There is no guide to overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Each of us struggles with this disease in our own manner and, with that, must learn to overcome it in our own way too.
Still, mental health professionals have observed some trends among people who successfully treat their PTSD. It all begins with identifying symptoms and then finding a way to keep them under control.
Throughout this article, we’re going to observe five key strategies when it comes to taking control of your PTSD. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that effects people who have witnessed a disturbing event. Though this condition is often linked to military veterans – who’ve seen horrifying events on the battlefield – it can also be associated with childhood, sexual, and a list of other trraumas. ¹
People who experience PTSD have anxiety symptoms that can either appear at random or from a trigger. These often include very persistent flashbacks of the traumatic event.
There is no telling how long PTSD will last in an individual. Some people are able to overcome their symptoms with enough time and treatment while others struggle with symptoms their whole lives. Regardless of your situation, you may be temped to try a number of negative coping mechanisms.
These usually include ways to numb the pain – such as resorting to drugs or alcohol. Though such coping mechanisms seem profitable in the short-term, they are extremely dangerous in the long-term. ²
The purpose of the list below is to offer you some long-term solutions for PTSD. Though you may not find a huge difference when these are initially applied, we guarantee you will notices changes over time.
Meditation and other mindfulness practices are continuously showing positive effects when it comes to treating a variety of mental disorders. Studies find that patients struggling with PTSD often reduce avoidance behaviors and self-blame when practicing certain therapies. ³
These therapies include, but aren’t limited to:
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – similar to other forms of psychotherapies, this practice is meant to target specific moods and negative thoughts and, once identified, rework these problems.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – an 8-week program that practices various types of meditation in the hopes that people will learn to train their focus and rid their minds of intrusive thoughts. ⁴
- Mindfulness-Based Exposure Therapy – a 16-week non-trauma-focused program that uses aspects of MBCT while incorporating various aspects of exposure therapy. In other words, patients are exposed to their fears in the hopes that they will identify them and learn to overcome them.
- Meditation-Relaxation – This is your standard meditation where you’ll find yourself exploring the mind and learning self-compassion.
Meditation practices can seem a bit overwhelming at first. When you first step up to the plate, it’s likely you’re not going to know exactly how meditation works and how it can benefit you. People truly get the most out of this practice after long periods of application.
2.) Physical Activity
Finding a physical activity you enjoy has been found to greatly help with PTSD symptoms. This has been claimed both from professional research and personal accounts.
Take the story of Rebecca Thorne as an example. She struggles with PTSD due to childhood traumas. As a coping mechanism, running has helped her in a number of positive ways. ⁵
“I embrace running in all weathers […], always with a considerable amount of ascent. As I fight my way up the climbs, I often imagine that the hill is my illness and I am going to slowly and steadily conquer it. Yet it never feels like suffering and, once at the top of the hill, I can reach out and touch the sky.”Rebecca Thorne
According to research done by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, surfing was found to have a lot of positive effects on war veterans diagnosed with PTSD. ⁶
The team found that sports allow people to focus their minds in a state they term as “flow.” During “flow,” patients were so captivated by the activity at hand, their negative thoughts (PTSD symptoms) were pushed to the side.
One of the medical professionals involved in the study, Dr. Nick Caddick, found that the effects of physical activity were similar to that of mindful meditation. The only difference is, you’re are much more active in the therapy.
Consider a physical activity you may have enjoyed prior to your traumatic event. With this consideration, take your try at the activity again. You may just find it was the medicine you have been waiting for.
If you were never one to participate in physical activities, we suggest taking a look at events within your local community. More particularly, events that involve physical activity, such as running 5Ks.
3.) Get Creative
Have you ever taken your hand at a creative passion? If so, have you considered getting back into it as a means of therapy?
Even if you’ve never found yourself to be creative, there are a number of ways to get involved in creative activity. The most common is art therapy.
Creative efforts have proven to provide people with a sense of relief. This is due to the fact that such efforts allow individuals to externalize their emotions. To place them in front of themselves and learn to cope with these discomforting memories.
One study found that art therapy allowed people with PTSD to overcome various symptoms. Much of the time, these individuals used their creative efforts to leave behind their distressing experiences. ⁷
In many cases, this involves presenting the traumatic event in a creative manner. Whether it be through a story, a painting, or a sculpture, it can help to see a physical representation of what’s been locked inside of you.
Melissa Walker, an art therapist, explains why art therapy can be so powerful for people with PTSD. ⁸
“Someone who has experienced trauma has a block that keeps them from verbalizing what they’ve been through. There is a shutdown in the [convolution of] Broca – part of the brain responsible for speech and language.Melissa Walker
Though you can always practice your creative efforts in your own time, we suggest trying to get involved in a creative community event. Or to attain classes where creative efforts are showcased.
Aromatherapy is probably the most unique coping strategy on this list as it incorporates all-natural healing with relaxation therapies. By inhaling certain scents, some people with PTSD have discovered that aromatherapy was highly beneficial to handling specific symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no hard science to back these claims up. As of this time, one study covered by Medical News Today found that orange essential oil may be able to reduce symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety associated in victims of PTSD. ⁹
However, this study has only been tested on mice and has yet to be conducted on humans.
Still, there are personal accounts people have offered that claim aromatherapy has helped them with their PTSD symptoms. Take David Kinchin as an example. After being diagnosed with PTSD in the 1990s, he decided to write a book about his experiences. Within it, he writes: ¹⁰
“Aromatherapy can form part of a healing regime as well as being a preventive therapy in its own right. It gives pleasure through the sense of touch (massage), the sense of smell (aromatic oils), the sense of sight (pleasant surroundings) […] By so doing, it helps to create favorable conditions in body and mind for healing to take place quite naturally.David Kinchin, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Invisible Injury
We aren’t claiming that aromatherapy is the answer for you. But we do believe that, if you give it a shot, you may just find something beneficial within it.
5.) A Supportive Pet
One of the best ways to cope with your symptoms is to have a spiritual support that’s always with you. For this, many people turn to adopting a pet. Particularly, one who is trained to recognize and prevent the onset of PTSD symptoms.
Studies have found that adopting a pet can have a number of benefits on people with PTSD. ¹¹ Though, it should be mentioned, many of these benefits are short-term and, in order to truly overcome PTSD symptoms, it’s best to incoporate this strategy with another.
Still, even with that said, one research found that just after one week of have a specially trained dog, up to 82% of participants reported their PTSDT symptoms to be greatly reduced. ¹²
Richard Steinberg, a veteran who struggles with PTSD, may have said it best when speaking about his dog: ¹³
“[She] can sense when [I’m] having a nightmare, night sweats. Putting my hands on her calms me down, and it calms her down. She sense the chemical changes in my body.”Richard Steinberg
There are a number of options for specially trained pets. We highly suggest going to your local adoption center and seeing the best fit is for you.
When it comes to coping with PTSD, there are a number ways to do so that don’t present risk or harm to yourself and those around you.
PTSD is a debilitating disorder and leaves many people feeling as though it’s impossible to overcome. It’s important to understand that you are not alone in this fight. And help is available.
The coping strategies mentioned throughout this blog are not to be taken as set-and-stone treatment options. Rather, they are therapeutic practices that have been found to help many with their PTSD symptoms.
Still have questions about strategies for controlling PTSD?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any advice to offer on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Illness: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
² U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Negative Coping and PTSD
⁴ U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for PTSD
⁵ The Guardian: ‘Running helps me with cope with post-traumatic stress disorder’
⁶ A.R.U.: Surfing helps veterans to cope with PTSD
⁷ The Arts in Psychotherapy: Art therapy for PTSD and TBI
⁸ National Geographic: How Art Heals the Wounds of War
⁹ Medical News Today: Orange essential oil may improve symptoms of PTSD
¹⁰ David Kinchin, 2004, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Invisible Injury, 2005 Edition, Success Unlimited
¹¹ frontiers in Psychology: Animal-Assisted Intervention for trauma
¹² PubMed: Animal Assisted Therapy and Trauma Survivors
¹³ National Geographic: Dog Helps Veteran Cope with PTSD, Diabetes