Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) happens when a person experiences significant trauma. A person may feel significantly hurt or haunted by the event. Some people experience symptoms in weeks or months after the trauma occurred. Some wonder does PTSD ever go away with time. The answer depends on the person since it affects people differently. Some people experience symptoms and get help, but later, their symptoms return. Sometimes experiencing another traumatic experience triggers a relapse.
The type of trauma experienced may play a role in determining a treatment plan. People experience trauma in different forms, including personal tragedies, natural disasters, neglect or abuse, violence, or military combat. When understanding your symptoms, it is essential to know healthy ways to make symptoms more tolerable. People have found the following suggestions helpful for coping with PTSD symptoms:
Establish Your Support System
One of the essential elements of recovery from PTSD is having support from people you know. Your support system may include people you know, such as family members, friends, and people you trust. Having a support system helps you feel connected and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sometimes people with PTSD want to withdraw from others when they feel bad about what happened. People that care about you will want to know your feelings. When you don’t feel like talking, being around people that care about you makes a difference. When you do want to talk, sharing with people the care ensures you’re not judged or distracted.
Besides connecting with family and friends, there are other ways to stay connected, including volunteering and support groups. Volunteering helps you connect with others in need. Giving your time and energy to others enables you to feel like you’re in control. It is an active way to work off anxieties and to get your mind off of things. You can choose to volunteer in any way you want, such as through an animal shelter, homeless shelter, or connecting with mental health advocacy groups to support a cause.
Support groups are another proactive way to deal with your symptoms. You have another place to share your thoughts and feelings with people who can relate. You won’t feel alone, and you’ll gain helpful information from people that want to help you feel better. Support groups are available online and in-person through a wide range of options, including community health centers, church groups, online forums, and special interest groups such as veterans and LGBTQ. Get leads on where to look for PTSD support groups from your primary care doctor, therapist, or mental health organizations supporting PTSD advocacy.
Seek Professional Support
Professional support for PTSD includes working with a therapist, counselor, or mental health specialist. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can start to feel better. It is not a weakness to get help from a trained expert. Some may feel uncomfortable thinking about working with a professional, but many view this option as useful for various reasons. Professionals are trained to work with people dealing with traumatic events. They provide resources and tools for coping with emotional distress.
It is natural to want to avoid unwanted feelings and painful memories. Unfortunately, the longer you do, the more difficult it gets to move forward. PTSD symptoms could worsen when you keep ignoring your feelings. When you let your guard down or when you’re under another form of stress, your emotions could get the best of you. Some withhold their emotions for so long it becomes mentally exhausting. Avoiding your feelings may affect your relationships with others and your ability to get things done. Your quality of life may also be affected when you put off getting help.
Professional treatment for PTSD may include working with a therapist or counselor. Therapy sessions provide an outlet for your feelings while being an opportunity to learn how to approach your emotions so you can heal. Treatment options through therapy help you focus on your symptoms while understanding why they affect you. You will learn how to work through complicated feelings such as guilt and how to move forward from hurtful memories. Therapy also helps address problems PTSD has created in your relationships with people in your life.
Therapy options may include family therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, with a particular focus on trauma. Therapy sessions may be another option for people taking medication. PTSD could consist of symptoms of depression or anxiety. While there is no PTSD cure, antidepressants help control symptoms while therapy works to understand their causes. Your primary care physician or mental health specialist may recommend other options as part of your treatment plan. As you progress through treatment, your plan may change to suit your needs.
Make Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle changes may encourage you to take better care of yourself while coping with PTSD. Adopting healthy habits may help your treatment plan produce results. It is a good time to review lifestyle habits and make changes. It may include getting more rest by going to bed sooner each night. You can look for ways to relax at the end of the day through meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques. Learning to relax may help you deal with anxiety and make it easier for your body to respond to PTSD treatment.
Avoid substances such as drugs and alcohol. Some may be tempted to abuse such substances when struggling with emotional pain from their past. Abusing substances could make symptoms worse and create more problems. In some cases, it makes your treatment plan more difficult to follow, especially if relationships with friends and family become troublesome.
Improve your diet and snack habits. A well-balanced diet is essential to providing your body with nutrients and energy. Eating healthy helps your body function, including your immune system and emotional health. Consider getting more nutrients into your diet that will benefit your mental and emotional wellbeing, such as Omega-3. Reduce or limit foods that are processed, high in sugar, or fried since they could lead to mood swings and changes in your energy levels.
Get more sleep each night and stick to a schedule. It is recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Make a bedtime routine that includes activities to help you wind down, such as reading, a cup of tea, music, a bath, etc.
Regular exercise releases feel-good hormones to boost your mood and energy naturally. Such activity also helps when dealing with stress. Consider exercises with a rhythm such as running or walking. Such practice helps your mind to relax, and you can focus on your body. Activities such as weight training and boxing also provide a unique way to pay attention to your body movements.
Engaging with nature is a relaxing option while providing another opportunity to be active. As the seasons change, you can change your outdoor activity. Activities such as skiing, camping, and hiking are great mental and emotional outlets that allow you to enjoy peace. Have a family member or friend engage in exercise with you. Some gain more motivation when they have an exercise buddy.
Keep A Journal For Self-Evaluation
As you start your treatment plan for PTSD, keeping a journal may help with self-monitoring. Take notes on your behavior, habits, and the things you accomplish. Consider things you want to improve and create an action plan to help you stay focused. Keeping track through journaling enables you to be aware of your mood and behaviors related to your symptoms. Keeping track also helps with addressing your emotions so you can manage them. You’ll know what situations occur that cause you to feel uncomfortable, and you can plan on what to do if it happens again in the future.
Besides self-monitoring, you can learn expressive writing to help with writing your thoughts. It is an effective way of coping with your emotions. People learn how to look at things from another perspective and see their life with purpose. The more you write, the easier it gets to express your emotions on paper. Many have reduced their PTSD symptoms, including anxiety and tension. Any concerns about your symptoms, contact your doctor.
Look for ways to distract yourself from helping you cope with your emotions. It helps to engage in activities to reduce or prevent feelings such as fear and anxiety. Consider what you can do to help channel your mind away from strong emotion. Distracting from a strong emotion can make it easier to focus beyond the feeling. It may help reduce the intensity of your feelings. Activities to consider may include a puzzle, word search, chores around the house, or arts and crafts, to name a few. You can consider spending time with others or helping someone run errands or tidy up at home.
Learning how to cope with PTSD includes understanding your options when managing symptoms. It is essential to learn ways to cope and how to manage strong emotions. Doing actions such as relaxation techniques, adopting healthy living habits, and having a reliable support system, including people who care about you, will make coping easier.