Reviewed by Melinda (Santa) Gladden, LCSW
Anyone who has PTSD knows the struggle. Some days are good, but you are always on edge, not knowing when the next flashback or panic attack will hit. Even when you wake up feeling great and everything seems perfect, there is always that little voice in your head reminding you that you have PTSD, and it can wipe out your good day in a second if you see, hear, or smell something that reminds you of your trauma.
Does that mean people with PTSD can never get better? Not! You can learn PTSD coping skills that will help you when those panic attacks come along, so you do not fear them so much. It is not about getting over PTSD; it is about overcoming it.
Do You Have PTSD?
First, if you are not sure whether you have PTSD or not, feel free to take an online PTSD test and see what it says. More than likely, if you are here ready to learn more about PTSD, you may already have experience with it. One thing to always remember is that there are numerous ways to cope with PTSD and live a healthy lifestyle with it.
Common Symptoms of PTSD
Let us look at some of the most common symptoms of PTSD first. The experts have conveniently placed the symptoms into four categories for you, including responses of cognition and mood symptoms, hyperactive arousal (hypervigilance), avoiding the traumatic event's reminders, and re-experiencing the traumatic event.
Cognition and Mood Symptoms
- Finding it almost impossible to be happy for any reason
- Isolating yourself from family and friends
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling constant negative thoughts and emotions like guilt, anger, and fear
- Thinking that the event may have been your fault
- Having a negative outlook on everything and life in general
- Not being able to remember some of the important details of the event
Hyperactive arousal Symptoms
- Constantly feeling on edge
- Feeling angry or having aggressive outbursts
- Not being able to fall asleep or trouble to stay asleep
- Doing drugs, abusing alcohol, or other risky behavior
- Having trouble focusing on anything
- Being easily startled or jumpy
- Avoiding situations, people, or places that remind you of the event
- Trying to push away any thoughts or feelings of the event.
- Changing your routine, so you do not have to deal with the places, people, or situations that remind you of the event
- Reliving the event including the physical aspects of anxiety-like trembling, racing heartbeat, sweating, and extreme fear
- Having recurring dreams or memories of the event
- Experiencing the same distressing thoughts about the event constantly
- Overall feelings of stress
To be diagnosed with PTSD, you have to have all of the following for at least a month:
- At least two symptoms from the cognition and mood category
- At least two symptoms from the arousal and reactivity category
- At least one symptom from the avoidance category
- At least one symptom from the re-experience symptoms
Why Some People Are More Susceptible to PTSD
It has been studied and researched for many years, but experts are still trying to figure out why two people can be exposed to the same trauma, but only one develops PTSD. However, the risk factors that increase the chance of having PTSD include:
- Having a family history or personal history of mental illness
- Either have or had a substance abuse problem.
- Having to deal with more stress after the event, not being able to grieve or heal properly
- Not having a support system like family and friends.
- Experiencing some type of past trauma
- Being exposed to trauma more often, such as being a first responder or being in an abusive relationship
Can Support Keep Me From Developing PTSD?
Is it possible that you will not experience PTSD after a traumatic incident with immediate and long-term support and treatment? Absolutely. It has been found that those who sought treatment or had a great support system are less likely to develop PTSD than others. That is why it is important to talk to someone after you have experienced some kind of trauma.
Treating PTSD with Psychotherapy
Some of the most common ways of dealing with PTSD are psychotherapy treatments. Psychotherapy is just a fancy way of saying talk therapy. A therapist can help you handle your thoughts and feelings with one or more types of psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and cognitive restructuring can all be excellent ways to stave off the effects of PTSD.
- CBTis a way of getting a clearer understanding of your own behavior and motivations and those of others. You will learn to get rid of the unhealthy ways of thinking to learn better thoughts and patterns. Problem-solving skills and learning to calm your mind are two of the ways you will learn to deal with PTSD.
- Exposure Therapywill gradually expose you to the traumatic event that you experienced in a safe environment. The therapist may have you keep a journal or just write down the event that happened to see how you really feel. Often, we do not even know how we feel until we say it aloud or write it down because it is stuck in your subconscious. Exposure therapy helps you bring those feelings out so you can deal with them.
- Cognitive Restructuringhelps you develop therapeutic ways that will get you to see and change your negative thinking patterns. You will learn about cognitive distortions such as personalizing, overgeneralizing and catastrophizing and how to handle them. Restructuring your ways of thinking can help you get past the traumatic event so you can get on with your life.
What Is Stress Inoculation Training?
Another type of CBT is stress inoculation training (SIT). Like other CBT types, you will learn new ways to deal with stressful situations and understand your thoughts and behaviors.
- During the first step of SIT, you will talk about your stress sources, which typically includes the traumatic incident (s) that caused the PTSD. However, it can also include other stressors in your life. The therapist will teach you how to keep track of your stress levels.
- The second step involves learning new coping skills and problem-solving strategies. Some of these may include breathing exercises, mindfulness, or meditation. The therapist will have you practice your new skills in each session and do them at home.
- In the final step of SIT, you and your therapist will review how you both feel that you progressed and whether you need to continue with another treatment or just use the skills, you have learned already. You will also plan on how to deal with any stressful situations that come up in the future.
Self-Help for PTSD
Many home remedies and exercises can help with symptoms of PTSD. These are things that you can try at home or with a group whenever you feel the need. If you are having a bad day, try one (or more) of these techniques.
Any kind of physical stimulation or activity is good for your mental and your physical health. Getting your body moving and blood pumping increases serotonin (which the SSRI drugs do) without the drugs. It increases endorphins too, which are also fantastic mood lifters in your brain. Exercising outdoors is even better because you can get some fresh air and sunlight. Take the dog for a walk, jog in the park, or just do some dancing in your living room. Whatever you want to do to get your heart racing and blood pumping.
Carry something special that reminds you of a good time in your life. It does not have to be anything major. It could be a note from a loved one, a photo of someone you love, or a piece of jewelry you got from a friend. Keep it with you wherever you go and get it out and look at it if you are stuck with a flashback or anxiety attack. This will help ground you so you can work your way out of the crisis.
Known to be one of the best therapies for all types of mental conditions, journaling is so popular that they even have apps for you to journal online. In case you happen to be out with no paper or pen when you feel the need to vent. You can just open the app on your phone and write in what you need to say.
Talking To Someone
Whether it is a loved one, support group, or therapist, it is always good to talk about what is going on with you. Talking is, after all, therapy. You can talk to a professional online anytime you need to; no appointment necessary, and you do not even have to leave your house.
NOTES: I do not agree with offering the quiz in the beginning of the article, but this article was written beautifully to describe ways to manage PTSD.
- Does not go against what is clinically accepted.
- Does not encourage mindsets or practices that may be harmful to the reader.
- Is factual and up-to-date.