Life After Trauma: 5 Ways to Gain Relief From PTSD
We all hold memories of shocking and painful experiences in our lives. Unpleasant situations come and go, and often require time to heal before we can feel alright again. Some situations, however, are so distressing that they might feel impossible for us to get over.
When your traumatic experience keeps on haunting you and stops you from moving on and living your life, you might be struggling from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental disorder triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying/shocking situation.
It can be caused by short-lived events like watching a loved one die or having a car crash. It can also be a result of a long-lived, prolonged and repeated trauma. For example, physical or emotional abuse such as:
· Neglect and abuse in childhood
· Staying in an abusive relationship/ domestic violence
PTSD can be triggered immediately after the traumatic event, but it can also arise years after the event itself took place.
Do you struggle with PTSD?
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of PTSD can include:
· Nightmares featuring the traumatic event
· Intrusive and recurring thoughts, memories and flashbacks
· Anxiety and panic attacks
· Changes in mood, difficulty in experiencing positive emotions and feeling emotionally numb
· Negative thoughts and hopelessness about the future
It’s important to remember that PTSD affects not only the victim themselves, but also their close friends and family, as symptoms can result in:
· Becoming emotionally distant
· Social isolation and fear of leaving the house
· Outbursts of anger, irritability or aggressive behaviour
· Self-destructive behaviour, e.g. self-medicating with alcohol
How you can gain relief:
Opinions about whether PTSD can be completely cured are often conflicting. The symptoms you experience, however, can be managed and minimised to put you on a path to leading a happier, fuller life. Without further ado, here’s 5 ways for you to gain relief from your symptoms.
Build a circle of support around you
PTSD can be a lonely struggle.
While the physical effects of trauma can be easily seen, measured and validated, the emotional ones often cannot. Mental disorders are much like invisible wounds, which can make it hard for us to reach out to friends and family for support – especially if you’ve been hiding your struggle from them.
You might be ashamed or afraid of judgment. You might dread the possibility of them dismissing your feelings and brushing them off with “but you look fine!”, “you just need to relax” or “stop thinking about it”.
That being said, having a small circle of trusted people who know about your struggle with PTSD can make a huge difference to you in your everyday life. Helping your friends understand PTSD better by educating them about it can make them more understanding and supportive and help them be more perceptive of changes in your behaviour.
A 2017 study by Boyd and Lanius et al. shows that practicing mindfulness is an effective way of reducing your PTSD symptoms.
PTSD attacks often involve involuntary, relentless flashbacks and thoughts taking you back to the traumatic event. Mindfulness can help you remind yourself that you’re not in that space anymore and that you’re safe from harm. You can practice mindfulness by keeping yourself aware of your surroundings and distracting your mind by staying in the present.
Next time you’re having a PTSD attack, try to:
· Describe your surroundings to yourself by speaking to yourself (either out loud or using the voice in your head). Pay attention to every detail.
· Count backwards from a high number (e.g. 40). Counting backwards requires more concentration than simply counting, giving your mind a task to complete. It’s a simple way of distracting yourself from any negative thoughts you might be having.
· Count objects of particular kind in your surroundings. Seeking out particular objects, e.g. trees or blue cars, forces you to focus and stay aware of your surroundings.
Create a feel-good list
Living with PTSD can be overwhelming, casting a shadow over you and making it difficult to enjoy your everyday life.
To help yourself feel better during a time of crisis, prepare a list of all the things that make you feel happy, relaxed and calm. Things like taking a long bath or a morning walk, enjoying your favourite cup of tea in silence, singing or indulging in your favourite TV show with an order of takeout.
When you’re having a hard day and you find it difficult to motivate yourself to even get out of bed, refer to the list and scan it for activities that will help you feel comforted.
Learn to soothe yourself
Another common symptom of PTSD is anxiety and panic attacks. To help reduce the impact of your symptoms, learn and adopt a few self-soothing techniques.
Ideally, make a note of them on separate post-its and stick them somewhere in your house where you can easily see them. This will be helpful during an actual attack or an inflow of anxiety, as you can quickly be reminded of what you should do to calm yourself down. Here are a few techniques to get you started:
· Take a deep breath in – until it feels like there’s no more space in your lungs for more air. Hold it in for a few seconds and breathe out slowly. Breathing this way for a few minutes can help you lower your heart rate, eventually helping you calm down.
· Release tension – it’s a way of your body physically holding onto stress and anxiety. If you’re finding it difficult to release tension from your abdomen, try pushing your belly out first and then relaxing it. Soften your jaw and let your shoulders drop.
· Avoid self-blame and criticism, by learning how to speak to yourself with compassion. You can read more about how to do this here - https://www.just-me-i-am-me-mental-health-forum.com/post/7-ways-to-combat-toxic-self-talk-using-compassion
Don’t put off seeking professional help
PTSD often comes with denial. As I’ve mentioned before, the emotional effects of trauma can be difficult to notice and measure which may make it hard to self-diagnose yourself.
Reaching out to a professional is an essential step in healing your PTSD. In fact, according to Bridges To Recovery, PTSD is “not a condition that will resolve on its own. People with PTSD require professional support, especially therapy, to see improvements.”
Allowing yourself the full care and support you need means putting yourself in the best position on a road to recovery.
For more information about PTSD and treatment, visit:
· Assist Trauma Care (assisttraumacare.org.uk)
· PTSD Resolution (ptsdresolution.org)
· PTSD UK (ptsduk.org)