10 Tips to help with PTSD

PTSD is a disorder that develops in someone who has experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Not everyone will develop it, though those that do, it can show up immediately or even years after. Some people recover, some people live with it chronically. Having it present in your life can reek havoc (in your day to day, work, family, relationships). It shows up in a variety of ways: flashbacks (re-experiencing), nightmares, thoughts that are “worst case scenarios.” You may block out time around the event, you may be more forgetful in general, have trouble focusing, not enjoy things like you used to, avoid things/places/people. Your body may go through a variety of reactions when experiencing PTSD. You may become dizzy, scared, have temperature changes (hot/cold), break out in a sweat, want to cry, have a rapid heart beat, shake, be nauseous. It can happen for obvious reasons (you see something that reminds you of the event) or it can happen out of no where. Those are especially challenging because people will often ask you: “I don’t understand, why did it happen?” And the answer is I just don’t know.

Through experience and a lot of trial and error, I have come up with a checklist of things to do when you experience PTSD. I run through it until I find something that works/helps.

1. Breathe — I know this may sound like a duh, but it is important. Because when you are in the middle of a doozy, it is hard to. So take deep long breaths and try to calm your heart beat down.

2. Remind yourself you are here and now — This has been an important one for me. Often, when police/fire engines/ambulances go by with their sirens, I react. I remind myself, they are not for me, I am here and now.

3. Remind yourself you are safe — This goes along with #2. Lets continue with the above example: I am safe, they are not for me, I am safe, I am here and now. I say the I am safe over and over, add in #1, repeat.

4. Distract — Your mind is an amazing and at times challenging thing. The challenging part is when you are going along “fine” and you start getting flashbacks. I have an ongoing list of things to do. If I get a flashback, I will often go to this to do list and start focusing on something else to do. This is much like what you do with the toddler going for the electrical plug — here, look at this new toy.

5. Read — This can be anything. I can’t read self help books right now, have not been able to since the tragedy. They actually can trigger PTSD for me. Some people find them comforting or helpful. I have found fiction is lovely as it allows my mind to create a different reality than it is trying to experience. If I don’t have a book, Facebook will do.

6. Watch a show — Same as #5, but another form.

7. Listen to music — This can be tricky but potentially helpful. What you will need to do is come up with a playlist that does not trigger you. For the longest time I struggled with having the radio on. It played random songs obviously, and within that randomness, it was inevitable that a song came up that triggered me. Once triggered, I did not always have the common sense where-with-all to change the station (again, your brain shuts down). Have the “safe” playlist handy on your phone, and pull it out as needed.

8. Exercise — I cannot emphasize this one enough. It releases endorphins, the feel good chemicals in the brain. Before this all happened, I was an occasional exerciser. Now, I run 10–20 miles per week. If I am having a particularly bad week, I will go for a run and at a certain point, all I can focus on is breathing and the steps in front of me. It does not have to be running, but find something you enjoy!

9. Essential oils — They effect the limbic system when inhaled, which is the emotional area of the brain. There are certain scents that can shift things. You want to get good quality oils, as this can make a difference. Ones that have helped me are Helichyrsum (which is good for PTSD), Mandarin (helps with a brain that won’t shut up), and Jasmine (which is uplifting). These are just a few of many! I carry at least one with me at all times.

10. Friends — Figure out your lifelines. There are times where the the above helps, but not to where I can “function” again in the world. I have a few people I can call at any time, and I mean any time, that won’t say all the wrong things. They will be present, compassionate, and say all the right things. Friends can also be the people who can be your “anchor” when out and about in the world. I still to this day will not go into a situation that may be triggering without one.

10a. OK, I know I said 10. But I could not leave this out. A counselor. A counselor is an important part of recovery. There are several techniques that they can teach you to help. There are some studies that with regular counseling, you can reduce the symptoms of PTSD greatly.

I hope this has been helpful. Please share this with yours friends and family so that they can help support you as well. The biggest thing is to have self-compassion. Understand that just like someone who has diabetes and needs help and support with that, you also need support and help with this.

If you feel you are in crisis, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Talk to a friend or family member, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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Originally published at www.lifesnewnormal.com on September 20, 2016.