help of psychotherapy and medications, a patient can effectively overcome 1 post traumatic stress disorder symptoms. However, certain coping strategies can also help to make the recovery process faster and more effective.
Although negative coping strategies like a misuse of medications, drugs and alcohol 2 can be tempting, it can lead to serious issues later in life as PTSD tends to persist for years, if not treated properly. Negative coping techniques may seem to calm your thoughts, reduce stress and numb your feelings for the time being, but these can easily turn into an addiction and become self-destructive habits. This is why it is important to learn about healthy strategies for dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. It can not only enable you to cope with PTSD symptoms but also reduce the risk of developing other comorbid conditions, like eating disorders, depression 3 , anxiety, substance use disorders etc.
Coping Strategies For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Apart from seeking medical treatment, a patient can implement certain self help strategies that can relieve symptoms and help them in their journey towards healing. Here are some helpful strategies that can help you better deal with post traumatic stress disorder:
1. Learn about PTSD
Educate yourself about PTSD and how it affects your thoughts, feelings and behavior. One of the first steps to coping with this mental health condition is to educate yourself and your loved ones about the symptoms, comorbid conditions, consequences and treatment of this disorder. The more knowledge you have about PTSD, the better you will be able to seek help and start your recovery journey. It will also help you better explain what you are experiencing to a healthcare professional.
Mindfulness-based relaxation techniques, like meditation, can be highly beneficial in coping with a number of mental health conditions. Not only can mindfulness-based interventions 4 help to alleviate anxiety and depression, it can also help to relax our body and calm our mind by bringing our awareness into the present moment. One study has found that mindfulness is related to fewer PTSD symptoms. Mindfulness 5 for PTSD may include a number of practices like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR 6 ), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), mindfulness-based exposure therapy, mindfulness meditation and mantram repetition practice.
According to a 2018 study 7 , “Mindfulness-based approaches, including MBSR and MBCT, are thought to target several core features of PTSD, including avoidance, hyperarousal, emotional numbing, negative emotions such as shame and guilt, and dissociation.” So make sure to practice mindfulness and focus on the present moment. You may focus on an object that brings your awareness into the present, like your breath.
3. Deep Breathing
Breathing deeply is an excellent mind body practice for post-traumatic stress disorder. Mind-body practices, like meditation and deep breathing, are “increasingly used to provide stress reduction for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mind-body practice encompasses activities with the intent to use the mind to impact physical functioning and improve health,” explains a 2013 study 8 . By practicing deep breathing, we breathe manually using our diaphragm, a muscle in the abdomen. While inhaling, the abdomen expands, while it contracts when exhaling.
When we breathe using our chest and shoulders, it causes shallow and short breaths which results in higher levels of anxiety and stress. A 2017 research 9 reveals that diaphragmatic breathing helps to activate body relaxation responses which are beneficial for both physical & mental health. Another study states that “mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing exercise (MBX) normalizes cortisol levels and reduces PTSD symptom severity among individuals with subclinical features of PTSD.”
4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an effective anxiety and stress management strategy 10 . This technique mainly focuses on tensing & relaxing various muscles in the body in an alternative manner. By tensing muscle groups and instantly relaxing them, both the mind and body achieves higher levels of relaxation. According to a 2018 study 11 , “The progressive muscle relaxation technique (PMRT) is widely used today in choice of treatment for reducing anxiety and depression.”
Similar to relaxation, physical activity and exercise is also important for coping with post traumatic stress disorder. Studies 12 have found that physical exercise is associated with decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Going to a gym, doing a simple 20 minute cardio routine at home or even something as simple as a 10 minute walk every day can significantly lift your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. One 2019 study 13 suggests that apart from having beneficial effects on depression and anxiety, “aerobic exercise may also reduce PTSD symptomatology across a variety of populations providing evidence for the clinical utility of exercise as a form of treatment.”
Another 2018 study 14 suggests that “Clinicians should include patient-specific exercise prescriptions in their plan of care for treating those with PTSD (e.g., walking program, aerobic activity, or yoga).” In fact, research 15 also indicates that aerobic exercise can also help with childhood PTSD as well.
6. Maintain a Journal
Using expressive writing, such as journaling, can be an excellent self-help strategy to cope with post traumatic stress disorder. Journaling allows you to freely express your own thoughts and emotions and can help to improve mental and emotional well-being. Studies 16 have found that narrative writing or journaling can relieve PTSD symptoms, reduce anger and stress, cause post-traumatic growth and enhance coping abilities. Another 2018 study 17 found that journaling can reduce mental distress, enhance overall well-being, improve physical functioning and quality of life. So make sure to practice journaling or writing a diary everyday. Note down your thoughts and feelings, especially the difficult ones to identify triggers and notice early signs
Here are some additional coping strategies for post traumatic stress disorder that you may find helpful:
- Stick to your treatment plan and take medications regularly as instructed by your doctor
- Practice good sleep hygiene and get enough sleep on a daily basis
- Follow a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet
- Stay away from stimuli that can worsen your stress or anxiety, like smoking, coffee, alcohol and illegal drugs
- Do not isolate yourself. Socialize with your friends and family. Inform them about what can trigger symptoms
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member and express yourself openly and honestly
- Engage in self-care practices, like getting a massage, having a hot bath or a spa etc
- Set small and realistic goals for yourself. Expect to recover gradually, not instantly
- Set priorities and avoid taking up large projects or tasks. You may break up large tasks into smaller ones to make them more manageable
- Do things that you enjoy, like eating good food or listening to relaxing music, and pursue hobbies frequently, like painting, gardening etc
- Join a support group where you can meet others with similar experiences and learn how they are coping with their symptoms. This will also make you more connected and less isolated
According to a recent research 18 , some other strategies that may prove beneficial in coping with PTSD are yoga, acupuncture, emotional freedom technique (EFT), thought field therapy, neurofeedback, qigong and tai chi, herbal and dietary supplements, homeopathy, art therapy and animal-assisted therapy. However, these strategies should be undertaken under the guidance and supervision of a doctor, therapist or an expert in the particular field.
Helping A Loved One With PTSD
Supporting and caring about a loved one suffering from post traumatic stress disorder can be a challenge. This disorder not only affects the patient, but it can also adversely affect people around them. This can strain even the healthiest relationships and make the situation worse for both the patient and their loved ones. If you have a loved one with this condition, then you may feel on edge most of the time, struggling with their moodiness, isolation and volatile behavior. However, the affected person is not behaving like this deliberately. You must realize that you need to care about them and support them while they recover from the disorder at their own pace. However, it is also important that you care about yourself and protect your own thoughts and emotions from the despair, anxiety, fear and negativity around you.
This is why it is crucial that you learn how to live with and support a loved one with post traumatic stress disorder. Here is how you can play an important role in the recovery process and help them overcome their disorder:
- Learn 19 about post traumatic stress disorder, it’s symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options. The more you learn about it, the better support you will be able to provide.
- Encourage your loved one to seek treatment for the condition and follow the treatment plan strictly.
- Learn to identify, predict and manage triggers that may lead to a PTSD symptom like a flashback.
- Ask them how you can help them feel better but make sure to give them enough space
- Encourage your loved one to speak openly and share their feelings with you. Make sure to listen actively without judgement or criticism. Don’t force them to talk about the traumatic event.
- Follow routines and predictable schedules. Engage in normal, daily activities with your loved one and allow them to take the lead rather than guiding or instructing the all the time
- Encourage them to be more social, do more exercise, eat healthier and pursue hobbies
- Take steps to cope with your own stress and practice relaxation techniques to remain calm and focused
- Seek ways to empower your loved one. Do not stop them from speaking about their thoughts, emotions or fears. Do not blame your problems on them or minimize or invalidate their trauma, Make sure not to make them feel weak.
- Show your commitment to your relationship with them and let them know this disorder is not an obstacle. Make them feel loved and supported.
- Realize that there will be challenges everyday and supporting a mental illness patient is not easy. Accept a complicated mix of feelings.
- Seek help from others, look for caregiver support or a professional if you feel the process is too overwhelming for you
- Join a support group for family members of patients with post traumatic stress disorder to discuss with and learn from people in your situation
- Seek therapy to cope with your personal challenges, like stress, worry and frustration, if needed
- Be more compassionate, patient and understanding than usual as your goal is to support them overcome their challenges
Overcoming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Seeking medical treatment is the first and most important step when trying to overcome PTSD. However, in addition to therapy and medications, learning and implementing the right coping skills and strategies can be highly beneficial in your healing journey. It can make the recovery process smoother, enable you to better manage PTSD symptoms and live a healthier, more meaningful life.
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