Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Last week we looked at the first of three ways that you can push back against the symptoms of PTSD. In today’s post we will look at two more approaches. I should repeat, however, what was stated last week: These suggestions are not a replacement for therapy.
Two Ways to Lesson the impact of PTSD
Stay Focused on the Present
If you struggle with PTSD it is very likely that you have several of the following symptoms:
Nightmares, often but not always related to the trauma incident
Sudden emotional upset due to something/someone reminding you of the trauma
Frequently feeling ‘on guard’ or nervous
Making extra efforts to avoid those things that remind you of the trauma incident
Frequently experience a sense of guilt, shame, sadness
(For more information about these and other symptoms, look at the Penn Behavioral Health website).
All of these symptoms can be traced in one way or another to a tendency to be pulled back into the past. Our brains use traumatic events the same way that fire engine sirens are used: to gain attention and signal that an emergency has occurred somewhere. The problem is that unlike firefighters, who use the siren only when an emergency is taking place, the PTSD brain blasts the darn siren even when there is no emergency. The PTSD brain spends way too much time thinking about the past, or looking for signs in the present that the bad things of the past are about to be repeated.
It can be exhausting. You need to get some separation between you and the trauma, between you and your past traumatic experiences. One way to gain this distance is to stay focused on the present. Easier said than done you say? Agreed, but there are some strategies that can help. Let’s look at take a look at some ways you can get some serious distance from your traumatic past.
Begin to focus more on the present. Focusing on the present shifts attention away from the trauma of the past.
What can you do to be more ‘present centered’ Let me give you three things to get started upon (use one or all three… or come up with others on your own).
Find an interest, hobby, whatever you wish to call it, and begin regularly spending time involved in that pursuit. If you had an interest/hobby in the past and stopped engaging in it, now is the time to renew that passion.
Perhaps you don’t really feel interested in pursuing anything. You don’t want to go fishing, or crochet a sweater, etc. Understood. But do it anyway. If you wait for the mood to strike you may be waiting a very long time. Besides, our mood generally follows our behavior. Begin to act as though you wish to pursue a former hobby, and before you know it, a genuine interest will have been rekindled. This, in turn, will help shift your attention away from the troubles of the past. In time, you will find it easier to maintain a present centered focus for longer periods of time.
Become more invested in your close relationships. That might be with your spouse, children, or friends. Take a moment to think carefully about ways in which you would like the relationship to grow, and how to reach that goal.
The main thing is genuinely investing yourself in strengthening the relationship. That will take some thought, and energy, but it will be worth the effort. Close, supportive and rewarding relationships help draw people’s attention into the present and develop a sense of optimism regarding the future.
Start doing volunteer work. This is like taking a super multivitamin for your mental health… and it’s good for your physical health as well.
It does not have to be done every day, but try and fit in an hour or two of volunteer work every week or two. This could be at your local grammar school, church, food bank, soup kitchen, City Park, etc.
You will end up feeling better for having helped others and your focus of attention will have shifted to the present (as you engaged in doing good works). Moreover, you can use memories of this work to re-focus your attention when you find yourself being drawn into memories of the trauma.
Dogs: Man’s best friend and a proven help with ptsd
There are many research supported health benefits that come with pet ownership. You probably knew that already. But did you know that dogs are used to help reduce symptoms of PTSD? Let me be clear, dogs helped reduce PTSD symptoms…. Not cats, fish, reptiles, or parakeets. Dogs… service dogs to be exact.
So what should you do with that information? Well, if you already have a dog that’s terrific: it may be that you hit the jackpot and your four-legged friend is a natural therapist. This could be a good time to start taking Fido on short daily walks (around the neighborhood is good, but out in nature is even better). Perhaps take your dog with you when running errands, or enroll in an obedience course (if your dog is like my dog, this would be the first thing to do).
If you do not already have a dog this is a good time to consider whether your lifestyle and budget would be a good fit for having a canine companero. Although dogs can provide some relief from PTSD symptoms, the added stress of caring for a dog can also make things worse. It really depends upon your individual circumstances, and your temperament. The type of dog you select will also make a huge difference. So select a dog that does not require more care than you can reasonably provide, and one that has a temperament that would be calming. Finding the right dog requires a little research about different breeds. All of this effort will pay off, however, when you find the dog that is just right for you.
That ends Part III of the Trauma series. You now have some basic information on PTSD, what brings it about, common symptoms, and simple ways to push back and regain control over your life.
Keep in mind, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop symptoms of PTSD. For those that do, however, it is important to begin the process of vanquishing those symptoms as soon as possible. If you find that your efforts do not bring about significant relief, find a therapist who can help.