I have talked with a lot of people who have faced traumatic events in their life. Many of them have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and don’t even realize it. If you have faced a traumatic event in your life and are having a hard time coping, you may have PTSD.
PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health condition occurring after a traumatic event. In other words, if you have PTSD, you are in shock and the memory of the event and your ability to process the event are disconnected. PTSD does not only apply to soldiers, anyone who has been through a traumatic event can potentially have PTSD. Traumatic events such as rape, kidnapping, abuse, war, neglect, or any event which leaves one feeling helpless. If you have faced a traumatic event and are struggling with the aftermath of it, then you might have PTSD and be facing a variety of symptoms.
Anxiety is one of those symptoms. Anxiety can be normal. Anxiety is the body telling us we are in danger. But it can be a problem when our body is telling us there is danger but there is no real danger. If you have PTSD and are struggling with anxiety, flashbacks, tension, or other symptoms, here are some coping skills and strategies that I have found which can help:
- Start by taking a deep breath in through your nose and then sighing it out really loudly through your mouth (a hah sound).
- Next close your mouth and slowly breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs and then your upper lungs, breathe in slowly to the count of 3, hold your breath for a second at the top of the breath, and then slowly release the breath through your nose, in 3 counts (the same count as when you breathed in). You can increase the count as you are able to deepen the breath. For example, if you are able to breathe in and out to the count of 5 then do so.
- Repeat breathing in and out of the nose 10 times.
Not only is this really great for anxiety, it helps with your immune system, oxygenating your heart and your brain, helps with digestion, helps detoxify, and helps calm the mind giving you better mental clarity.
Relax the muscles in your body. You can calm anxiety by relaxing the muscles in your body. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. If you are tense and jumpy because of your anxiety, practicing this technique every day might help you to relax your body and mind when the anxiety starts to build. This practice will help you learn how to recognize what feeling relaxed should feel like and how to return to that state when the tension is growing in your body.
- Start by finding a comfortable place to sit, clear of distractions – close your eyes and let your body completely relax.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Then focus on your left hand, notice how it feels before doing anything. Then slowly inhale while you clench your left fist into a ball and squeeze the muscles in your hand and feel the tension, do this for about 5 seconds (really feel the tension) and then exhale while you are releasing your left hand and feel all the tension leave the muscles. (This should not be painful so if you feel any pain then stop immediately and consult a doctor.)
- Relax for about 15 seconds.
- Then focus on your right hand, notice how it feels before you do anything. Then slowly inhale as you clench your fist into a ball, tensing all the muscles in your right hand for about 5 seconds then exhale while you release and feel the tension leave your muscles.
- Relax for about 15 seconds.
- You can continue to do this as many times as needed with different muscle groups. For example, tense your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders to your ears for 5 seconds and then completely release your shoulders. You can tense your eyes by clenching your eyelids shut for 5 seconds and then completely relaxing your eyelids and eyebrows.
Get back to the things you love. Have you found yourself having a hard time getting back into the routine of life? Have you stopped getting together with friends or stopped doing some of the things you used to enjoy? Try one step at a time to get back to the things you enjoy doing. Paint, draw, go for a walk with your dog, surf, have coffee with a friend or family member, ride a bike, go hiking, play tennis, play Frisbee. Play any sport you used to love, do any hobby you used to find joy in doing, go back to doing any activity, you really used to enjoy doing.
Take good care of yourself. Pay attention to what you are eating and try to eat right. Exercise. Get outside. It’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself when struggling with PTSD but this will only contribute to making your PTSD symptoms worse.
Ground yourself during a flashback. Flashbacks are a normal response to a traumatic event. Use objects and activities to ground yourself. There are many options of how to ground yourself, here are a few:
- Start by becoming aware of your immediate surroundings. Find where your body is connected to your chair. What does the chair feel like? What does it look like? What color is it? Does it move?
- If you have a familiar object you can carry with you, like a stone or something familiar that you can have handy, then when having a flashback reach for that object, hold, it and rub it between your fingers, let the familiarity of that object bring you comfort.
- Run water over your hands and describe out loud how it feels.
- Say the alphabet backwards.
- Slowly and lightly press your thumbs against each finger and repeat several times.
Know when to ask for help. The coping strategies listed here are just a start to finding ease in your pain. You will need to seek help in order to talk to someone about what you have been through. If you have a therapist or can start seeing a therapist, then do so and tell them the truth, be open with them about what’s going on inside your head! It will help you to talk this out with a professional who can help you down the road to coping and recovery. If you don’t know where to turn for help or need a starting place, TheHopeLine is here for you. Chat anytime at: www.TheHopeLine.com/gethelp.
Have you tried any of these coping skills? Did they work for you or not work. Leave a comment below and let me know.
Also, check out my other blogs about PTSD: