WHEN STRESS TAKES OVER

After having a particularly stressful day, I got to thinking about PTSD effects our stress levels. I believe that if it’s a stressful day, my baseline increases dramatically due to my PTSD.  My sister will tell you my temper has a hair trigger, and that used to be very true.  I’d like to think it’s not the case so much now, but, it is what it is.  I know that I react to everyday frustrations very quickly, and it’s something I have to keep at the top of my consciousness and work to control every day.

It used to be that I did not realize I was so stressed until I had an emotional melt down. I don’t like myself very much when that happens, so I try to ensure that I’m paying attention enough now to stop it before things get out of hand.  Sometimes that means stepping aside for a voluntary “time out.”  That means I disconnect from whatever is stressing me and focus intently on something enjoyable.  Often I’ll use music to regroup, or maybe I’ll sit down at the computer to play a game or two, or take a ten minute ride in the car.  Basically, it means I’ve had enough stress for the moment and I need to disconnect in order to allow myself a cooling off period.  I really don’t think my family realizes how necessary this is for me, but it is something I feel I have to do for myself to maintain my mental health.

Try monitoring your stress levels throughout the day. If you practice doing this on a daily basis, it will become easier as you go.  Intervening before your stress takes over allows you to stop the cycle of “blowing up” and taking it out on everyone else in the vicinity.  I know I don’t like being known as the person with a temper that explodes on a hair trigger.  Even if others around you don’t understand what you’re doing when you refocus, it’s better for them and you to not let stress push you into the danger zone.

LEARNING ABOUT COMMUNITY RESOURCES

I’m all in favor of utilizing whatever community resources are available in the fight to cope with PTSD.  Too often, we either can’t afford, or we aren’t willing to tap into resources that might be helpful. One of my favorite sites is: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/index.asp.   The attraction is that it is a self-help site where you can work on your problems at your own pace.  There are modules on anger management, anxiety, hypervigilance, and many other topics related to PTSD that will help you assess where you are and where you want to be.  The nice thing is that so many of these sites are anonymous and free!  You can’t get much better than that for a treatment option!

There are other options too, such as the National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov/.  And, don’t be afraid to check out local counseling centers or talk with your doctor about antidepressant medications and other medications used to treat the disorder.

There are a lot of resources out there to help if you’re struggling with PTSD.  Don’t be afraid to try them.  It’s important to find the resource that will help you move forward.   If one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up.  Try another, and another, if it’s necessary.  Coping with your PTSD means taking control of your life again.  Don’t let PTSD manage you!

SLEEP DISORDERS

Sleeplessness is one of the more frustrating symptoms of PTSD.  It leaves you feeling sluggish during the day, and, at least in my own situation, angry that I can’t sleep when I’m tired and want to sleep. Oh, I’ve read all the reports on that things you can do to help yourself get through insomnia, and none of them work with the exception of one: surrendering to it.  I have found that if I don’t fight sleeplessness, I can at least live with it.

My night generally goes like this: I am exhausted and want to go to bed fairly early since I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.  I average about 5 hours per night, if I’m lucky.  So, around 9:00 pm, I want to crawl into bed and go to sleep. When I do, I’ll be fortunate if I can actually get three to four hours of sleep.   It’s more likely I’ll wake by midnight or slightly before with my mind racing, sometimes drenched in sweat and trying to fight my way out of a nightmare.

Interestingly, what I’ve found helps the most is to not fight it.  I simply get up when I wake up, whatever time it is, and I stay up for several hours until I’m tired again.  I have several books by the bed, some crossword puzzles, and my ipad is handy.  I can play some games, listen to music, work a few puzzles and relax, or I can lie there and curse my misfortune at being awake.  Seems like a no-brainer to me!

I am fortunate in having several little dogs to keep me company, and since they sleep around 20 hours a day, they don’t mind getting up in the night to be scratched and told how wonderful they are.  It makes it feel less alone and I find I go back to sleep much more quickly than if I fight it.

Next time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, think about how you could use your time more productively.  I am lucky in that I can sleep in the next morning if I want.  I also acknowledge that, for me at least, it’s ok to get by on 5 hours of sleep per night.  While I’d like more, I am comfortable during the day most of the time.  Instead of fighting your sleeplessness, try working with it.  It reminds me of the poster I once saw that said, “The best way out is through.”  That’s true here; it doesn’t help to get mad and rage against the dark.  Chill out, enjoy the extra time.  It sure beats getting worked up over something that I can’t change.

DEALING WITH ANGER

Unfortunately, those of us who suffer with PTSD often find we have anger issues too.  The symptoms of PTSD can cause so much frustration; anger is one of the more common areas our frustrations can be vented.  Learning ways to appropriately handle that anger requires commitment, but it’s worth it in the long run.  No one wants to be around someone with an explosive temper.

Use a time-out when necessary.  Well, it’s not quit the same thing as the time-out you impose on your children, it’s just a way of backing off for a few minutes to allow yourself to cool down.  As soon as you notice your anger is beginning to boil, step back from the situation and give yourself a moment to think.  This gives you time to consider all your options, and that can make the difference between venting your anger on others, and finding a more appropriate way of dealing with it.

Discussing your anger with a trusted friend or family member allows them to help coach you through it.  They can often offer a different point of view about why you are getting angry and help you look more objectively at how your anger is affecting those you care about.

Practice relaxation exercises when you’re feeling angry.  It is physically impossible to be angry and relaxed at the same time.  Relaxing cancels out your anger.  Try deep breathing or muscle relaxation techniques.

Challenge your negative self-talk.  Anger seems to inflame your thoughts, so you blow things out of proportion.  Take the time to think about what’s making you so angry before you react.  Stop those negative though patterns before they get out of control.

Part of winning the war against PTSD is managing your symptoms instead of letting them manage you!

ANGER: CHANGING YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS

Unfortunately, anger can become almost a way of life when you have PTSD.  It often keeps us from feeling good about ourselves and enjoying life, but, being aware of what makes us angry and how we allow it to control us helps us gain control over it.

Being mindful of our thoughts and angry feelings is the first step to controlling anger.  Pay attention to what you’re feeling on and off throughout your day.  Notice how negative thoughts can weigh you down and contribute to feeling bad.  Try to examine what’s running through your mind and look at it objectively.  If you can honestly evaluate the truth behind your thoughts, you may find you’re letting your negative thoughts and feelings control you.

There are some specific ways in which we let our thought patterns influence us.  You may find you generalize about things.  This happens when we believe that things are one specific way and can’t be any other way, also known this as “black and white” thinking.  It’s an extreme viewpoint, and may develop when we have not really examined the situation from every side.  It’s easy to fall into generalization without realizing it.  If you think you may be using this negative thought process, try challenging your thoughts and looking at things in a different way, or “relabeling.”  If we decide things are bad without looking at them closely enough to realize they have some benefit too, we are doing an injustice to ourselves and we’re committing our thoughts to only negative beliefs.  Almost every situation has some potential good to it too.

I have a friend who always sees the negative side of anything that is happening to him.  He magnifies it until it becomes a major life stressor, yet I notice that it’s often just what I would respond by saying, “That’s life.”  By focusing on the negative, he makes every situation worse.

An example of generalization occurred to me this week.  I’ll be leaving on vacation this Friday, and driving to Virginia with my sister.  We’re going in my car, and on Monday, it started making a grinding noise.  My first response was, “Oh, no!  This is the worst time for this to happen.”  I had so much to do in such a short time, but when I challenged that thought, I realized that this was a much better time for it to happen than when we were actually on the trip!  It could have been much worse if we would have had to stop on the way just to learn the front brakes need to be replaced!  Once I acknowledged that, I wasn’t so stressed out about the problem.

Another form of negative thinking is “emotional thinking.”  This is when our emotions drive what we’re thinking.  In emotional thinking, what we feel controls what we think.  An example is, “I’m afraid, so I must be in danger.”  Now there are times we are afraid, yet we are projecting the fears of another time into our current situation.  Because something bad happened to us in the past, when we feel afraid like we did that first time, we think it automatically means things are going to turn out the same.  In reality, there may be no base for feeling that way at all.

Learning to control our PTSD may take some time, but most things that are worthwhile do take time.  Listen to yourself and what you are thinking and feeling.  Challenge your thoughts, when necessary, and let go of your anger.  Don’t let it control your life!

HOLDING THE REINS TO YOUR TEMPER

One of the most negative results I see from my own PTSD is anger.  I have to monitor it closely, because, like my father before me, I can lose my temper quickly and woe be to anyone in the immediate vicinity if I do!  The problem is, I don’t want to be remembered as the person most likely to go off on you, or the spoiled brat who wants everything her way.  I’d like to be thought of as more mature than that.

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned to control my temper and now I realize that I have a responsibility to control myself.   Some of my friends will tell me others “make” them lose their temper.  That’s a lie they tell themselves to justify striking out in anger.

The fact is that no one “makes” me, or anyone else, feel anything.  I am the only one responsible for my feelings and for how I react to things.  I’ve found that it is a choice to “allow” myself to go off on others or to control my temper.

As an adult, controlling my temper is desirable.  Having watched my father hurt everyone in sight when he lost control, I understand the devastating effect it can have on those around you.  I don’t want to do that to my family, friends or even my pets.  I’d much rather be known as the person who may has strong opinions, but who allows others to voice other opinions too.

Controlling my anger means recognizing when I’m losing control and stopping it before it gets away from me.  It takes a strong hand and a lot of effort to control myself, but it is certainly the more mature way of reacting and, more importantly, it’s how I want others to see me.  It’s who I want to be.  I don’t want to be the baby who throws a tantrum every time she doesn’t get her own way.  I want to be the adult who is above that.

I hope that you will take a look at your own way of dealing with anger.  Do others cringe when they see you coming?   PTSD can be devastating enough without letting it ruin the lives of those around you too.  Please, rein in your temper.  If you can’t, get help in learning how, because if you don’t, those you love most will pay the price.

DEALING WITH YOUR ANGER

I’m mad. The anger lies just below the surface waiting to rear its’ ugly head. I lash out at the dog for minor infractions. I kick the wastepaper basket at work. I snap at friends and, in general, I hate myself for it. I’m depressed. It feels like a hopeless cycle, but I know better.

I have PTSD too. Mine is not from a wartime experience, but from living in a battle zone as I grew up. I learned to survive, but there are some things I carry with me that go along with those survival skills. I have to ride herd on the anger-beast within me all the time. I’ve done well over the years learning to do just that, but every now and then, it gets out; then watch out!

What am I angry about, you ask? It’s a lousy situation knowing that my spouse is in a nursing facility now. I never wanted that. I’m angry at myself for not being able to keep him at home. I know it’s not rational, but that doesn’t help. I’m a gerontologist. My specialty is handing problems dealing with aging, but I couldn’t help him. That makes me mad. Fighting family interference makes me madder. It’s a problem and I have to deal with it. Fortunately, help is available.

So, what’s my secret to handling the red-rage? It’s not really a secret; it takes a lot of work. First off, I have to own my anger – admit that it’s there. That may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how we can deny anger even when it’s staring us in the face. My tip-off is when the dog is sitting on the other side of the room with her ears down. Then I pay attention to what I’m doing: grousing and slamming things around as I think about what I want to say to the person who has ticked me off. Hard to deny that!

So, what’s the cure? I’ve had to look at a variety of solutions and play around with them until I found my personal favorite: music. I put on some music and crank it up! I take the time to think about how I’m letting my rage run my life.

There are many other ways to tame the tiger too:

• Using mindfulness which involves getting into the moment by focusing on what you are feeling right now. Anger makes us live in the past and robs us of the future. Bringing yourself back to the current moment helps us focus on what is happening now, not what happened a little while ago.
• Breathing exercises. Yes, simply taking control of your breathing can reduce your anger. By slowing your breathing down, you pull your body out of that “fight or flight” mode that comes with anger. It helps us release the anger too.
• Journaling. I use this technique too. When I get angry, my thoughts race and it’s hard to know just exactly what I am feeling, yet alone figure out a way to cope. Writing it down allows me to organize my thoughts without the anger clouding the issues. It’s one of the healthiest things I do.
• Do a reality check on your expectations. Sometimes I get angry with others because I’m already angry. That’s not fair to them. It’s kind of the kick the dog issue when you’re mad about something else and you take it out on the dog simply because he’s there. I don’t want to do that with my dog or the kids, or anyone else for that matter. My anger is my responsibility and I am the one who needs to deal with it.

There are more ways to cope with anger. The main thing is that you start looking at how to control yours. Don’t let anger manage you; there’s too much at stake. Instead start managing your anger today!