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 think I have ptsd from my child hood, from having abusive parents to abusive siblings, bullying ,,emotional abuse and physical abuse,,and my children were treated the same way by my so called family,,and others

  2. I don't know if I exactly have PTSD. I definitely feel like I do, though. The abuse was about 7 months ago or something, but ever since it's affected me a lot. When I came back to my mom, after being abused from my dad and taken away by the police, I immediately had nightmares almost every night. At first, they were about my abuser, but the last few turned into just scary dreams that were unrelated to what happened. I don't have them anymore. I've had a close friend pray for me multiple times for these nightmares to stop. Certain phrases or sentences will remind me of my abuser; one of the first times this happened, I was at my new school and my teacher said "Who do you think you are?" Something he always said. This wasn't too long after I was abused whatsoever. I still get reminded by certain things sometimes. I get scared easily, at first it somehow wasn't as bad as it is now. I go on calls with friends regularly and sometimes my friend will make a noise into the mic and it will freak me out. The other day, my phone rang and I freaked out. My friend taps on my shoulder and I jump & she tells me to chill. I get anxious whenever my teacher slams a door, or anything on a desk. When he gets into students' faces I get very anxious, because it was something my dad always did. One time, I was in the auditorium and the whole grade was there & one of the teachers was yelling *so* loud. I got the very strong urge to cry and I was panicing. I just wanted to leave the room, I thought I would break down if he'd continue... Do you guys think this is PTSD?

    1. I believe you do. Trigger words can put you emotionally back to the feelings of when the trauma occurred. Get counseling, make sure they specialize in pstd.

  3. So I kind of have PTSD, I was sexually abused as a toddler in daycare. Now me being 13 and having flashbacks, stress, anxiety and all of the above it's a true struggle. I have drank a couple times that my parents don't know about and I have tried to get high off of pens. My doctor said I have PTSD from what has happened. Sometimes I have woke up balling in tears because I had a dream of it happening again. I am scared of everyone with the name Dillon especially if it's spelt the same. If I get to know the person then it would be a little better but still. Only a few of my best friends know what have happened. It's just hard because I was scared of guys for so long and now I am getting better.. It's just the way older guys i'm scared of. Anxiety doesn't play a good part either. I always feel as if something or someone is following behind me but there's no one there.. ever. And when there is I can't even tell. I can always feel a presence and I scare myself so bad I am surprised I haven't died of a heart attack. I cry myself to sleep sometimes because PTSD or I am just so scared. I am scared to go down town because I always get honked at and get cat calls. One of these days I feel like something bad will happen. I am just in 8th grade and I am a damaged girl. But I am who I am today and I am to embrace that.

  4. Yes, this is the same Dawson McAllister still passionate about reaching, rescuing, and restoring young loves. God bless you for these kind words and for being such a great testimony.

  5. I only wanted to confirm that you are the Dawson McAlister I greatly appreciated when you spoke at the Campus Crusade for Christ retreat center after Christmas in 1971. I had given my life to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day as a 17 year old pornaholic. You had already developed the dynamic talent of appealing to kids. Greeting a small group after your message I was bold enough to shout something dumb like like"you're the best!" you responded with something like "thanks bro" BUT, 45 years later I still remember the name of someone who was allowing God to work in his young life to encourage and exhort. THANK YOU and may HE continue to bless your ministry.

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