At some point in your life, you might experience a violent or frightening event that triggers a severe stress response and trauma symptoms. In many cases, those symptoms get better with time, but sometimes they get more intense and linger, interfering with your everyday life. Persistent trauma symptoms could mean you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While PTSD sounds intimidating and can feel overwhelming, there are many effective ways to cope with and treat the adverse effects of trauma.
What is PTSD?
About six in every 100 people (6% of the population) will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives, and about 12 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year.
PTSD is the condition that affects people who have experienced or witnessed trauma, such as combat, violence, natural disasters, accidents, or abuse. PTSD can last for years, and while its symptoms can vary, those affected may experience:
- A heightened state of anxiety
- Flashbacks of the event
- Difficulty sleeping
- Avoiding people, places, or activities that remind them of the event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Memory problems
- Lack of interest in activities
- Trouble concentrating
- Being easily startled or frightened
There are several more. If you have disturbing thoughts or feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month or your symptoms are severe, you should talk to a doctor or mental health professional.
10 Strategies to Deal With and Manage PTSD
When dealing with symptoms of PTSD, it can be difficult or even impossible to carry on with day-to-day activities. However, there are several strategies to help you cope with your PTSD, including things you can do on your own or with the help of others. Not all strategies will work for everyone, but they can be a great place to start to help you get your PTSD under control and return to life as usual.
Rely on Your Support System
You can’t get through PTSD alone. It’s critical to have a support network of friends, family, coworkers, or others who are available to talk and help with your recovery. Whether it’s someone to talk to, support you in high-anxiety situations, help with errands or housework, or advocate for accommodations at work or school, your support system should be people you can rely on daily to help you cope. Let them help you, and lean on them when you need it.
You can’t control what happened in the past, but you can impact what happens now and in the future. A big part of that is learning to prioritize yourself and your needs, especially when managing PTSD symptoms. Prioritize yourself and engage in self-care activities you enjoy, such as going for a walk, taking a bath, getting a massage, journaling, or anything else that gives you joy. Set boundaries, and don’t be afraid to take care of your own mental health first.
For many people with PTSD, being in unfamiliar situations or exposed to unpredictable events can trigger symptoms. While it can be tempting to avoid all situations that can cause anxiety, doing so can worsen your symptoms. Instead, create and embrace routines and force yourself to do them even if you don’t want to. Use them as a safe place to stay mentally and give yourself space and time to step outside your comfort zone.
It can be tempting to turn to drugs or alcohol to dull your symptoms, but this can be dangerous and make your recovery harder in the long term. Alcohol and some drugs are depressants, which can disrupt balances in your brain and affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions, significantly impacting your mental health and contributing to feelings of depression and anxiety. This can make managing your PTSD symptoms even more difficult.
Exercise can boost the release of dopamine and serotonin, both of which can improve your mood. A regular workout routine can reduce the effects of stress on your body, both physically and mentally. Plus, releasing the right kind of stress through physical activity can lower stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine and help you feel more relaxed.
Many experts believe routine exercise is as powerful in treating anxiety and mood disorders as some medications. It can help you learn to manage your body’s stress without getting overwhelmed.
Request a Service Animal
You may find it helpful to get a service animal, like a service dog, to provide companionship and improve your mental health. Organizations like Service Dogs for America train dogs to understand the signs of PTSD and intervene when those symptoms appear, keeping you safe and lowering the intensity of symptoms. They can also be a distraction and provide the friendship and bonding only an animal can give.
Find a Creative Outlet
Whether you like to read, write, paint, crochet, make pottery, play music, dance, or any other type of art or creative hobby, regular involvement in these activities can help relieve anxiety, improve mood, and refocus negative thoughts into something positive. Not only does it keep your brain busy, but it provides an outlet for relaxing your mind.
Join a Support Group
Support groups exist for just about everything, including PTSD. They are offered both in person and online and allow you the ability to connect with others facing similar challenges. They can help you deal with symptoms, manage your anxieties, answer questions, and help you feel like you aren’t alone. The National Alliance on Mental Health can be a great place to find resources.
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation can help you be more aware of the present moment, which can help ease symptoms of PTSD. Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your body, thoughts, and feelings, and it can even help you learn what triggers your PTSD symptoms and how to overcome them.
Try guided meditation, led by a trained professional, to help reduce stress and learn how these practices can help. Or, you can practice on your own. Mindfulness and meditation can look different for everyone. You don’t have to be sitting by yourself in a quiet room. You can do it outside, on a walk, or somewhere else you enjoy. The important thing is being aware of what’s happening in your mind and body, embracing your negative thoughts, and learning how to overcome them.
Ask for Help
If your symptoms are overwhelming, getting worse, or feel impossible to manage even by using some of the above strategies, it’s crucial to ask for help. Help may come from friends or family in your support system, others in a support group, or a mental health professional. Ask those you work or go to school with for help, if necessary.
You can’t get through this alone, and that’s okay. Asking for help can make coping easier, restore happiness to your day-to-day life, and help you to be more successful in the long run.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Katie Merwin is a representative for Chrysalis Psychiatry of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Chrysalis offers a range of traditional and alternative mental health services.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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