PTSD: 10 ways to move forward.
Anyone suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder knows how debilitating it can be. While many people with PTSD require professional treatment, there is still a lot you can do on your own to mitigate your symptoms and move toward good mental health.
This advice is not a substitute for seeking medical help, but it can’t hurt to give a few strategies a try.
1. Engage your creative mind. Studies have shown that engaging in creative activities can help with PTSD. I KNOW it's the LAST thing you feel like doing ... but I'm sure PTSD is not your favoured choice either. Trust me and give it a go because when you are in the stress response it’s incredibly hard to make decisions and problem solve, however, when you do something creative, no matter how small it is, the part of your brain that fires up the creativity has the super-power of shutting down that part that creates the stress response.
Using your brain to create something new is a powerful process that requires using your brain in unusual ways. This is something so many of my clients with PTSD find helpful.
Consider these ideas:
● Gaming - a bit of alternate reality aint such a bad thing at times, but choose your game wisely though. Something you enjoy is the way to go - and if you're a gaming newbie like me, start with the easy stuff. Here's a heap of free games to browse through.
● Painting – on a canvas ... and before you dismiss me and say "I can't paint", just google simple, fun painting techniques and you'll be surprised what will take your fancy. In fact, I've done it for you! Check out these tutorials. This is how I became a painter and trust me, even my stick figures looked a bit dodgy beforehand. If I can do it, anyone can. You could even try a different kind of painting by patching up that wall you've been meaning to paint for eons. You could even paint your nails or if that's not your thing, paint someone else's - you could be a natural! (This way, if you're not a natural you can make a run for it ... with your nice clean nails in tact.)
● Drawing – even sketching the shapes your tea leaves make. You could start colouring in or even take up doodling. I bet that's how Van Gogh started!
● Making music – now’s a great time to self-teach yourself the ukulele.
● Crochet or knitting – don’t knock it till you try it. Grab some wool, a crochet hook or knitting needles and load up a step-by-step YouTube tutorial for beginners. You'll find a heap of them here.
● Gardening – a green thumb is a great way to get creative, even if it’s simply pulling weeds.
● Communicate your needs with your social circle. Being with a group of people rowing against rough seas in the same boat is fantastic for feeling less alone. You can find local groups on Facebook or face-to-face locally. Give your local shire or council a call or drop them an email to request information on these groups. Once you have a social circle, make sure you let others know if you don’t like to be touched or if you’d prefer to avoid certain topics. Letting others know your limits will reduce your anxiety as well as that of everyone else in your social circle.
2. Relax your body regularly. A relaxed body will help your mind to relax, too. When you tense up, breath fast or exhibit other signs of physical stress, your mind gets the memo to engage a bigger stress response and before long it’s a hard road to come back from. When you relax, your mind interprets this as a non-stressful response and drops its weapons so to speak.
There are many ways to do this, such as conscious muscle relaxation, in fact here’s a quick video I made on stopping panic attacks which is helpful across a range of symptoms. You can also visit YouTube for some great self-hypnosis videos and downloading a guided meditation app onto your phone is another great way to take back control. Some of these only go for a few minutes and can be done fully alert or privately. One of my favourites is the free Australian Smiling Mind app – you can find it in your app store or visit their website here.
Experiment and find the most effective and convenient way to relax your body each day. 3. Consider getting a pet or acquiring a service animal. For some people, there’s nothing more relaxing than a dog, a cat, fish or other type of animal. They don’t pity you, ask annoying questions, or judge you in any way. They just love you. Anyone, whether they have PTSD or not, could benefit from the right pet.
4. Meditate. Meditation is a powerful treatment for PTSD for several reasons: It teaches you how to focus, how your mind works, and allows you to explore thoughts and ideas in a controlled and distraction-free environment.
Meditation requires practice, but it’s a very simple process. Everyone benefits from meditation and once you get the hang of it you can devote minutes or hours to it and reap incredible rewards.
5. Be present. When dealing with a flashback or highly disturbing thoughts, stay present with your environment. Focus on where you are. What can you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Keep your mind in the present moment. This is also a useful tool for staying focused. When your attention wanders, bring it back to your environment:
● Pick a colour, look around you and find 5 things that are that colour.
● Listen … what can you hear?
● Feel … become present to your feet in your shoes, the hair on the back of your neck, the glasses on your nose, the temperature of your skin on various parts of your body. 6. Avoid ruminating. Isn't that a GREAT word? Rumination, or overthinking can be a destructive habit in general. Instead of sitting around thinking about the past, future, or other made up scenarios, get busy and do something instead. I like to see overthinking as your mind rehearsing something. Stare down what it’s rehearsing and take action to play out a better outcome or even verbalise it to an audience of friends or even your dog. You could even write it down - once you get it out of your head and into other people's ears, or onto paper it'll feel a whole lot different.
7. Do something different. Mop the kitchen. Mow the grass. Watch a movie. Have a lounge-room disco for one! The activity doesn’t matter, as long as it's something you enjoy (I really should remove the mopping reference then).
8. Find the right therapist or coach. Find a therapist or coach that has experience in dealing with PTSD. It’s also important to find someone you feel comfortable with. Some might have the right skills and experience but be a poor fit if you don’t have rapport with them. Many mental health professionals provide free consultations so take advantage of this and “road test” some until you find one you click with.
9. Learn something. You can join a class in your local area, or, in this day of the world wide web, there are a plethora of opportunities to learn at your fingertips online. Whether it's learning a new language, how to cook a mean curry or becoming an origami maestro. Try something new - it could just be a new passion.
10. Change it up. Here's a novel re-frame that loads of my clients have found helps. Think of PTSD not as something you have, but as something you do! It doesn't take away the cause but it can dramatically change the severity. Once you change your behaviour, even in that moment, it scrambles the PTSD strategy that your brain is used to running. Do some star jumps, start yodelling, pull your best Cheshire cat grin for 30 seconds, go for a walk, phone a friend or google some dad jokes.
Finally, realise that you're not alone and you're not broken. You're an amazing, perfect human being who is just dealing with life the best you can.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious matter, but that doesn’t mean it will last forever and there ARE steps you can take outside of a clinical setting to speed your healing. Meditation, taking part in creative activities, staying busy, and setting limits are just a few of the ways you can make life easier for yourself.
Also, be courageous enough to realise when you’re sabotaging your efforts by refusing to try something new or engaging in activities that could bring some relief.
If you repeatedly shove away ideas for potential solutions, even short term ones, you may subconsciously be finding a secondary gain in staying stuck. Get curious about this.
You are able to take back control but you need to take steps to do that, so please look at seeking professional help, but also realise you are also able, even in a small way, help yourself.
Ultimately, you get to choose how you manage this, but please don't manage it alone.
Reach out ... and let the right people reach back.
Kickass Coach - Reboot Mindset Coaching
Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming
Master Practitioner of Time Line Therapy®
Master Practitioner of Clinical Hypnotherapy
Master Practitioner of Life Coaching