Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that results from trauma. All kinds of trauma can cause PTSD, including abuse, disasters, and witnessing a traumatic event. This disorder causes symptoms such as flashbacks (intrusive memories), nightmares, persistent stress, anxiety, and depression. PTSD is complicated and difficult, but it is a treatable condition. Treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people reduce their symptoms and improve their mental health.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, or if you suspect that you have it, you can take several steps to manage your symptoms.
PTSD is an often-misunderstood condition. In fact, many people with PTSD are surprised when they learn that they have it. Some reasons for this surprise may include:
- misunderstanding trauma: Some people mistakenly believe that only military members and veterans can have PTSD. While PTSD is common among these groups, civilians can develop this disorder as well.
- media representation of symptoms: PTSD doesn’t always look the way people portray it in movies. For example, flashbacks can be more subtle and less vivid than some people expect.
- underestimating symptoms: If a person has dealt with PTSD symptoms for a long time, they may see their symptoms as “normal” and underestimate the impact of their symptoms on their daily life.
- developing symptoms over time: PTSD can begin immediately after a traumatic event, but it can also develop gradually. If a person does develop gradual symptoms, they may not connect their symptoms to their trauma.
By gaining a better understanding of PTSD, you may find it easier to recognize how it impacts your life.
Recognize Your Triggers:
In psychology, a trigger is something that causes sudden, intense symptoms in people with mental health disorders. For example, in a person with an addiction, a trigger may lead to relapse. In a person with PTSD, a trigger may cause a flashback.
Triggers may include sounds, visuals, environments, and other things that remind people with PTSD of their traumatic experiences.
Not everybody who has PTSD will have the same triggers. For a veteran, the sound of fireworks, which is similar to the sound of gunfire, may cause flashbacks. For somebody who has experienced domestic violence, a story about abuse on the news may do the same.
If you have triggers of your own, the first step to handling them is learning how to recognize them. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day, and remember that flashbacks may not always be vivid and specific. For example, an otherwise harmless noise may cause anxiety, even if you don’t immediately picture the source of your trauma when you hear it.
Address Triggers with Distress Tolerance Skills:
Once you understand your own triggers, you can make a plan for dealing with them. Make this plan when you feel calm, safe, and clear-headed.
One way to deal with triggers is to use distress tolerance skills. These skills are purposeful, healthy reactions to difficult situations. Some types of therapy, including dialectical behavior therapy, emphasize distress tolerance.
Some effective options include grounding exercises, deep breathing, and exercise.
Avoid Alcohol And Illicit Drugs:
Substance abuse and PTSD commonly occur alongside each other. Many people use drugs and alcohol to deal with PTSD symptoms. Opioids, for example, are sometimes used to create a sense of calm.
Addiction occurs when people’s brains and bodies become dependent on substances. After abusing substances, a person with PTSD may feel as if they cannot deal with their trauma without them.
Unfortunately, these substances often create a rebound effect. People become desensitized to them, which means that it will require larger and larger amounts to create the same impact. As a result, when not using these drugs, people may notice that their trauma symptoms have become more intense.
Use Relaxation Techniques:
Trauma activates the “fight or flight” response. When a traumatic event occurs, the body primes itself to respond to danger.
Because PTSD causes people to relive their trauma, it prolongs the fight or flight reaction. Stress hormones stay elevated, leaving people with trauma to remain on high alert even when they are safe.
When fight or flight becomes the default state, relaxation may feel odd. However, it is important to develop relaxation habits because stress hormones can cause both mental and physical health issues. With practice, relaxation can begin to feel more normal. Some relaxation techniques include:
- deep breathing exercises
- visualizing calming scenes
- progressive muscle relaxation
PTSD symptoms are never easy, but having healthy coping skills can make a difference. Many people struggle to implement these skills on their own. Finding a therapist can help you tailor your techniques to your individual situation. A therapist can also provide support and feedback as you manage your symptoms.