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Coping with PTSD

Healthy Ways to Deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Updated September 28, 2010

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a tremendous impact on a person's life, and therefore, coping with PTSD in healthy ways is important. The distressing symptoms of PTSD can negatively affect close relationships, mood, and ability to be effective at work or school. The symptoms of PTSD are difficult to cope with, and they often lead people to use more unhealthy ways of coping, such as alcohol or drug use.

However, you can do a number of healthy things to manage your PTSD symptoms and improve your quality of life:

  • Find Information on PTSD
    Learn more about the diagnosis of PTSD, its causes, and its consequences. You are better able to tackle or cope with a problem the more information you have about that problem.

  • See a Therapist
    A number of mental health professionals specialize in the treatment of PTSD. In addition, a number of psychological and medication treatment options have been found to be quite effective in alleviating the symptoms of PTSD. A therapist can provide you with support and help you learn more effective ways to manage your PTSD symptoms and related difficulties.

  • Lean On Others
    People with PTSD often feel disconnected or detached from others, even people that they were once close to. Someone with PTSD may have a difficult time opening up or disclosing information about their experience as a result of feeling ashamed or not wanting to burden another person. However, it is clear that people with PTSD do better the more social support they have. Therefore, even though it may be difficult to do, it is important to establish supportive relationships with people you trust and who are willing to be there for you.

  • Join a Support Group
    A number of support groups are available for people with PTSD. Listening to other peoples' experiences with PTSD can help validate the feelings you may be experiencing. You can also learn from how other people have overcome the effects of a traumatic experience. You can learn more about available support groups in your area through the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

  • Learn Relaxation Skills
    Relaxation can be a powerful tool in managing the fear and anxiety that accompanies a PTSD diagnosis. Deep breathing exercises are a very simple way of managing your anxiety in the moment.

  • Monitor Your Symptoms
    The thoughts and feelings associated with PTSD are often so distressing that people often try to avoid them (understandably so). However, through self-monitoring, you can learn more about what situations trigger your PTSD symptoms, giving you important information on where and when coping methods need to be used.

  • Identify and Take Part in Positive Activities
    People with PTSD may find that certain activities are no longer pleasurable, or that they may be afraid to go out and do the things they once enjoyed. However, this avoidance only maintains feelings of despair and depression. It is important to continue to do the things that you used to enjoy, even if you do not feel as though they are pleasurable in the moment. Your ability to do this will come in time, and this may prevent your depression and anxiety from getting worse.

  • Use Healthy Distraction
    Distraction can be a useful way of coping with stressful thoughts or feelings that seem overpowering. Distraction may take the form of reading a book, talking to a friend, taking a bath, watching a movie (although make sure the movie does not have any triggering images in it), or exercise. However, it is important to remember that distraction is about getting through a tough moment as opposed to trying to avoid distress. After your distress has subsided, it is important to examine what triggered you and identify other ways you could have managed that distress.

  • Write About Your Feelings and Thoughts
    This has been found to be very helpful, especially in expressing and organizing your experience surrounding a stressful event. In addition, writing can be a positive experience because you have control over how much information you want to disclose and how far you want to go.

  • Be Mindful
    Mindfulness is about being completely in-touch with the present moment in a non-evaluative or non-judgmental way. Mindfulness can help you take a step back from your thoughts, potentially reducing the extent with which they fuel anxiety and fear. Try an easy mindfulness exercise to get started.

  • Improve Your Physical Health
    Our emotional health is strongly connected to our physical health. In addition, people with PTSD are often at risk for a number of physical health problems. Therefore, it can be important for a person with PTSD to live a healthy lifestyle, exercise and maintain a good diet.

  • Be Spiritual
    Finally, it has been found that establishing or connecting with a sense of spirituality (regardless of how you define spirituality) can have a very positive influence on your ability to overcome a traumatic experience.

These are just a few ways of coping with PTSD, and there are likely many more out there. It is important to identify what coping strategies work for you and when. Some coping strategies may work in some situations, but not in others. Therefore, it is very important to be flexible in your use of different coping strategies. The more tools you have to manage your PTSD symptoms, the better off you will be.

Sources:

Agaibi, C.E., & Wilson, J.P. (2005). Trauma, PTSD, and resilience: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 6, 195-216.

Jakupcak, M., Roberts, L.J., Martell, C., Mulick, P., Michael, S., Reed, R. et al. (2006). A pilot study of behavioral activation for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19, 387-391.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1990). Opening up: The healing power of confiding in others. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Resick, P.A., & Calhoun, K.S. (2001). Posttraumatic stress disorder. In D.H. Barlow (Ed.), Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual, 3rd edition (pp. 60-113). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Schnurr, P.P., & Green, B.L. (2004). Understanding relationships among trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and health outcomes. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, 20, 18-29.

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