How to effectively cope with and overcome PTSD with self-help

Author: Elly Prior | First published: 22-09-2010 | Modified: 19-10-2017

A trauma 'in your head' can feel like a trauma 'everywhere'. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with PTSD there is no getting away from it. Wherever you turn and however much you try to avoid being confronted by it - it's always there.

What types of things potentially lead to psychological trauma?

You, or a loved one, could have been traumatised by:

  • an industrial accident
  • a natural disaster, such as a flood, forest fires, a hurricane, etc
  • a road traffic/car accident
  • a traumatic birth
  • fighting or living in - or escaping from - a war-torn country
  • reporting on a war
  • a terrorist attack
  • an assault/attack, incl rape
  • a hostage situation
  • being a victim of crime
  • watching your child receive traumatic medical treatment
  • a work-related incident (e.g. fire and rescue, police, ambulance, medical)
  • a traumatic medical treatment or event, such as a stroke
  • witnessing a traumatic event, particularly if you are/were close to the victim/casualty

In my counselling practice I've come across many other traumatic events too. And my clients were experiencing anything from sub-clinical symptoms of post-traumatic stress to full-blown PTSD. Based on that experience, I hope to be able to help you on your way to recovery.

So, I'm really glad you've landed here. I'll give you a list of strategies to help you cope with and ultimately overcome post traumatic stress (disorder). I'll be here with you every step of the way, so read to on find out how to deal with PTSD.

First of all, though, I'd like you to start by reading my article on the symptoms of PTSD. This will give you some idea of the time-scales and duration of the effects of major trauma.

When you come back, we'll talk about why you'll need a proper diagnosis...

What defines a psychologically traumatic event?

You may have survived a life-threatening event. Or perhaps you witnessed a catastrophic event that involved any - or a combination of - the following three elements:

  • Threat - of any kind
  • Horror (such as horrific injuries or the horror of witnessing a traumatic event)
  • Loss (of life, limbs, health, property, sense of safety, etc)

You may have dealt with the aftermath professionally, as a first-responder, as a bystander or even as a fellow-victim. 

Self-diagnosed or diagnosed by a professional?

If you haven't been assessed by a mental health practitioner, this should ideally be your very first step. Keep in mind, though, that it's possible that you have many of the symptoms of PTSD without actually having the disorder as it's described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The DSM is the manual used by many mental health practitioners and all psychiatrists to classify mental health problems. It's supposed to help professionals decide on the best treatment. Unfortunately, in my eyes, this all too often means the prescription of so-called 'psycho-active' medication. You'd be forgiven for thinking those drugs have an effect on your brain only. Not so! This medication affects your whole body and it does not necessarily provide a 'cure'!

Nevertheless, firstly, you may need that diagnosis for insurance purposes. Secondly, you'll need access to specialist therapy. Therefore, the sooner you get a professional on your side the better (after about a month post-trauma). You may find it easier to connect with an online, licensed therapist first off. To discover how that works, start by taking a look at my page on mental health counselling.

Please note though, if you don't have 'classified' PTSD this does not mean that your suffering is any less than someone with the actual disorder. On the contrary - it's possible for you to feel worse and still not have PTSD.  This is due to the vagaries and limitations of the DSM.

I do want to reassure you right now, though: it's very likely that you will recover - even without intervention, eventually.

Free download

Free printable DSM-5 list of PTSD symptoms PDF

Could you cope with post-trauma symptoms without medication?

If you're sleeping badly, suffer from nightmares and haven't yet seen a doctor, I'd encourage you to make an appointment soon. It's likely that your doctor will prescribe some sleeping tablets for you. However, these will come with the warning to only use them sparingly - sleeping tablets won't work in the long-term. So, do have a look at my article on Natural Sleep Remedies for some alternative ways to tackle this problem.

If you're finding it really hard to cope, your doctor may also suggest you take antidepressants. A little note of caution on this - do make sure that you inform yourself really well about the dangers and side effects of antidepressants. If you don't have the capacity to look into this right now, ask someone you trust to do it for you.

Let's now look at how you can take back some control. I imagine you're feeling completely out of control way too often at the moment, so let's start to remedy that right away...

Picture Quote: You really can overcome your fears and you can recover from PTSD

What you can do to help yourself when you're suffering from post-traumatic stress

11 Tried and tested PTSD self-help strategies

Here are some ways in which you can help yourself when you're dealing with PTSD...

  1. Learn as much as you can about the condition, whether or not you've been 'officially' diagnosed. When you know what you're dealing with it's easier to explain it to others - particularly your partner, family and friends. Give them a printout of the above DSM-5 list of PTSD symptoms to increase their awareness.
    Informing them about the condition is likely to reduce their anxiety and enable them to be more understanding and empathetic. It may also make it easier for you to enlist their support. All the research shows that good social support really helps with recovery.
  2. Consider your lifestyle choices. I know it may sound boring, and you may not think it'll make any difference if you knock those bad habits on the head. However, your body and mind are your most valuable resources! Understandable though it is, you're probably looking after your car, your home, your dog, or some other prized possession better than you look after yourself. So, make your own health and well-being a priority. When your body and mind are well nurtured, you'll have more strength to cope with and overcome any challenges you face.
  3. Keep a journal. By writing things down, you can dissociate (disconnect) yourself from the trauma - even if just for a moment. You can also chart your road to recovery, because recover you will!
    Oh... and don't forget to write down three good things that have happened each and every day. Research has shown that gratefulness is good for mental health.
  4. Consider joining a support group - either online or in your locality. Be aware though - it can be great to know you're not on your own, but witnessing other people's distress can be very challenging! So, see how you go.
    Nevertheless - that sense of community can really help you beat the depression that goes hand-in-hand with the trauma. (See also my article on natural depression treatments.)
  5. Whatever you do - don't lock yourself up. Be sure to connect with nature - it will help to calm you. Go for walks, volunteer at a local park or animal sanctuary, or start a gardening project. Connect with the great outdoors!
  6. Keep an activity diary - it's by connecting to your environment and people close to you that you'll find a way out of that dark place. I know you might not want to, because it's too hard or you feel like you don't have enough energy. But please trust me when I say it's vital that you stay connected. For further information about the need to connect, see my article on the human givens.
  7. Use self-hypnosis. It's an easy PTSD self-help aid to deal with anxiety, depression and much else. It's a relatively affordable and super user-friendly way to bring about changes in how you're feeling and in your behaviour. To discover more about how hypnosis works, see my article Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads.
  8. Set small, short-term goals, commit yourself to them - however difficult - and go for it. I'm sure you already know that you won't recover by sitting on the couch on your own, staring into space for most of the day. Recovery requires you to be active!
  9. Make a list of all the things you used to enjoy and revisit them. Decide which one you're going to focus on and make a small start with that.
  10. Work on medium and long-term goals. Let someone close to you help you set these goals. It can really help to have someone who keeps you accountable for your progress.
  11. Having a great hobby or interest can be really helpful in recovering your self-esteem or keeping it alive during this difficult time.

None of these strategies are going to cure your PTSD by themselves, as I'm sure you already know. However, what they do achieve is really important: they all help to create a healthier you. Trust that your body and mind have the ability to heal themselves, as long as you're optimising your inborn resources!

Compare it, if you like, with planting a flower in poor quality soil, or filling your car with substandard fuel. That flower and that car are still going to have to grow and drive, but they'll be hampered by not having the right substances they need to be healthy and strong. Conversely, plant a flower in well-composted, nutrient rich soil, and fill a car with pure, high quality fuel, and think how much they'll flourish and how much healthier they'll be!

Appreciation

... so far everything I've read is helpful to me and I have been able to pass your words on!. I have PTSD...
I am hanging on to your every word! Right now you are my hero! I love how you write too!

- Catherine

Are you doing all you can to avoid situations that could trigger flashbacks?

When you're dealing with PTSD you may find that you want to avoid anything that even remotely reminds you of the original trauma.

Avoidance is OK during the first couple of months post-trauma whilst you're recovering. But after that, you should start to re-engage slowly with everything that you've been avoiding. Otherwise you're gradually building another layer of distress on top of the original trauma. But you don't have to confront everything all at once - you can take it easy, and just go one step at a time.

Coping with the aftermath of trauma means being gentle with yourself, but also being willing to challenge yourself, step-by-step.

Image quote: You get up every day, you do your job, you deal with the children and the chores - YOU HAVE COURAGE!

Finding the right treatment

Know that you can recover! You may well need a professional to help, though, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

During the first two to three months following the trauma, any (trauma) counselling should only focus on the traumatic event(s). No 'general' counselling should be offered. This is also the case when you feel overwhelmed by memories of a trauma even years after it happened.

During those initial weeks and months, your counsellor or therapist should ideally explain to you...

... how your PTSD symptoms have come about
... what happens in the brain
... how trauma counselling encourages and supports the natural healing process.

Have you tried counselling before but didn't find it helpful? I totally understand if this has left you feeling frustrated, let down, angry and depressed. Do keep searching for the right treatment for you, though - it's so important that you find what works best to aid your personal recovery.

3 Special types of treatment for PTSD

  1. Visual Kinaesthetic Dissociation (VKD), often called the ‘rewind technique' (but really being called: trauma-focused 'imaginal exposure' with guided relaxation) doesn't require you to tell your counsellor any details about the trauma if you don't want to talk about it. 
  2. Eye Movement and Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) too is a well-recognised, and often very effective, treatment for PTSD.
  3. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) involves tapping on acupuncture points. I personally have had some great results with that too.

If you don't have access to good services where you are, know that you have every chance of overcoming PTSD with consistent self-help. And, of course, online counselling is widely available now, which can make finding help even easier.

PTSD self-help and your relationship

I suspect you've become, very understandably, wrapped up in thinking about what's happened to you, how you're feeling, how you're going to get through the day and how you're going to cope with another sleepless night.

However, if you're in a relationship or married, the sudden change in you on account of the trauma will affect your partner too.

Here are some examples of what could be happening:

  • You find it hard to get out of bed in the mornings
  • You suffer from mood-swings
  • You appear to feel angry all the time for no apparent reason
  • You lash out easily - verbally and maybe even physically
  • You appear preoccupied with little or no spare capacity for paying attention to loved ones
  • You appear less loving because you've shut off feelings you can't cope with, so other (positive) feelings automatically get shut off too
  • You're no longer interested in sex
  • You no longer want to go anywhere
  • You may have started drinking more alcohol or taking other legal or illegal substances

These changes undoubtedly have an impact on your relationship. Therefore, it's really important that you do your best to help your partner understand what's going on. He or she can't read your mind, and with no information given they're likely to form their own opinion - rightly or wrongly. Looking at the above list, you can perhaps understand their dismay, distress and confusion.

Their potential interpretations and accusations?

  • You're having an affair
  • You don't love him/her anymore
  • You're not interested in what happens at home
  • You've become selfish
  • You're turning into an alcoholic.

Can you see how important it is that you ensure your partner is quickly brought up to speed with what's really going on for you?

If you keep the channels of communication open, he or she can put your behaviour into context, and can be reassured that there are better times to come.

If you were always 'the strong one' and your partner tended to lean on you, they'll now be required to step up to the mark. If you were already leaning on your partner for support before you became traumatised, be sure that you now access additional support. I recommend you start by connecting with on online specialised therapist (for further information, see my page on mental health counselling). And, although it may be hard, do also make an extra effort to develop your own coping strategies.

You'll need to pay particular attention to what's happening between you and your partner right now. I recommend that you have a look at my review of a really effective marriage repair method developed by one of my colleagues, if things are feeling a little rocky at the moment.

(If, unfortunately, your partner has already left you, and you do want to rescue your relationship, then find out how you stand the best chance of getting back together.)

If your relationship or marriage was already a little troubled before the trauma, I really encourage you to get help sooner rather than later, to stop things deteriorating any further.

Below is a video presentation from Wes Moore, a war-veteran, on what helps and what doesn't when you talk to vets about their experience in war-torn countries. His story could to some extent be 'translated' to other traumatic experiences. Watch it on your own first and then decide whether it might help to watch it together with your partner. It could help to increase his or her awareness, enabling them - hopefully - to be there for you.

The aftermath - anything positive?

It's possible that when you're over the horrible symptoms brought about by a trauma, you can begin to see that in some way, some good has come of it.

I'm almost biting my lip as I write this, because the experience of trauma is so personal. If you're reading this soon after a traumatic experience I can totally understand if you want to take issue with me on that statement!

However, you may begin to feel that you've overcome something, and that you've survived. You may even feel pleased about the way you acted at the time, or the way that you've dealt with the difficulties post-incident.

When you're beginning to recover, try to discover any positive aspects of what's happened. For example, you might have an increased appreciation of personal relationships, you may have discovered a new zest for life, or even a feeling of strength.

Finally...

You now know that you can get better - with or without help. :-) And even if you'll never forget what happened, those dreadful memories are unlikely to forever haunt you. What's happened may have scarred you, but those scars will eventually become just another part of the colourful, handwoven tapestry of your life.

You'll find that you're much stronger than you could ever have imagined. Know that living with PTSD, for as long as it lasts, takes courage. That courage too helps to define you. And when you break free from the trauma, which you will, nothing can ever take away the courage you're building into yourself right now.

New! Rate this article (anonymously)...

I really hope this article is of help to you. :-)

I frequently update my articles based on feedback, therefore I really value your vote. If you think I've missed something, please do let me know in the comment section below.

Thank you so much in anticipation. :-)

Related articles

What Are the Human Givens?
How to Deal with a Birth Trauma
Pro-List of Emotions and Feelings
How to Deal with Depression
How to Deal with a Nervous Breakdown

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Elly Prior

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