Chances are you’ve heard about post-traumatic stress disorder. Many commonly associate it with war veterans, but the truth is, any event or series of events that creates a strong fear response and worsens over time can trigger PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 6 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives. If you or a loved one is struggling to cope after experiencing a traumatic event, there is hope, and you can recover. This article provides strategies for post-traumatic stress disorder, including providing information about the best tip – early treatment.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
It’s normal to feel scared, anxious and detached from the world around you after experiencing a traumatic event. However, if these symptoms persist and worsen with time, it might be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops after witnessing, hearing about, or experiencing a traumatic event like death, serious injury, or sexual violation. It causes intense mental and physical reactions after being reminded of the event and exposed to triggers. It further creates severe hopelessness and helplessness, among several other symptoms over a period of months or years.
What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
While everyone experiences PTSD differently, the DSM-5 characterizes four main symptoms;
Intrusion involves persistently re-experiencing the event
- Intrusive memories
- Intense distress
- Physical symptoms after being exposed to reminders of the event, including increased heart rate, nausea, or sweating.
Avoidance of anything that reminds you of the event
- Trauma-related thoughts or feelings
- Places, people, objects, conversations, or situations
- Difficulty remembering or recalling the event
- Negative beliefs about oneself and the world
- Negative emotions like shame, guilt, fear, or anger
- Feeling alienated and detached from others
- Decreased interest in activities that were once enjoyable
- A persistent inability to experience positive emotions such as joy and happiness.
- Irritability and aggression
- Impulsive and destructive behavior
- Problems concentrating
- Poor sleep
- Feeling on guard
- An exaggerated started response
What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
After we experience a stressful event, our nervous system activates our fight-or-flight response for survival. Our hormones kick in, our heart rate increases, our palms sweat, and we’re prepared to either fight, run, or freeze. But once the threat is gone, our nervous systems returns to a normal mode, and we feel calmer and more relaxed. However, in the case of PTSD, the event causes the nervous system to get stuck. Even though there is no danger present, the brain continues to activate stress signals, causing persistent PTSD symptoms. And several events can cause PTSD, including exposure to traumatic events at work, physical or sexual assault, racial trauma, abuse, a serious injury, war and conflict, torture, and death.
1. Increase your awareness about PTSD
One of the best strategies for post-traumatic stress disorder is increasing your awareness and education. Many people who experience PTSD are unaware they have it. Therefore, attending support groups, reading about it, and attending community events about PTSD will increase your mind-body connection and how PTSD is affecting your life. And when you are given tools and words to define how that trauma affects you, you become more aware of its imprint on your nervous system.
2. Deep breathing
PTSD activates a persistent flight-or-flight response. But practicing deep breathing can reduce your stress hormones and calm your mind. When you’re stressed and anxious, how do you feel? You probably take short and shallow breaths. Yet deep breathing helps your body receive more oxygen and reset to a more relaxed state. One popular method you can practice is belly breathing;
- Sit comfortably.
- While closing your eyes, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while focusing on your belly rising
- Then exhale and focus on your belly flattening.
- Repeat for ten breaths, and imagine you are inflating and deflating a balloon as you breathe.
3. Social support
PTSD can make you feel alone, alienated, and detached from yourself and the world around you. Yet having a support network can help you overcome these feelings of helplessness, isolation, and despair while opening up to others who care about you. Whether you talk to your friends, family members or reach out to a support group, face-to-face support is one of the most positively influential factors during your recovery.
PTSD creates an overwhelming state of emotions. Therefore, it’s important to have coping mechanisms to manage your feelings. For example, a weighted blanket alleviates your PTSD symptoms, increases serotonin, and makes you feel safe. Other examples, include adopting an emotional support animal to make your everyday life easier, taking warm baths, hiking in nature, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation. These strategies are designed to improve your mood and reduce your anxiety.
5. Healthy distractions
Healthy distractions serve as coping mechanisms and don’t always mean avoidance. When used intentionally for your emotional wellbeing, they can be an effective tool during your recovery. For example, a distraction technique could be anything that brings you happiness, such as cooking, taking a yoga class, volunteering at an animal shelter, exercising or spending time with your friends.
6. Expressive writing
Journaling is a private and vulnerable exercise that allows you to release your thoughts from pen to paper. It can help you cope with the emotional symptoms of PTSD like anxiety and anger and help you restore focus and release stress. To begin, find a quiet place, think about the event briefly and write any thoughts that come to mind. But remember revisiting the event can be distressing. Therefore, make sure you have a coping mechanism in place to manage any resulting stress.
7. Grounding techniques
With PTSD, grounding techniques keep your mindset focused on the present moment instead of darting between multiple layers of the past. A few examples include carrying an object that reminds you to repeat “I am safe”, connecting your senses to your surrounding environment, and describing what you see, feel, see, smell, and hear. Or it can be sniffing an aromatherapy oil to calm your nerves.
When to Seek Help
PTSD symptoms worsen with time. Therefore, reaching out to a therapist soon after you experience the trauma event can help you manage any symptoms before they become overwhelming or out of control. In fact, early treatment is one of the best strategies for post-traumatic stress disorder because you gain consistent support and learn how to heal and move forward from the trauma.
Remember, PTSD is highly treatable, and you do not need to experience it alone. There is support available.
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