June 27th marks PTSD Awareness Day, and though we talk about coping with trauma on a regular basis here at TheHopeLine, it’s important that we stop to acknowledge how important it is to shed light on this common and debilitating condition. The more we talk about it, the less power outdated stigmas become, which means people who are struggling may feel safe enough to come forward and ask for help. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, don’t hide. There’s no shame in admitting that your mental health could be better, and you deserve to live a life that isn’t plagued by memories of trauma.
How Can You Tell You Have PTSD?
Always consult with a professional if you feel you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD. You can’t self-diagnose something as complicated as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a doctor will need to help you figure out if your symptoms are from this or another disorder with similar traits. That said, you can still be informed about how PTSD manifests and mention it to your doctor when you’re explaining your experience.
The first common indicator of PTSD is, unsurprisingly, having experienced trauma in your past. While that could be one or more isolated incidents, such as a natural disaster, an assault, a loss, or other dramatic experience, you can also develop Complex PTSD from a series of ongoing, less apparent traumas like verbal abuse or being in a relationship with a narcissist. If you have gone through anything that you would classify as traumatic, ask yourself if you are noticing any of the following symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts - Having nightmares about your trauma or not being able to stop thinking about it, even when you are busy or trying to focus on something else.
- Hypervigilance - Feeling like you always have your guard up or being easily startled.
- Detachment or dissociation - Feeling numb or disconnected from your friends, family, or important events in your life, even if they’re positive.
- Shame - You aren’t able to stop blaming yourself for what happened, even though it wasn’t your fault.
- Panic attacks - Experiencing episodes where you feel faint, shaky, nervous, frightened after being triggered, even if you aren’t able to figure out what triggered the episode.
- Changes in mood - Feeling hostile, irritable, agitated, scared, or anxious without being able to control it.
If any of this rings true to you, it may be time to seek help from a medical or psychological professional. While there is no cure for PTSD, there is hope! With a diagnosis and a treatment plan, you can learn to mitigate your symptoms and regain a sense of freedom in your life.
9 Ways to Cope With PTSD
Once you have a PTSD diagnosis, you can figure out how to identify and cope with your specific triggers, slowly building a life that isn’t dominated by your past traumas. Here are some steps you can take if you keep reliving the trauma:
1. Use the five senses to reconnect with the present moment. When you feel your symptoms begin to drown out the world around you, think about the basic sensations of taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Slowly do something with each sense, one at a time, until you start to feel less overwhelmed. For example, take a sip of tea or eat a handful of nuts, run your hand over the carpet or run cold water over them, smell a candle or a flower, look around and identify a couple of things you see, and listen for the sound of the air conditioning or your dog’s collar tags jingling. Do this until you feel connected with the here and now instead of feeling thrown back into a past experience.
2. Learn your triggers and warning signs. As you work with a counselor and a doctor, start to keep track of what experiences in your daily life are routinely triggering your PTSD episodes. You may not be able to predict every trigger, but if you can be prepared for some of them, you won’t be caught unawares by every episode. Also pay attention to how your mind and body feel in the moments before an episode. Once you recognize those warning signs, you can learn to remove yourself from situations that are triggering and potentially avoid more episodes.
3. Practice self-compassion. PTSD is not your fault, and your symptoms are not something to be ashamed of. Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself when you’re not doing well and make sure you’re being kind and patient. Judging yourself for how you feel will not make the PTSD go away, and in fact, being hard on yourself will make it worse.
4. Spend time with loved ones. Even when it feels like you can’t leave your house without being triggered and having an episode, don’t isolate yourself. Social connection with trusted friends and family is crucial to your mental health, so find ways to build that into your life. Go on walks, meet for coffee, have movie nights, or talk on the phone, etc. Hanging out doesn’t have to require lots of energy or organization, just get some face time with your closest pals on a regular basis, and make sure they know what’s going on in your life.
5. Move your body, put down your phone, and get outside. Physical exercise, fresh air, and Vitamin D from the sun are all known to contribute to good mental health, whereas isolating yourself behind a screen is known to take a toll. Try to take a walk once a day or even sign up for an outdoor activity like volunteering at a community garden.
6. Get into therapy or counseling. At the root of your PTSD symptoms is the trauma from which it all stems, and you’re going through a lot just trying to live life with a mental health condition. Talk therapy can not only help you to better understand your illness but also to learn healthy coping mechanisms and help you feel supported during the process of healing.
7. Ask for what you need at work, school, and home. Often, the performance and attendance of people with PTSD suffers because when symptoms flare up, it’s difficult for them to keep up with regular schedules and workloads. Have a chat with the staff at your school and work and ask your family members to help you think of accommodations that could make it easier for you to succeed when you aren’t feeling well. That could look like getting deadline extensions on school assignments, being allowed to work from home occasionally, or asking your family to be aware of your triggers.
8. Prioritize rest. Go easy on yourself. Don’t pack your schedule. Make sure you have the flexibility to take breaks to do things you enjoy, have naps, and schedule enough time to get your 8 hours of sleep per day. Your mind and body are on overdrive when you have PTSD, so when you think about it, that means you actually need a lot more rest than other folks.
9. Treat your body with respect. A healthy, balanced diet is also key to giving your mind and body the fuel it needs to survive your symptoms and episodes. Though it’s tempting to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms when you’re feeling badly, relying heavily on drugs, alcohol, or even caffeine could trigger more episodes in the long run. Make sure you’re eating the occasional vegetable and slowing down on the coffee. Set your body up for success–you’re asking it to heal, and it needs some good nutrients to do that.
Don’t Lose Hope
It’s okay to be tired. PTSD is an exhausting condition. Even in the moments when you can’t imagine getting out of bed to tackle another day, don’t give up. Take a deep breath, remember that there are effective treatments you can rely on to make your life feel less overwhelming. You are meant for so much more than this, and even though it doesn’t seem fair that you should have to deal with trauma, know that there is a life of love and abundance available to you through Jesus’ love, because He understands what suffering feels like too. If you need someone to talk to or want to know more about how to feel God’s love, reach out to a Hope Coach today. We talk to people who are battling with their mental health every day, and we listen to them without judgment. You are not alone, and you are worthy of love and peace.
What is PTSD and do you have it? If you have faced a traumatic experience here is what we want you to know. Here are the symptoms and treatments available for PTSD.