Note: This article about PTSD is largely based on my own personal experience (since I have been diagnosed with the disorder myself and successfully live with it). I'm not a qualified physician nor do I claim to have all the answers in combating this mental illness. Therefore, any of the "tips" I give in this article should be read as coaching rather than medical advice. If you are feeling depressed, suicidal, or considering self-harm you should contact your nearest medical facility for help as they have the tools and professionals to provide you wth the necessary treatment.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a type of mental illness that is contracted by a person after they have experienced:
- a traumatic singular event,
- many traumatic events,
- a build up of stressful situations over a short period of time, and/or
- a build up of stressful situations over a long period of time.
There are probably more causes than those mentioned above but essentially something bad happens to them either mentally or physically or both and out of this bad experience, the person suffers PTSD.
PTSD is also subjective as no two people are the same and negative experiences are always different even if two people seemingly experience the same event.
Also, there can be different levels of PTSD with the affected person suffering symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
What are some symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD are also many and varied. The severity of symptoms is often difficult to diagnose sometimes because some symptoms such as "withdrawal" can mask other symptoms. I'm not going to even attempt to list all but here's a list of some symptoms I am aware of:
- Withdrawl – Person becomes withdrawn from life in general for no particular reason. They may become indifferent – non-caring about themselves or others.
- Depression – Person feels incredibly sad and despondent.
- Anger – Person can become angry or aggressive often for trivial reasons.
- Security – Person is over security conscious and hyper vigilant at home or in public places.
- Crowd phobia – Person feels constricted/claustrophobic in crowded places. They may feel overwhelmed and have a desire to exit the situation. Also, they can feel a distinct lack of security (as per the "security" point above) and consider the environment unsafe.
- Noise – Sufferers of PTSD often find it difficult to process noisy places, loud noises, or sudden noises.
- Anxiety – Person feels anxious for no apparent reason. The individual becomes anxious due to a trigger related to their trauma incident eg watching a war movie and then reflecting on their own operational service.
- Conflict – Person has trouble dealing with interpersonal conflicts (or arguments) either by over exaggerating the issue or by avoidance strategies.
- Sleeping disorders – Person may suffer from various sleeping disorders such as insomnia, or bad dreams (nightmares) related or unrelated to their trauma incident.
- Drug abuse – Person may drink more alcohol than they did before or abuse medications and/or illicit drugs.
- Lethargy – Person may feel tired or lack energy.
- Suicidal – Person may have suicidal thoughts or commit self-harm. Obviously, any signs of suicidal tendencies or evidence of self-harming should be addressed by a medical professional ASAP.
At the end of this article, I have posted a video that I created covering the same 22 tips to help cope with PTSD. Essentially, the same 22 tips I speak about in the video will be mirrored in words (not verbatim but in the same order). Also, in the video, I give a background on what caused my PTSD and I participate in the 22 Push-ups in 22 Days challenge to raise awareness of suicide in veterans. Feel free to skip straight to the video or keep reading and then watch the video if you like – it's up to you…
22 Tips to cope with PTSD
Tip #1 Think about the meaning of life
Life is not just about us, don't dwell on your disabilities or your mental problems etc. Yes sure, you do have to acknowledge and manage them but don't make these things central to your life, because what you should be dwelling on is the people around you.
Love the people close to you, be useful to them and you will find they will love you back even more! Life is about giving and sharing – helping each other to get through life's journey together. When you think about others you dwell on your own problems less and sometimes helping others helps ourselves in the process.
Tip #2 Hobby
Get a hobby or several hobbies. Some of my hobbies are food gardening, DIY, playing tennis, keeping fit. Doing any sort of hobby will help cope with PTSD because it trains the mind to be active and concentrate on other activities.
Tip #3 Alcohol
Don't drink to excess because alcohol is a depressant and in larger quantities has the effect of exaggerating a person's problems. I personally think it's fine to have a few social drinks but don't get sloshed. You can't "drink your problems away" in fact the ONLY thing that excess drinking does is add more issues.
Tip #4 Leaning post
Be a leaning post for others! In tip #1, I mentioned life is not just about us and whilst we all need to lean on people at times to air our problems to a sympathetic ear, it's also important to listen to other people's issues and to try to help or at least commiserate with them. Making someone feel better through genuine care and empathy makes our life richer.
Tip #5 Healthy eating
It's often said, "healthy body – healthy mind" and this is very true! Part of maintaining a healthy body is through eating fresh whole foods that aren't over processed and high in refined sugars. I'm not saying to give up take away or treats but just eat less of those foods by substituting with more healthy produce. The brain is an organ and therefore just like any part of our body it is affected by a poor diet. Coping with PTSD is much easier when a person maintains a relatively healthy diet.
Tip #6 Exercise
A natural follow on from the tip above is to conduct regular exercise. Besides keeping the body healthy, exercising releases endomorphisms (a natural feel good "drug" released by the body) which actually is a totally safe way to get "high" and feel happy. I'm convinced that regular physical exercise helps greatly in attaining and maintaining a healthy mental outlook.
Tip #7 Humour
Having a good sense of humour and not taking life so seriously is a great way to combat PTSD. You can even take the "mickey" out of some symptoms of PTSD; for example, I can become somewhat over security conscious to the point of being particular about where I am seated in a restaurant or food court. When we go out as a family, my wife will often make light of this and demand I choose where to be seated whilst she giggles at my paranoia. I'm fully aware of this and also see the funny side – but at least most of the time I still get to sit where I want hahaha…
Of course, you don't always have to laugh at yourself to have a sense of humour and there's a time and place to joke about PTSD but taking a light-hearted approach to life is something we can practice and improve on to make life more fun for ourselves and the people around us.
Tip #8 Pets
Simply put, get a pet. Animals are terrific company and they are awesome listeners plus they don't judge you.
Tip #9 Holiday/Vacation
Go on a holiday, even if it's just a weekend away camping or something low cost. Sometimes the "noise" of life can become overwhelming and a good break away (even on your own from family or a spouse) can rejuvenate the batteries and focus the mind. Recently, my wife and I left the kids with Grandma and went on a two-week holiday overseas and this break did wonders for us personally and our relationship.
Tip #10 Try something new
Humans can sometimes become creatures of habit acting out the same mundane routine from day to day and whilst this can be a kind of safe way to survive it's not a very uplifting way to live. The old saying "variety is the spice of life" really does work! If you make a conscious decision to be more outward thinking and open to trying new things and experiences, it's amazing how this small attitude change can help heal mental scars and take your mind off problems.
Being more adventurous such as participating in outdoor activities, taking up a new sport or hobby, trying new types of food, etc is excellent therapy for PTSD sufferers.
Tip #11 Appreciate nature
We, humans, have a deep connection with nature even though in a modern society we almost subconsciously try to suppress our internal instinct to be outdoors. We will substitute our lust for nature by watching it on TV or listening to audio of tranquil settings in the forest with the sounds of running water and birds calling from the tree tops.
In reality, nothing beats the real thing and getting outdoors regularly for a walk in the park or down a winding bush track appreciating God's work is great for the soul.
Tip #12 Talk about your symptoms
Talking to others about your feelings and the symptoms you experience as a result of having PTSD is helpful to you and them. Chatting about your symptoms can bring about a greater understanding of your disorder and possibly result in suggestions on how to better cope particularly if you chat with others who have had experience with PTSD themselves. PTSD is more common in the wider community than you may realise!
Having said that, be aware of tips 1 and 4 and don't become infatuated about yourself with PTSD rather be aware that being open and talking about the disorder occasionally and where appropriate is a good thing to do.
Tip #13 Don't erase the past
We can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to erase the past after a traumatic event because these memories (even if not related to the trauma) can remind us of unpleasant times, however, the notion of making a fresh start and erasing the past can be a big mistake.
The past (good and bad) is what shapes us into the person we are today and even acknowledging an awful trauma that may have been the cause of PTSD can help to desensitise the effect it has quicker than just trying to block it out of our mind and hope time will heal.
Keeping in touch with old friends or work colleagues is a good way to link back to the past. Military personnel are noted for being extremely good at remembering the past, keeping in touch, and gathering together for special occasions – reminiscing on good and bad times does help to heal old wounds.
Tip #14 Learn something different
Not to be confused with tip #10, what I mean by learning something different is more in-depth such as learning a new language, studying at university, learning a trade skill, etc. Scientists say, that most of us use very little of our brain capacity over our lifetime so I reckon going out of your comfort zone and trying to learn something challenging helps us overall.
Let me stress, learning something different doesn't necessarily mean you have to be successful at it or even practically use it in your life it's the "learning" part that is important. However, you never know what doors may open as a result of learning no matter how obscure it may seem at the time.
For example, when I left the military in 2008, I had very little knowledge of information technology (I could hardly switch on a computer) but over about 4 years I studied IT (self-taught) to the point where I could almost build my own PC and create a website from scratch. This new skill didn't lead to a direct job as a computer tech or anything like that, but in 2011 I had a revelation that I wanted to become a writer and although IT didn't directly influence my writing skills it allowed me to combine writing with a website and turn that into blogging. Having an understanding of IT has been advantageous to becoming a reasonably successful blogger.
How this relates to PTSD is recovery by distraction over the short term through basically concentrating your mind on something else rather than dwelling on the negatives associated with your disorder. And then, possibly turning into something useful over the long term such as further employment opportunities.
Tip #15 Relaxation
You could be forgiven for thinking this tip directly contradicts the above point but may I respectfully disagree and say that "distracting" from PTSD by learning something different is not the same as keeping busy, which is NOT what I have said or implied. With that bit of cover out of the way, relaxation or I guess you could call it meditation is not just a good thing for PTSD sufferers – it's good for everyone.
There's nothing wrong with taking some time out to sit or lie back and relax every now and again. I like to do mind numbing things like watch the football or other sport, prepare food for dinner, read a book, browse the internet, or simply dream of your "happy place" whatever that might be…
It's normal to occasionally think of dark times, that's part of the process of recovery from trauma, however, deliberately keeping busy to avoid ever recalling bad memories is not a good idea as it can lead to crashes from over working and burnout creating more issues.
Tip #16 Help someone else
This is closely related to tip 4 (leaning post) except I mean really helping someone (other than listening) either directly through an act of kindness such as mowing your elderly neighbour's lawn or indirectly like donating to a charity. Also, volunteering for certain community work can be very fulfilling or becoming involved with your local club and offering your time for free.
Helping others really helps yourself in many ways through pride and joy in contributing to the cohesiveness of our society by making a real difference.
Tip #17 Educate yourself about PTSD
If you have PTSD you should learn about it and by reading this article you are doing just that! There's a saying, "know your enemy" so if PTSD is the enemy the more you know and learn about it the more you'll understand the disorder and the better you'll cope with it.
Tip # 18 Appreciate life
Being alive is always better than being dead – no matter what! Everyone goes through lows and highs as they partake in this wonderful journey we call life. Some people have this journey cut short through no fault of their own and I find that profoundly sad to contemplate. Life is a gift that many humans never get much of a chance to live to the fullest and for that reason alone we should never be ungrateful to be alive even if we feel hopeless sometimes through our darkest days.
Tip #19 Be nice to your mother
I guess this tip is a little tongue in cheek, but if you're lucky enough to have a doting, caring mother then be sure to let her know you care about her too. Yes, this does also apply to your father…
Tip #20 Get rid of negativity
Try not to expose yourself to constant negativity around you. Today's world is full of 24-hour news cycles and negative content being thrown at us from all places. I'm not suggesting to bury your head in the sand, rather, limit your intake of such material.
Tip #21 Professional help
Don't be too proud to seek professional help to cope with PTSD. There is a whole swag of services that people who are suffering from mental illnesses can utilise (often for free) to help them recover from their disorders. The stigma that used to be attached to mental illness (including PTSD) is no longer relevant and unless a person has been living under a rock for the past decade it's likely they themselves have suffered from a form of mental illness or know someone close to them who has or had a mental disorder.
Medical professionals are well trained in diagnosing and treating PTSD so I would encourage people to utilise them.
Tip #22 God
Now before you roll your eyes, no I'm not a preacher of religion or a practising God botherer but I do believe in something after death. I understand the teachings of evolution and Darwinian theory, however, there's no doubt a heavenly force exists (whatever that might be) because to accept that this beautiful world just created itself out of nothing is just ludicrous in my opinion and too coincidental.
Anyway, I believe what we do in this life will have an influence on our next journey and if I'm wrong it does no harm but if I'm right those who did the honourable thing in this life will be happy they did…
Well, if you stuck with me and read this article the whole way through then all I can say is wow and thanks! Wow, for concentrating online for 3000 + words; and thanks, for taking the time out of your day to visit my blog – I hope you felt it was worth it.
If you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Just like physical injuries mental trauma eventually heals also and even though some scars may remain or even a disability there's no reason a person can't carry on with a fulfilling life.
Don't be the person who dwells on what they can't do… be the person who does as much as they can.
Postscript – thoughts about the value of life
Remember, feeling "down in the dumps," unhappy, or even slightly depressed from time to time is normal human behaviour. If we never felt sad we wouldn't know what happiness felt like… We need to learn how to control our sad feelings (like most people do) putting them into perspective and often putting them behind us so we can get on with living.
My Grandfather talked to me over the phone by his hospital bed minutes before he died not just to say goodbye (as his organs were shutting down) but also to reassure me he wasn't in any pain and to tell me he felt like it was the right time to go so that I would hopefully take his passing easier. He was thinking of others all the way to the end. Several weeks before his passing he was still giving me advice on growing potatoes! He wasn't an "old man" not worth living.
Every person at every point in their life has the ability to inspire and affect others whether at the lowest point in their lives or at the highest. A hobo on the street has value to society, a person may feel like they are lonely or they have lost everything but in fact, they have much to offer society and great potential to influence others in a positive way.
Finding your way out of darkness is just a matter of searching for and finding the smallest speck of light first, and then behind that is the opening to enrichment. There's always a way out of a dark tunnel if you are willing to find it.
Video compilation of 22 push-ups in 22 days to raise awareness of suicide and PTSD