Dealing with Trauma: PTSD Coping Strategies

Mental health affects every aspect of your life – if you’re living with a mental health condition, you likely face great struggles every day. And although it isn’t often discussed, mental health issues are surprisingly common.

Take PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, for example. This mental health condition affects tens of thousands of Americans, and more are diagnosed each year. But despite how prevalent PTSD is, few people talk openly about it.

PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event, with symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and more. But PTSD is also a condition that’s surrounded by misinformation, and sufferers are often misdiagnosed. Without available information or help, those living with PTSD can struggle even more.

Fortunately, there are ways those living with PTSD can try to cope with the condition. Though PTSD symptoms can be as unique as the patient experiencing them, there are a few trial-tested PTSD coping strategies that may be able to help you manage your symptoms more effectively.

Therapy

Seeking professional help is often a PTSD sufferer’s first step towards recovery. While seeking that help can be a challenge of its own, visiting a professional therapist can offer you access to resources and coping strategies.

Mental health professionals can act as a sounding board for your frustrations, provide you with a list of a tailor-made exercises, and even prescribe medication to help manage your PTSD symptoms.

As great as reading online, asking friends, and at-home trial and error can be, they can’t adequately substitute the measured opinion from a mental health professional. An educated, experienced therapist can see you regularly and guide you through different options for handling your unique symptoms.

Exercise

The mind and the body are inextricably linked – so sometimes, even if you might not think it’ll make a difference, putting your body to work can offer your mind some relief. While nobody is going to make the bold claim that a regular exercise routine can completely mitigate all of your PTSD symptoms, exercise can help soothe some of them.

Individual experience finds that exercise can actually have a transformative effect on those suffering from PTSD. Exercise is about goal-setting, progress, and building self-confidence. Physical exertion can strengthen the muscles, but it can also calm your mind, boost your immune system and strengthen your resolve.

Meditation

More and more research is touting the many health benefits of meditation on the mind and the body. In fact, a recent study reported that regular practice of Transcendental Meditation can have an incredibly positive affect on anyone suffering from PTSD. It can reduce the patient’s dependence on psychotropic medications, the study said, and help manage symptoms.

And those living with PTSD have seen positive effects when putting meditation into practice. Investigative journalist Dan Harris understands the power of meditation – in his book, 10% Happier, Harris describes his ongoing battle with PTSD and shares the life-changing wonder of meditation.

Aromatherapy

Managing the symptoms of PTSD is all about finding an outlet that works for you. Aromatherapy, which uses of candles, incense, or essential oils to soothe and calm, may not work for everyone. For some, however, it has positive effects.

Aromatherapy has been used to calm the body and the mind for thousands of years. And, for thousands of years proponents of this ancient therapy have enjoyed improved sleep quality, reduced stress, and lower anxiety levels.

It’s important to note that aromatherapy shouldn’t be used as a substitute for professional help or medication. But, when used in conjunction with professional help, the benefits can be significant.    

Art Therapy

These days, increasingly more PTSD sufferers are turning to art therapy to help combat their symptoms.

Some choose art, and find that expressing their emotions through paint, pencils, and clay. With art therapy, the patients are able to communicate their complex emotions in an easy, fail-proof way.

PTSD sufferers turn to the pen quite often too. Why? Because journaling, short-story writing, and general stream-of-conscious writing exercises were proven effective decades ago.

But, if writing or painting aren’t your thing, try music! Listening or playing has also been linked to “resilience” and “improved functioning” in individuals who experience symptoms of PTSD.

A Pet Companion

Companionship, stability, protection… the benefits of owning a dog are well-known. And the positive effects of owning a dog are magnified for those suffering with PTSD.

Many military veterans are turning to man’s best friend to help mitigate their symptoms of PTSD. But you don’t have to have served in the military to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of dog ownership.

PTSD sends emotions in to overdrive, negatively affecting your ability to trust and build meaningful relationships with others. Dogs help us re-learn trust and reignite our feelings of love and selflessness. If you have the time and financial stability required for a pet, and your therapist says it’s okay, stop by your local shelter and consider adopting a dog.

Volunteer

Volunteering your time or services to a local, community-driven charity can have a positive impact on symptoms of PTSD. Both veterans and victims of other trauma are lending a helping hand to others in an attempt to cope with their own feelings of anger, frustration and fear, and it’s proving effective.

Volunteering to help those in need gives those with PTSD a purpose. That purpose extends far outside the boundaries of the volunteer opportunity itself. Think about a cause that’s close to your heart, do a bit of research in to local charities that align with what you’re looking for, and consider donating your time to the greater good.

Join a Support Group

Mental health struggles can be debilitating. Especially when you don’t have anyone to share your experiences with. Even if you’re constantly surrounded by well-intentioned friends, opening up to them about your illness could be uncomfortable. Thankfully, most communities offer support groups for people looking to connect and communicate.

There are many benefits to joining a support group. Support groups can encourage you to begin trusting others again, they can provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and discuss your illness. Realizing that you aren’t alone in your struggle can also help your long road back to recovery. If you’re ready to connect with your peers, a quick internet search should point you in the right direction.

Steve Debenport / Getty Images

Jun 18, 2019