Tips for Living with PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious condition that affects tens of thousands of people. Like you, they have experienced some highly traumatic event (or ongoing events) in their life that shattered their sense of personal safety in some way. The trauma may have involved physical trauma or violence – either experienced or witnessed by you. Common traumatic events that lead to PTSD include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Serious car accident
  • Witnessing the violent death of someone else
  • Physical or sexual abuse during childhood
  • Domestic violence
  • Almost drowning
  • Combat
  • Natural disasters (e.g. a hurricane or tornado)

PTSD can last for many years beyond the actual occurrence of the trauma. For some individuals – especially without treatment – it may last for a lifetime. The disorder can make it very difficult to live a normal life.

With PTSD, you may feel as if they are reliving or “re-experiencing” the traumatic event repeatedly. You may even have times when you believe that the event is currently taking place. You may withdraw socially or emotionally detach yourself from everyone and everything around you. Anxiety and tension may be part of your day-to-day experience. Every aspect of your life may be changed because of the symptoms you are experiencing.

Not all individuals with PTSD have the same symptoms or express all of them. There is no real way to diagnose PTSD other than by the symptoms. However, there are usually many similarities from case to case, regardless of the trauma which caused the disorder in any individual.

Coping with Nightmares and Flashbacks

Two classic symptoms, which can be especially difficult and disruptive, are nightmares and flashbacks.

Nightmares

For many sufferers of PTSD, nightmares are a constant reminder of the traumatic event or events that they have lived through. Since dreams have the power to present a realistic representation of anything that may have happened in waking life, they can also be a serious source of stress. Those memories that are kept in the subconscious during the day are free to present themselves while you’re asleep. There are several techniques for managing nightmares so that they don’t have control over your life. Following are three:

  • Keep a journal by your bed. Every time you have a nightmare, write it down as soon as you wake up. Include every detail you can recall. The worse the nightmare, the more explicit the details should be. Once you have completed this entry, make a note at the end reminding yourself that this was just a dream. You have survived the reality that this dream represents and it doesn’t have any power over you.
  • Find someone you trust – a friend, family member, counselor, etc. – to talk about the trauma. When you talk about your greatest fears you take away their power. In time, they will be much less likely to come to the forefront of your mind while you are asleep.
  • If your nightmares persist, you might also consider drug therapy. Prazosin is a drug originally used for hypertension that works by blocking chemicals in the brain. It has been successful in treating PTSD patients who suffer from nightmares and insomnia.

Flashbacks

A flashback occurs while you are awake. It will feel like you are reliving the event in the moment or watching it play out in front of you all over again. During a flashback you may still be somewhat aware of your surroundings. However, it is not uncommon to feel completely transformed into the past, oblivious to your environment in that moment.

Flashbacks are caused by “triggers” that remind you of the initial traumatic event. For example, a person who was in a terrible car accident may have flashbacks when they see the same type of car that hit them coming in their direction, or when someone is speeding or driving recklessly. Sounds and smells that remind you of the event can also trigger a flashback. Returning to the place of the trauma, or even being in the vicinity of the place may also be a trigger. Your triggers will be related to some aspect of the trauma, and will usually involve something that affects your senses in some way.

Avoidance is often the only way that some people with PTSD deal with their triggers. For example, you may avoid going out at all or avoid places where you might encounter something that will trigger a flashback. Unfortunately, as with any anxiety disorder, avoidance will only perpetuate the problem.

Following are two things that many people have found to be effective in dealing with flashbacks:

  • Be aware of your triggers. Teach yourself to think of something different every time you confront them. If you can refocus your thoughts on something else as soon as you are confronted by a trigger, you may be able to avoid the normal response and prevent flashbacks from occurring.
  • Behavioral therapy can be beneficial in helping you change the way your triggers affect you. This particular type of therapy is used to instill associations with specific triggers in order to cause you to get in the “habit” of responding to them differently.

Effectively Managing Your PTSD

There are many different symptoms that may develop with PTSD. Your experience is going to be unique compared to someone else’s. Even so, there are some additional things you can do that will help you manage your symptoms more effectively and regain control of your live. These include the following:

  • Learn everything you can about PTSD in order to understand how it can affect your life as well as the lives of your loved ones. If you’re like most people, knowing that there is a reason for your condition is the first step towards getting the help you need to begin dealing with it.
  • Find a support group. There are many different types of PTSD support groups. Many are geared to individuals who have experienced specific types of trauma, such as combat or rape. Talking with others who have the same symptoms and issues can help you feel less alone in your suffering. A support group is a great place to learn what has helped others. You can learn from their experience and find ways to better help yourself. Additionally, others will also benefit from what you share in the group. Knowing that you were able to help someone is not only very rewarding, it may also help you feel a sense of purpose in your own suffering.
  • Find a qualified therapist, even if you don’t think you need therapy or just don’t want to talk about your condition. If you don’t take action, it isn’t going to get better on its own. One of the worst things you can do is refuse to talk about the trauma and keep all your feelings inside. Therapy will give you a safe, neutral, and supportive place to talk about what you’re experiencing. A skill therapist can help you work through unresolved pain, grief, shame, guilt, and other negative emotions that are often associated with PTSD.

Living with PTSD is never easy. That being said, it is certainly possible to alleviate your suffering when you take all of the steps available to you in order to control it. Take the power away from the disorder and learn how to manage your symptoms.