Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Check out these 15 self-help options for you to try out.
In my previous few blog posts, I have been discussing PTSD:
In this blog post, I will discuss self-help options for PTSD. PTSD is an extremely debilitating condition. The victims of PTSD undergo flashbacks, hypervigilance, intense anxiety levels, and finally, emotional detachment from their close ones.
In most cases, people feel that they are all alone and no one understands their problem. However, this is not entirely true. Every person’s PTSD is different from one another. It may be hard for someone else to understand your problem. However, this does not mean that you are completely alone. I will be elaborating more on this point later in the post.
As per the department of veteran affairs, in the US, over 50% of people experience one traumatic event during their lifetime. This trauma may or may not induce PTSD in the person. Before I do a deep dive into the self-help options available for PTSD, you need to understand what trauma is.
What is trauma?
Trauma is any incidence that leads to intense psychological, emotional, or physical harm. Certain examples of trauma involve
- Domestic violence
- Sexual or physical assault
- Combat Survivors
- Surviving through a natural disaster
- Surviving an accident that is life-threatening
- Medical emergency situations and their treatments
This does not mean that every person who experiences a traumatic event will have PTSD, as I mentioned before. Studies show that around 15 million people in the US suffer from PTSD annually.
Is it possible to combat PTSD with self-help options?
Self-help options may not be enough to cure you of PTSD. They can definitely help you manage the symptoms of PTSD. In most cases, a combination of trauma therapy, medication, and self-care options has shown to have the most effectiveness.
This form of treatment can also reduce the symptom of PTSD and help process the traumatic event in a better manner. This will help the brain refocus aspects of the event and look at them differently so that the pain and fear associated with the trauma reduce.
If a person is provided the right kind of treatment, people with PTSD can easily live fulfilled and happy lives without worrying about the triggers. Here are certain self-help options for PTSD that can be used alongside any treatment or therapeutic technique that has been put in place by your mental health practitioner.
Self-help options for PTSD
Challenge yourself and your feelings of helplessness
Recovering from PTSD can take a long time. You should not expect yourself to heal from such a mental health condition in a day or a month. It will take time. However, this does not mean that there is no light at the end of the dark tunnel. PTSD can make life difficult. But fortunately, there are strategies that can help you cope with your symptoms and reduce anxiety and panic attacks.
The first step to becoming better, especially if you suffer from PTSD, is to challenge that helpless feeling that has taken a permanent residence in your mind. Traumas leave us feeling drained and powerless. Under such conditions, you must remind yourself that you are a strong and powerful person. You have already survived the trauma. This shows that you have an incredible mental strength to have done so already. You did not break down. You kept going. These are the factors that you must remind yourself to keep your core strong. These will help you reclaim the power that has been stolen from you by the unfortunate incident.
Move and exercise are crucial self-help options
Exercise releases endorphins. When a person suffers from PTSD, their day-to-day life can become challenging because they are constantly suffering from mood swings, anxiety, depression, etc. Exercise under such conditions can be of huge help. When you exercise, you allow your brain to focus on something very specific. Exercise allows you to gain back control of your body. It also allows your nervous system (which may feel stuck) to start mobilizing again. You can try the following exercise to focus on the movements of your body.
Rhythmic exercises tend to engage both your legs and arms like running, dancing, walking, or swimming. When you engage in rhythmic exercises, instead of focusing on your mind, focus on the movements of your body. Concentrate on your breathing patterns, the feeling of the wind hitting your skin, the movement of your arms and legs, etc.
Boxing, martial arts, weight training, or rock climbing
The reason experts advise that you engage in such activities is that these are intense. You do not have the option of focusing on your thoughts when you are engaging in such activities. You must focus on your body movements; otherwise, you may get hurt.
Relaxing in nature
You can indulge in any outdoor activities like camping, rock climbing, hiking, river rafting, skiing, etc. These activities can help a person feel good and realize that their body is in their control and not anyone else’s. If you do not wish to engage in activities, just a walk in nature or sitting under the shade of a tree can allow you to feel better and relax. You can check the local organizations that provide outdoor recreation and team-building opportunities and team up with them.
Ask for support! You are not alone
The primary problem with PTSD is that the person feels that no one understands what they are going through. This causes them to isolate themselves from society and their loved ones. This is the first thing that you need to change when adopting self-help options for PTSD. Reach out to your loved ones and talk to them. You don’t have to discuss your trauma with them. But make sure that they know that you are ready to seek out their help. Withdrawal from society and loved ones may be very tempting but do not give in to it.
Even if you don’t discuss your trauma with your loved ones, their presence, support and care can be a huge benefit to your recovery. You should look for acquaintances who will not only listen to you talk without judging you, but they should also not criticize, get distracted easily, and be available for an uninterrupted amount of time.
An alternative way to find support
Volunteering is an amazing self-help option
If you feel that people in your family do not understand what you’re going through, you should go out and opt for volunteering. This way, you will meet like-minded people who have their own share of dramas. This makes it easier to connect and regain self-control in yourself.
One of the easiest ways to retain back the lost power is to volunteer to help others. You can either give blood, help out a friend who is in need, help out in shelters or volunteer your time at an animal shelter. When you take positive action against PTSD, it directly works against the constant symptom of feeling helpless. Tackle this symptom first before you start to tackle anything else in regards to PTSD.
Join a support group
There are PTSD support groups available in almost all cities. Going to these support groups can make you feel less isolated, and you will meet others who understand what you are going through. You may also find therapeutic options and valuable information from a support group that can help you manage your PTSD all by yourself.
It has been observed that support groups have been very helpful for those who have previously been exposed to multiple traumatic events in their lives. In one study, it was observed that the risk of acquiring PTSD was 17 times higher in the case of women who had suffered through rape and child abuse. However, the severity did reduce in those who received social support. Therefore, if you are a victim of PTSD, you should look into joining support groups.
Better your lifestyle
The primary problem when suffering from PTSD is that they start to neglect themselves. PTSD takes a mental and emotional toll on the person. It is very easy to let go of basic self-care procedures. However, when people let go of basic grooming and self-care, they fall down further and further into the spiral of depression associated with PTSD. This positive feedback loop must be broken right at the top. Therefore, do not cut back on your self-care options.
For relaxing, you can do meditation or indulge in other relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, massage, body relaxation etcetera. These can help elevate the symptoms of PTSD.
One of the best self-help options to be honest. The faster you learn to regulate your reading patterns, the quicker you can reduce your panic attacks in case they arise. Try out different deep breathing techniques. These can help reduce the levels of stress hormones cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for causing anxiety and tension in the first place. Thus, if you can regulate cortisol, you can automatically reduce your tension and anxiety.
Most of us are used to taking shallow breaths. We do not even realize which breathing pattern we are currently using. Shallow breaths are also used when the body’s natural instinct to fight or flight kicks in. This instinct has been observed to be overactive in people who have PTSD. Consciously taking deep breaths from the diaphragm can reduce this proactive response and help you gain better control over anxiety and panic attacks.
Another common breathing technique that people with PTSD are advised to use is the 4-7-8 technique. In this technique, the person is asked to breathe in via the nose for a four-second period. Then, the person holds their breath for a period of seven seconds. Finally, the exhalation is done through the mouth for a period of eight seconds.
Stay away from drugs and alcohol.
When suffering from PTSD, it is very easy to turn to substance use to combat the mental and physical pain that you are feeling. However, substance use and abuse will not solve your problem. Therefore, stay away from alcohol and drugs. Self-medication is not an option. It will only worsen your symptoms. Instead, opt for indulging in a healthy diet. Add fruits and nutritious vegetables to your diet. Stay away from junk food.
Never skip breakfast. Add nutritious meals to your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stay away from fried and fast foods. Incorporate enough food items that contain Omega-3 like walnuts, fatty fish, flaxseed, etc. Reduce your consumption of processed food like refined starches, sugar, deep-fried items, etc. These types of foods can exacerbate your mood swings and cause further fluctuations in your energy levels, which you do not want.
Focus on sleeping properly
If you start to deprive yourself of sleep, you may face moodiness, irritability, and anger on top of the already frustrated mental status you are stuck in. Make sure that you are getting at least seven to eight or nine hours of total sleep every day. If you find it hard to sleep at night, start using a relaxing bedtime ritual. For this, you can either watch a funny show, listen to some calming music or read a light book. Sleep is an important self-help option.
Get a companion animal.
Sometimes, people with PTSD find it hard to even get up in the morning. Having responsibility can make all the difference in such a case. If you are someone who lives alone, get a companion animal, for example, a dog or a cat.
When you have a creature completely dependent on you for basic necessities, you will be forced to get up and take your companion outside for pee breaks, poop breaks, daily walks, etcetera. The presence of the animal itself can boost your mood a lot. Studies have shown that when humans look into the eyes of their companion animals, their body releases oxytocin, the same hormone that a mother releases when she looks at her child. There also have been studies that show the release of dopamine and serotonin, both of which contribute to happiness. Therefore, just looking at your dog or cat can make you happy.
You will also have to take your dog or cat out for daily walks. These daily walks will force you to get out of the house and interact with people, something that you would otherwise avoid.
In certain cases, dogs can be trained to understand the symptoms of PTSD like nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks, etc. They will intervene right at the early stages of these symptoms so that the symptoms do not progress any further. If your dog is properly trained, he may also wake you up from a nightmare or provide you comfort when you are feeling distressed.
Sometimes, PTSD can not only affect one person. It can affect the whole family. When you are suffering, your families also go through a challenging period. Therefore, it is crucial that you set boundaries in all your relationships. This is crucial if you are a PTSD survivor.
Traumas like natural disasters and sexual assaults can make the person feel that their safety is violated. Therefore, be it with friends, family, or acquaintances, having strict boundaries is very important. If your loved ones care about you, they will understand and respect this boundary. If they still try to encroach your boundary, you know that they are not the right fit for you. You need to move away.
If someone encroaches on your personal space, take one step backward and ask them to respect your personal space. You can also ask them to move back or reduce their voice volume if needed. If you feel that your boundaries are being violated, the best solution is to walk away from the situation itself.
Find an outlet that is creative.
I have numerous videos and blog posts on art therapy. Art is a very powerful tool, especially if you have any kind of mental health issue. Art therapy has shown immense promise and positive effect on all the symptoms of PTSD.
If you are not into art, you can indulge in any hobby that involves the use of your hands, like knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking, etc. Research has shown that indulging in art and other creative outlets can have a significant impact on PTSD. In one study done on war veterans, it was observed that using music significantly reduced the symptoms in the case of those who were suffering from PTSD and PTSD-related depression.
Other creative hobbies and self-help options that are available for people to indulge in are:
- Learning a musical instrument
- Singing in a choir
Aromatherapy as one of the self-help options
Have you been in the presence of a flower fragrance like rose, lavender, etc.? You must have realized that it calms your mind and makes you feel a little bit better. Aromatherapy is a practice where essential oils help to alleviate different ailments. So far, aromatherapy has helped relieve headaches, mood swings, depression, and other mental health issues.
Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils like sage, lavender, chamomile, rose, etcetera. The essential oils are either diffused, inhaled, or consumed by the participants. Some people also rub the oils on their skin for a long-lasting effect. These oils have a relaxing and calming effect on the person using them. The lavender essential oil has been shown to reduce sleep disturbances in those who suffer from PTSD. If you are suffering from insomnia, you should give lavender oil aromatherapy a try.
Engage in real-time reframing and healthy distraction options
Distraction does not mean that you are running away from the problem and avoiding the task at hand. If distraction is used in a mindful manner, it can be an extremely powerful tool for those who suffer from PTSD.
The distraction technique refers to any type of activity that occupies your mind and keeps you active. It can be any activity that you love or enjoy, from cooking to reading to playing board games or puzzles on your phone. One of the studies has shown that playing Tetris has the potential to reduce flashbacks in case of those suffering from PTSD. Previous studies have also shown that people with PTSD do better when they play word games.
Find an anchor and ground yourself.
PTSD survivors most often feel torn between their present situation and their past trauma. Even though they wish to live in the present moment, the past has such a strong full on them that they find it difficult to let it go. This is why people need an anchor. An anchor can help them stay in the current moment and realize that the past is the past.
What items can act as anchors?
An anchor can be any object that you have on you at all times. You can hold and focus on the anchor to stay focused on your senses. You can either use positive affirmations or an object to use as an anchor.
My suggestion would be doing you purchase an item that you can use as an anchor. When you look at the item, you will always remember that it was purchased after your trauma, and it proves the fact that you are mentally strong. You have the mental strength and capacity to survive the trauma, and you are still surviving.
Alternatively, you can also get a piercing done, tattoo, or change the color of your hair. Whenever your past hits, look at the object that you are using to ground yourself and remind yourself to be in the present and not think of the past. Connect to your surroundings to help with the grounding. This can be done by:
- Looking for an object that has each of the alphabetical letters.
- Describing the environment around you
- Counting every object in your current environment of every color.
PTSD is an extremely debilitating condition. Most victims of PTSD feel stuck between their present and their past. They want to move on, but the past has such a strong grip on them that sometimes leading their day-to-day life can become difficult. In this blog post, I have described certain self-help options for PTSD. These self-help options are designed to help you stay in the present, control your panic attacks, reduce the adrenaline rush and finally gain control of your PTSD levels.
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Do you have any self-help options that you think I missed covering in this blog post? Please let me know in the comments section. What strategies are you using to combat your PTSD? Your comments can encourage someone else to reach out for the help they desperately deserve. In case you have any queries about this blog post or any other post on Guilt Free Mind, feel free to reach out to me. You can either reach me on Twitch. I stream almost daily from 10:00 AM IST to 6:30 PM IST. Alternatively, you can also contact me via the contact form or by writing your queries in the comments section.
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