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Managing Stress When You Have PTSD

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Updated November 27, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

As you might expect, people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) commonly experience very high levels of stress. Even if you don't have PTSD, you're probably still quite familiar with stress—something that we all experience from time to time. "Stress" is commonly used to describe a wide variety of experiences, but what exactly is stress?

What Is Stress?

Stress is a broad term that refers to how your body responds and adjusts when you encounter a new situation. Stress tells us that our body and its resources are being taxed in some way, and we need to take action to address the situation causing the stress.

Stress can come in many forms, and can arise from both negative and positive events. Negative events may include losing a job, getting into an argument with someone, getting stuck in traffic, or some other adverse event. PTSD can greatly interfere with a person's life, significantly impacting their work, relationships, and/or school. As a result, people with PTSD are at high-risk for experiencing elevated levels of stress in their lives.

It might sound strange that stress can result from positive events, but it makes sense when you think about certain events such as the birth of a child, getting married, or getting promoted at work. All of these experiences will likely bring about positive emotions, but they can also put a lot of pressure on you, resulting in stress.

Since both positive and negative events can result in stress, it is unfortunately unavoidable. Learning healthy ways to manage stress is therefore very important, especially if you have PTSD and tend to experience frequent stress.

Ways of Managing Stress

The first step in managing stress is identifying its source; this can give you a good idea of how to cope with stress, and can help you problem solve ways to address the situation so that stress might be reduced. As part of problem solving, you may also want to seek out some social support.

If the source of stress cannot readily be addressed, then it's important to use coping strategies that help reduce the impact of stress on your body. Before using these skills, you may first want to identify where you experience stress in your body. People commonly experience stress as muscle tension in their backs, shoulders, or jaws. Some people may also experience headaches that are triggered by stress, while other people may experience stomach aches or nausea.

Once you identify where you're experiencing stress, you'll want to use some basic relaxation exercises to reduce your tension, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. If you tend to experience worry as a result of stress, you may also want to try mindfulness as a way of "taking a step back" from these unpleasant thoughts that can only increase your stress and interfere with problem solving.

Finally, there's a lot you can do to reduce your vulnerability to stress, including taking care of yourself. If you take good care of your body, it will have more resources available to manage stress as it occurs. Be sure to maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and limit your consumption of alcohol and drugs. If you're on medication (many people with PTSD are), you also want to make sure you take your medication regularly, and don't miss any doctor appointments. Taking care of your physical health can also translate into improved emotional health.

Learning More About Stress

As we mentioned earlier, stress is unavoidable—but that doesn't mean it has to be an obstacle in your life. The coping strategies listed in this article can help you gain better control over your stress. If you're interested in learning more about stress and how to manage stress, you should visit the About.com site for Stress. The Guide for this site presents a number of helpful resources on how to better manage and reduce the impact of stress.

Source:

Chapman, A.L., Gratz, K.L., & Tull, M.T. (2011). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications.

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