Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder that develops after one experiences a traumatic event, whether it is war, abuse, or natural disaster. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety. Coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a challenge for anyone regardless of gender, race, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, or profession. There are important steps that one must take to appropriately cope with and manage symptoms of PTSD so it does not control their life and relationships. Below are steps that can be used to help guide you in this process.
- Identify and utilize a trusted support person/system that is available and trained to help you through this process. This is one of the most important steps in coping with trauma because it allows you to safely, securely, and completely deal with symptoms without judgment.
- Identify and define the nature of your trauma including how it is or has affected your life and those around you. Sometimes a person can spend much of their life running from their trauma that an unhealthy lifestyle and coping mechanisms have become the norm. A person may now have adopted unhealthy behaviors as part of their being or personality.
- Set realistic goals of how you would like to be different after working through trauma. This is important because if you do not know where you want to go, you may arrive there and never realize it because your destination was never set. It is also helpful to understand that wiping away the experience is unrealistic and should not be an identified goal.
- Learn relaxation techniques/coping skills (i.e., deep breathing techniques or emotion regulation strategies) to control your distress and assist you when doing exposure work. This helps you to manage emotional and somatic symptoms that typically occur when doing work on trauma. This also allows you to stay in the present and not retreat to the past when doing exposure work.
- Learn how to challenge distorted thoughts. By doing this, you will gain the ability to think clearly and rationally about situations and events. This step gives you the skill to question your perception about people, situations, experiences, and life.
- Review your traumatic memories/experience. This is an opportunity to write your narrative as you experienced it, as well as to walk through and support the abandoned person (you when you were experiencing the trauma) without interruptions from outsiders telling you to ignore it, how to think, how to act, or to be different. Using steps 4 and 5 at this stage is imperative when feeling overwhelmed with emotions.
- Begin brief exposure to distress cues or situations in real life that trigger symptoms from trauma. In this phase, you allow yourself to experience situations that you may have avoided due to uncomfortable emotions and negative thoughts. You will utilize steps 4 and 5 to help manage distress.
- Review and evaluate goals that were set in step 3 to identify progress made. Identify if changes need to be made or if new goals need to be set. Identify the positives in the work you have done and affirm yourself for the steps you have taken. Take this opportunity to praise and love yourself.
Applying these steps can seem daunting and frightening; however, by using them, you can take back control of your life and tell your experience “it is finished.” Take the time to continue researching PTSD and reach out to a trusted mental health professional to help guide you through the process of healing and change.
By Tanya St. Julien, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor in Raleigh, NC.