Would you be surprised if I told you that PTSD is more common than you believe? Do you consider PTSD an anxiety disorder? And what are the best ways to cope if you do suffer from PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is probably one of the most misunderstood mental disorders. It’s invisible and is “new” on the mental illness scene. It was only after soldiers started returning home from war, that PTSD was first recognized by doctors and psychologists as an actual disorder.
But because it’s something that is relatively new, most people only associate it with veterans. This is far from the truth though. This mental health issue can effect anyone and at any age. It’s brought on when someone experiences a traumatic or near-death event. This could include rape, surgery, a major car accident, and any other traumatic experience. Anything that traumatizes you and leaves you feeling scared or shaken, can lead to PTSD.
Television and movies predict PTSD as an extreme mental illness that can leave you completely disoriented at times of being triggered, and while this is very true, it doesn’t affect everyone like that. Like with any mental illness, PTSD symptoms and ways to cope are unique to the individual that is affected.
Symptoms of PTSD
Would you be surprised if I said that if you experience depression or anxiety you have a mild form of PTSD. So that brings me back to one of my original questions: is PTSD an anxiety disorder? Yes, PTSD is an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and avoidance behavior are some of the tell tale signs of post traumatic stress disorder. Those who suffer can experience depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame.
They typically avoid anything that reminds them of the event that happened. Withdrawal from social experiences and trouble developing and maintaining friendships or other relationships is also usual of someone that has PTSD. Nightmares and flashbacks are also very common.
Coping with PTSD
Perhaps the easiest way to cope is to treat PTSD as an anxiety disorder- an extreme one at that. Because PTSD incorporates almost all other mental illnesses, learning how to cope can be difficult. It is best to approach with methods that would help in almost all cases of a mental illness. For triggering symptoms coping skills include:
Learning breathing techniques
When a flashback begins to occur, it can be like a panic attack. Your breathing quickens, your mind races, your antsy, and you have trouble calming down. Breath in, counting for a total of 3 seconds, then breath out for the same count. Increase to four seconds. Then five. Then four again. And back to three.
Meditation could also be helpful. Focus on your breathing and only your breathing. Or try out a walking meditation! Feel your body as you walk. What are your toes doing? Your ankles? Your knees? Etc.
As you’re remembering a traumatic event, your body is sent back to that place in time. You’ll be tense and anxious as you’re mind is recalling what happened. If possible, lay down and focus on relaxing each part of your body. Start with your toes and work your way up. Or start from your finger tips and work your way down. The best time to start practicing this skill is when you’re already in a relaxed environment; perhaps when you’re getting ready for bed. If you start cultivating this skill it will be easier to do when you are in a moment of panic.
Getting back to nature
If you’re feeling especially wound up, take a walk or a hike through the woods. Stay on the trail and go somewhere that you know well if you decide to do this. Nature has a grounding and calming effect that can heal the mind and provide you with some feel-good hormones. Don’t underestimate this. Even going into your backyard could be helpful.
PTSD can have huge impacts on relationships and lead us to create distorded boundaries. Check out our free ‘Introduction to Personal Boundaries’ e-course to learn skills for building effective personal boundaries.
Call a friend
When you are experiencing a sudden on-rush of symptoms and know that other coping skills won’t help, call a trusted friend or family member. Stay on the phone with them or have them come over so that you won’t be alone. If you know that this is something that entices you, talk to that person in advance and let them know the best ways to help you when you start to experience a flashback.
Find what works best for you
As someone who has experienced some of these symptoms (albeit for a short time), the best coping mechanism that you can create is to find what works for you. If shutting the world out until you can calm down is what is in your best interest; then do that. If curling up with your dog or cat and watching a documentary will help, then do it. Search different coping mechanisms and tweak what you find so that its geared to what will work for you!
Living with PTSD
PTSD, sadly, isn’t something that can be cured. You can learn coping mechanisms, get on medication, or go months without experiencing symptoms. But the memories will remain. That’s why it’s so important to develop coping mechanism and a support system that you know will work for you when you hit a low. Never feel like you have to go through this or any other mental illness alone though. Your friends, family, and even your pets are more than willing to help!