Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental health condition that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD can cause a variety of symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, avoidance, and depression. Although PTSD is challenging to live with, there are effective strategies and treatments to help improve quality of life. Here are ten tips to manage symptoms of PTSD.
1. Practice self-monitoring
One of the challenges of PTSD is that symptoms can seemingly occur without warning and cause you to feel suddenly overwhelmed. Although the feelings may be unexpected, it is important to recognize that there likely are some triggers or patterns that could be going unnoticed. Often, we find ourselves in “autopilot mode” throughout the day, and you may not always take the time to note your activities and the connected responses. By the end of the day, small triggers could build into major symptoms of anxiety, which can sneak up on you. Therefore, it can be helpful to carefully monitor your day. You might find it useful to keep a journal of activities throughout the day and take a moment to be mindful of how you are feeling and what you are thinking through each part of the day. Over time, you may begin to notice certain activities or thought processes that cause distress. Once you are able to note these triggers, you can more easily manage your symptoms.
2. Find social support
Having someone to talk to can be a huge support for managing and improving symptoms of PTSD. This support could be someone who also experienced trauma, a professional counselor, or just a friend who makes you feel is willing to listen. The importance of the ability to explore and express feelings associated with the trauma is something that should not be minimized. Social connections can play a key role in calming these symptoms.
3. Try expressive writing
Evidence suggests that expressive writing can be a useful tool for reducing symptoms of PTSD. An effective way to use this strategy is to write specifically about the traumatic event in detail. One way to do this is to pick a twenty-minute period of time during the day to write about the trauma. After writing, take a few minutes to think about the emotions, thoughts, and physical feelings that occur. Try to do this a few times within a week.
This strategy can serve two purposes. First, writing is a way to express the thoughts and feelings that may otherwise feel trapped in your head. It may help you to make more sense of these bothersome thoughts. Second, exposing yourself continuously to the trauma through writing can reduce the emotional impact over time. Because this writing may bring up intense feelings, it may be helpful to use this technique with a counselor or to schedule some time with someone supportive after each writing session.
4. Find a distraction
Using distraction can be an important technique for managing PTSD. Although it may seem like a Band-Aid or simply an avoidance of the problem, distracting oneself when symptoms begin can be an effective way to slow down the symptoms. In this way, your symptoms can become more manageable when you complete your distracting activity. For example, at the first sign of minor symptoms, you might choose to play a game that requires great concentration. After completing the game, you may be in a calmer emotional state to process some thoughts (if it still feels necessary) in a careful way, such as through writing.
5. Carry a “reminder” object
When faced with flashbacks, it can be difficult to stay in the present moment and determine which moments are reality. One strategy that can be helpful for remaining present is a reminder object. The type of object may depend on the particular traumatic event experienced, but consider designating an object that would have been unlikely or impossible to have on hand during the trauma. Try to focus on this object in your hand to remember that you are not in the past anymore.
6. Spend time outside
Taking time to “commune with” nature has been shown to be effective for managing symptoms of PTSD. There is evidence to suggest that spending time outdoors can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and suppress the “fight or flight” system that may be strongly activated for a person with PTSD. Spending time outside on a regular basis may be an effective way to better control these symptoms and improve your overall mood and health.
7. Establish a sleep routine
Although proper sleep is important for reducing symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, unfortunately, can negatively impact sleep. Therefore, finding ways of improving sleep is an extremely relevant part of treating PTSD. One key part of this routine is consistency. Try to go to bed around the same time each night. You might want to take some time to journal some fears and concerns. This scheduled “worry” time can help to put you in a better frame of mind when it is time to sleep. Additionally, consider trying relaxation techniques one to two hours before going to bed. For example, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique used to calm anxiety, reduce stress, ease body tension, and improve symptoms of insomnia. There are various scripts available online to help guide this relaxation strategy. PMR may be a useful tool in developing a more effective sleep routine.
8. Focus on physical health
Physical and emotional health link together in many ways. Severe stress can have an impact on physical health, and physical health can likewise impact our emotional wellness. PTSD symptoms can be reduced through exercise, dietary choices, and other important physical factors. Additionally, it may make sense to seek a physical evaluation whenever symptoms of anxiety or depression are present. There are many physical conditions that can cause or exacerbate mental health symptoms.
9. Consider medication
Medication can be an important part of effectively treating PTSD. There are many medications that have been proven to significantly reduce distressing symptoms caused by PTSD. The need for medication and the appropriate type of medication is decided on a case-by-case basis. It is important to recognize that the choice to utilize medication does not indicate a weakness, or that you are giving up on trying to manage the symptoms. Medication is not a crutch or a complete cure, but it can help to reduce symptom severity in a way that helps you to be better equipped to use other strategies to fight the battle.
10. Give yourself time
It is important to have patience with yourself while learning to cope with PTSD. Trauma is a complicated issue, and there is no specific timeline to recovery. It is frustrating and painful to continue experiencing symptoms long after the traumatic event has passed, but it takes time to heal. Putting pressure on yourself to recover faster will only serve to increase anxiety. Remember that healing is a process, one that will require careful, baby steps toward your goals.
PTSD is a complicated disorder that can impact many areas of your life. There is no simple way to completely recover from your symptoms, but there are many ways in which you can achieve greater power over them.