6 Self-Help Skills for Coping With PTSD

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.

The Shock and Memory of the Event

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, but 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.

Coping Skills for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Relieving PTSD is challenging, but not impossible. When your stress responses or flashbacks are triggered, and you are struggling with anxiety, flashbacks, tension, or other symptoms, here are some coping skills and strategies that I have found that can help:

Take some deep breaths

You can calm anxiety by slowing down your breathing.

  • 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 your 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 backward.
  • Slowly and lightly press your thumbs against each finger and repeat several times.

Need someone to talk to about what is going on? My HopeCoaches are ready to chat online with you 7 days a week. It's a free and confidential live chat with a HopeCoach to help you with anything that is going on in your life. They are here to listen and support you without judgment.

It is hard to know the difference between PTSD and CPTSD. Click here to learn what is C-PTSD is and signs you may have it.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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9 comments on “6 Self-Help Skills for Coping With PTSD”

  1. I liked your tip of relaxing your muscles when you are feeling anxiety associated with PTSD. My brother is struggling with returning from the military and I want to give him some tips for coping with his PTSD. I'll be sure to tell him to find a comfortable place to relax his muscles when he starts feeling anxious.

  2. I have had chronic ptsd for 12 years now.I am severely angry.I cant stand people in my space or face.I am permantly disabled and argue with my husband constantly because my nerves are shot.I was a victim of my grandfathers incest for 17 years.My mother knew all about it and even had a babywith her own father.I married a homicidal maniac and was stalked,kidnapped,raped,and had to live in a crack infested ghetto for three years on welfare where I witnessed the severe abuse of others.I married again,only to get rid of the stalking of my first husband.He was bipolar and abandoned me and my daughter.I started my own cleaning business,build my own house but had to fight off the advances of every man that got near me,in church and out.My daughter went to college,and then I went and gota criminal justice degree.I then in 20009 began to have nervous breakdowns.I have been put on every pill you can imagine,and everytime I go to a mental hospital I am tramatised more.Councelors only give secular advice,just hold a crayon,breathe,picture myself well,just get over it,find a church, etc.I used to be a Christian.I believed GOD would protect me,and he never did.I cannot watch movies about drugs,alcohol,war,prison or child abuse.if someone has a record of any kind I have the right to not have them in my world.My world consists of sleep,self care,excercise,making my house beautiful,but I see danger everywhere and am triggered hundreds oftimes a day,and I have flashbacks and nightmares.I don't even like to get my hair done,because someone has to touch me.I am fed up with the excuses people make for their unacceptable behavior.Everytime I go to a councelor,I get blamed for being a victim.Church says I am weak and am to forgive,and the psychiatric world puts me on pills.I cant stand noise,and if I go to church I sit ikn the back and try to get out early.All I get is that we have to suffer,and that I don't deserve anything because I am a rotten sinner.But yet their are programs,ministries,churches,social workers,councelors and everything else for the pure scum of the earth.My entire family are losers and abusers.Poor,uneducated and even my daughter who I suffered so much to raise alone is a secular atheist now who has nothing to do with me.I cannot be arounmd blacks either because so many of them abused through school and only want to talk about their racism issues,which I don't give a damn about.I am 55,if I say no to a bullshitter once,then I have spoken.My husband is a controller and emotionally unavailable.I have suffered because I was beautiful,intelligent artistic and smarter than the rest of them.Now I am a quibbling idiot and in a rage at what has been taken from me.I have nothing left to give.I have served,volunteered,went the extra mile,held people up,etc.now I am shattered into a million pieces.Some things you do not forgive.I have never met anyone that has a boundary.When any of mu boundaries are crossed just once,I explode with rage.You cant just get over it.It is a mental illness your body and psyche carries everywhere.

  3. I've struggled with PTSD since summer of 2016, after living with my father, who is very abusive (intimidation mostly), neglectful, and drug addicted, for a year. I still remember the exact amount of days I spent with him (367). I've developed a much closer relationship with my "rescuers" (my mom and her best friend) since the event because they drove 12 hours round trip to come get me. My anxiety became debilitating after I came home, and since I had already had the anxiety, it just magnified, immensely. I could barely breathe. The first few months after, I was never actually IN my body per se. I never remembered any of the details of that year. After returning from my 3-month dissociative state, I came back violent. Towards myself and to others. The nightmares started, everytime I looked at my body I cried, I still couldn't breathe. I had lost over 25 pounds and continued to gain weight back ever-so-slowly. Ever since I've been in therapy, things have been getting easier. November of 2016 I had my first flashback. As I type this now, I've just had another. The worst part about supressed memories is you can never talk about them once the flashback is over. I don't remember what I just remembered. It's gone. I guess my brain is still trying to protect me. Now, I'm Jewish, and 16, so chances are I don't relate to a lot of the moral values of other people reading this, but I must say, almost every one of the skills on this page has become so useful for me. I revisit it whenever I feel bad, and whenever I need to share it with a friend. Sometimes I black out for 20 minutes still, just as if I was back there, experiencing the worst of it. But it happens when I'm laying in my bed, when I'm using a public restroom, and even when reading the news on a bus. I still feel like time is lost to me. I don't think I'll ever understand it the same way I did when I was 12 and younger. And G-d, I hope someone reading this finds it useful to hear someone else's story, because for me, I never felt that what I went through was real, and that other people had gone through worse so my experience was inherently meaningless. If I had known this struggle came to more than just veterans and survivors, I likely would've believed in my recovery more. So whoever you are, I wish you the best. You've survived every bad day up to now, you can survive another one. I believe in you.

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