There are some things we can do to help cope with the symptoms of PTSD:
- Live in the present moment. This is a way of counteracting hypervigilance. It involves being aware of what you’re feeling at the moment and recognizing the validity of those feelings. For example, if you are highly anxious when you go outside of the home, try to determine realistically what dangers are valid and which are heightened by your state of hyperarousal.
- Reduce stress. Stress seems to make everything worse! There are many different ways to combat stress. You may want to try Yoga, meditation, diversion, or stress-reduction techniques such as focused breathing or music therapy. Whatever method you use, find one that means the most to you – that way you’ll tend to stick with it more.
- Become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. If you can change your thoughts, you might be able to change your feelings and then your behaviors.
- In becoming more aware of your thoughts, you’ll first want to identify what you’re thinking (not what you’re feeling). Try to identify which of the 4 feeling states you’re experiencing:
- Guilt and shame
Our self-talk can be either negative or positive, but we are often unaware of it altogether. Following a trauma, you may develop thoughts that, while accurate at the time the trauma took place, are no longer valid.
With the four feeling states come specific ways of thinking:
- Fear – thinking something bad will happen
- Sadness — thinking about losses and what you think is missing in life
- Guilt & Shame – thinking about what you should have done differently or what you think is wrong with you
- Anger – thinking things are unfair
Try thinking about how you’re feeling. Write down your specific thoughts related to those feelings. Now, write down some other thoughts you might have that are more positive.
For example, I’ve been feeling quite sad over the recent, unexpected loss of my sister. The thoughts I’ve had are how helpless I felt in finding ways to manage her pain, and how a major part of my support system is gone now that she is no longer here.
Changing my thoughts can directly affect my feelings. This can result in a more positive way of behaving. Is there another way I can think about this situation that is not so negative?
Perhaps a way of directing my thoughts in a more positive direction are focusing on the amount of happiness my sister had during her last days while staying at my house, enjoying the puppies she loved so much. If I focus on that, I don’t feel so helpless and guilty. Instead, I feel like I contributed to making her final days worthwhile. That decreases the guilt and anger I feel at the situation.