Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that causes flashbacks, nightmares and uncomfortable symptoms such as anger, sleep difficulties and a negative view of the world, after experiencing a dangerous or frightening event such as sexual assault or a life-threatening accident. While there is treatment available for PTSD, some people might learn how to deal with PTSD triggers on their own using self-help techniques. These eight strategies can help you cope with PTSD.
With meditation, you can learn to be more mindful and aware of the present moment. When practicing mindfulness, you can become more cognizant of bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings and learn PTSD triggers. Meditation can also help individuals with PTSD to overcome uncomfortable thoughts and memories and allow them to pass without judgment.
Research suggests that meditation for PTSD is useful. A review of 10 different studies shows that meditative practices can reduce PTSD symptoms. Guided meditation, which is led by a trained professional, may be especially helpful for people recovering from PTSD. One study involving guided meditation for PTSD found that when veterans with this condition attended weekly meditation sessions for four weeks, they experienced significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol. The meditation program was found to be more effective than usual PTSD treatment.
2. Stay Active
PTSD and exercise can be a beneficial combination, as exercise boosts mood and can help with PTSD symptoms like anxiety and irritability. Physical activity can also be a source of happiness and provide relief from flashbacks and negative views of the world. People may also find that physical activity provides social support if they choose to join a running group or attend group exercise classes at a gym or fitness center.
Exercise interventions have been shown to be effective for people struggling with PTSD. A recent review of the research indicates that exercise decreases PTSD symptoms and depression. It is also noted that PTSD is associated with health problems like heart disease, so physical activity is especially beneficial for people with this mental health condition.
3. Get a Service Dog
PTSD service dogs can offer companionship and a calming effect for people with PTSD. Organizations such as Service Dogs for America provide information about how to get a service dog for PTSD. Service dogs for America takes applications for service dogs and will accept them from individuals with PTSD, regardless of whether they are members of the military. This organization trains dogs to meet the needs of people with PTSD. For instance, the dogs learn to understand the signs of PTSD such as anxiety and nightmares and to intervene when these symptoms appear.
PTSD service dogs can provide support and assistance in a number of ways. They may help someone to wake from a nightmare or provide comfort during times of distress by pawing at or nudging their owners. They can also provide distractions, bring medication to a person, or alert others that help is needed during crisis situations.
4. Set Boundaries
Families and friends can be impacted by a single person’s struggle with PTSD. Relationships can be a challenge for people with PTSD and their loved ones. It is important to set boundaries in any relationship, especially when PTSD or other conditions are involved. When someone is exposed to a traumatic event such as sexual assault or a natural disaster, their boundaries and sense of safety are violated. In relationships with friends, family or a significant other, it is therefore necessary to discuss PTSD triggers and ask loved ones to respect when space or time alone is needed.
People in recovery from PTSD report that setting boundaries and establishing personal space are critical for reducing anxiety. When a loved one is overbearing or denies personal space to someone with PTSD, the person with PTSD may feel unsafe. To increase feelings of safety, it is important to have a discussion with family and friends about boundaries and how they can respect them. If someone has violated a boundary or entered personal space, taking a step backward or asking them to move back or lower their voice is helpful. Sometimes, it may be necessary to walk away from a situation if boundaries have been violated.
5. Find a Creative Outlet
Creative outlets such as art therapy for PTSD and music therapy for PTSD can have a positive effect on symptoms. Other hobbies such as creative writing or crafting can provide relief from anxiety and irritability. Some experts suggest that creative tasks like quilting or art projects may be useful for people who don’t find the relief they need from commonplace psychological therapies.
Fortunately, research shows that creative therapies can be effective for PTSD. In a study with veterans, a music intervention was found to significantly reduce symptoms of depression and severity of PTSD.
Other creative hobbies for veterans with PTSD might include:
- Learning to play an instrument
- Singing in a choir
6. Build a Support Network
Having a PTSD support network can also be beneficial for coping with this mental health condition. Having friends, family members, or a coworker who knows about your PTSD and is available to talk can be important for recovery. A PTSD network can be available to listen and offer solutions during difficult times.
Social support has been found to be especially critical for people who have been exposed to multiple traumatic events. One study found that the risk of PTSD was 17 times greater in women who had been subjected to both child abuse and rape, but the severity of PTSD was lower in those who had more social support. Social support can therefore alleviate some of the symptoms associated with trauma.
7. Try aromatherapy
Aromatherapy, which is the practice of using essential oils to alleviate ailments ranging from headache to depression, may involve diffusing, inhaling, internal consumption or rubbing oils on the skin. Aromatherapy for PTSD may include essential oils such as rose, lavender, ylang-ylang, sage and chamomile, which are known for their calming properties.
Aromatherapy is believed to have a calming effect, so it could be useful for treating PTSD symptoms like anxiety and agitation. A review of research shows that aromatherapy is typically helpful for reducing anxiety. In addition, essential oils could alleviate sleep disturbances among those with PTSD, as one study found that lavender oil improved sleep quality more than simply practicing good sleep habits.
8. Seek Counseling
While self-help methods can be useful for coping with PTSD, some people may find that they need additional treatment in the form of counseling. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), PTSD therapy may include the following counseling styles:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy — This type of counseling has roots in cognitive behavioral therapy and helps people with PTSD to learn to overcome negative thoughts and feelings of self-blame.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) — Created specifically to address trauma, EMDR therapy exposes a person to memories of a traumatic event while also moving the eyes to look at other stimuli.
- Exposure Therapy — With exposure therapy, a trained professional helps a client develop strategies for coping with trauma by exposing them to triggers, sometimes through virtual reality.
- Group Therapy — In this form of treatment, people with PTSD receive support from and learn coping mechanisms from others who are experiencing similar symptoms.
Seeking out one of these types of PTSD treatment from a trained therapist can alleviate symptoms and help people learn ways to manage PTSD.
Additional Self-Help Resources
In addition to counseling and other self-management strategies, some people with PTSD may benefit from reading PTSD self-help books to learn other ways to cope with symptoms. Books such as “The PTSD Workbook” and “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” may be of interest to those struggling with PTSD.
PTSD support groups can also be beneficial, as they offer a source of social support and a safe environment where people can discuss their struggles with others experiencing similar concerns. NAMI offers a search tool where people can find local support groups. The National Center for PTSD also provides links where people can find information about PTSD support groups.
If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD and a co-occurring addiction or substance use disorder, The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment services to address the multiple causes of addiction. With locations around the country, there is convenient treatment available to meet your unique needs. Reach out to an admissions professional today to discuss options.
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Lee, Yuk-Lan; et al. “A systematic review on the anxiolytic effects of aromatherapy in people with anxiety symptoms.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, February 23, 2011. Accessed June 15, 2019.
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