How to effectively cope with and overcome PTSD with self-help
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
- being a victim of domestic abuse
- 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 subclinical 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 the symptoms of PTSD. This will give you some idea of the time-scales and duration of the effects of major trauma.
(Just in case it applies to you, you may also be interested in: Brain injury symptoms.)
When you come back, we'll talk about why you'll need a proper diagnosis...
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.
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...
What you can do to help yourself when you're suffering from post-traumatic stress
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!
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.
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.
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. Much of the time you're super aware of how you're feeling. You're focussed on how you're going to get yourself 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 (see also my articles: Anger management tips and Anger management counselling;
- You may 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 may no longer interested in sex (see my article on what to do if you have a sexless marriage);
- You may 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 you get my Positive Communication Kit for Couples. It comes with a whole bundle of expert resources, eguides, quizzes and communication tools.
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.
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.
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