One thing we can do in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, is remember to relax. As silly as that might sound, too often we allow ourselves to get wound up by listening to all the hype in the media (indeed, it’s difficult to escape these days) until we reach the point we are operating on autopilot and in a state of almost constant anxiety. It’s time to take charge again and chill out!
Indulging in a little mind-time can be quite rejuvenating. Relaxing doesn’t have to be a big production, although there is room for more complicated techniques too. But, consider taking a few minutes each day to try one or more of these methods of relaxation:
- Take a hot, soaking bath. Throw in a handful of bath salts, light a candle and turn out the lights. Maybe even add some soft music.
- Read a good book, one that gets you right into the plot and right out of your head!
- Play your favorite music. Sing along, and crank it up!
- Go for a walk in the woods. Not necessarily a power walk, but taking the time to notice the sounds, smells and beauty of your surroundings.
- Visit the local beach. Yes, take care to adhere to social distancing recommendations, but there is something about watching the water that is relaxing and compelling at the same time.
- Play with or cuddle your pet. Contact with the pets we love can lower blood pressure and be heart healthy for us.
- Indulge in your favorite craft, be it wood-working, sewing, painting, etc.
There are many other ways to relax. Not all will work for everyone. Not all will work instantly. Sometimes it takes 10-12 repetitions before you start to develop a habit and the activity becomes something enjoyable. Try different methods until you find one or more that work for you, then don’t feel guilty for taking some time for yourself.
What you think affects the way you feel. We can’t separate our mind from our body; thoughts affect our health. By changing your thoughts then, you can change, at least to a degree, your health status. Let me give you an example.
Suppose you are very upset because you believe something bad is going to happen, such as having your car slide off the road in a winter storm. You fret over whether you should go out at all, and you realize you are physically uncomfortable too. You don’t feel good in a general way – your head may not ache, but you feel congested and tired. Your back hurts and you feel sore all over.
Then you go out on your trip – and you don’t slide off the road. In fact, the sun comes out, the snow melts off the road, and you realize you’re feeling better! Sound familiar? What we think affects how we feel. Therefore, how we think can have an impact on how we feel.
There are many ways to change our thoughts – prayer, meditation, relaxation exercises, and talk therapy, to name a few. Not all of them will work for everyone, and it may take some time and persistence for any of them to work. Don’t give up trying different methods though until you find what works for you!
This Coronavirus crisis has been quite a stress-producing event for all of us, hasn’t it? Not only does it include the fear of catching the virus and getting sick, wondering if there will be the equipment available we need to get well, but also the loss of jobs, dealing with home working environments, not being able to purchase supplies you need, and the list goes on and on. It all adds to the stress level those of us with PTSD deal with every day. It’s no walk in the woods.
Let me suggest you take stock now of what you need and don’t have, or want and can’t get, so the next time an emergency arises you are better prepared. That being said, dealing with this added stress is something we need to think about and develop a plan to handle.
Of course, you know the VA has many resources for coping. The VA COACH ON-LINE is one, with many suggestions for ways to handle your stress. Meditation, physical exercise, relaxation techniques, journaling, talk therapy, anger management techniques, and many other ideas are listed along with guided exercises to teach you how to use them most effectively.
The thing is, each one of us finds our own way of coping, and when times become increasingly rough, we may need to add additional items to our usual ways of coping. We often find that no single mechanism will keep us in the healthy zone, so we have to resort to a mixture of different coping techniques.
Take some time today to think about what’s adding to your stress levels, and come up with a plan that will help bring your anxiety to a manageable level. When you have PTSD, you tend to want to isolate, but don’t fall into that trap! Call a friend and talk about what’s happening. Old adages such as “a burden shared is a burden halved” exist for a reason…they are true! Use your music, try diversion, write down a plan for what you’ll do as soon as the shelter-in-place order is lifted and follow through on it. Don’t let depression, stress, anger, or anxiety win – make a plan today!
While all of us shelter-in-place in an effort to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, many businesses and organizations are working to find ways to continue providing services. Most non-essential appointments have been cancelled, as well as most scheduled surgeries that can wait.
As a Veteran, you may find your appointment at the VA Med Center has also been cancelled. That can be a frightening prospect if you were seeking changes in your current treatment plan, or were expecting to have your prescriptions renewed. All is not lose, however. If you would like to try a teleconference or a video conference instead of a face-to-face meeting, you can contact the VA to arrange one by going to: https://www.va.gov/coronavirus/.
If you are looking for accurate information on what Veterans need to know about COVID-19, you can access the VA’s website for the answers by going to the Frequently Asked Questions page. And, if the pressure becomes unbearable, and you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 for assistance. You may also access the Crisis Line at: www.veteranscrisisline.net.
Staying positive during all this stress is difficult, yet, like everyone else, I need to focus on maintaining my sense of humor. With the news about the Coronavirus focused on how many victims have expired, I’m flooded with negative images and thoughts of how this could affect me, yet I’ve been through hard times before, and I’ll make it through this difficult time too.
I’ve found that limiting my exposure to the news and all the hype helps. I tune in once a day and listen to the latest reports on what’s happening locally and worldwide, then I stay away from the news. Instead, I’ve been reading books, working on my craft projects, playing music, and taking walks. I avoid other people when I’m walking, and I’m lucky that I’m sheltering at my sister’s home while this is going on. I figured if she or I got sick, we’d be able to care for each other. I didn’t want her to face this alone, or to face it alone myself. It’s nice to have someone to share the burden with!
I’ve been impressed by the good I see coming out of this pandemic. It warms my heart to hear of those who have medical experience that are answering the call for help in New York and are flocking to step in where needed. That to me is the essence of the human spirit! I try to remember that when I hear about the selfishness of students who don’t care if they spread the virus to older people simply because they are young and won’t likely die from it. Perhaps they don’t care if their parents or grandparents are victims? And, perhaps it says something about the youth of today and how morally barren some of them are…but isn’t that true of every time in history and every culture?
Staying positive is hard work, but it’s something we all need to do in these troubled times. There is good coming from all of this, and it reminds me of the old saying, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Perhaps that’s true too.
You certainly don’t have to have PTSD to be anxious over all the implications of COVID-19, the Coronavirus that is currently making its’ rounds throughout the United States and the world. If you turn on the television or your computer, you are flooded with reports of how people are being affected by the virus. Most of the news consists of projections for how serious the outbreak can be. For those who are already anxious, this additional stress can be almost as overwhelming as having the virus itself!
While it is understandable to be concerned about the Coronavirus, immersing yourself in a constant barrage by watching the news all day long only makes things more problematic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the utmost authority in the U.S. about preventing and controlling pandemic outbreaks. Follow their advice and you will reduce your risk considerably. 8
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Properly dispose of used tissues.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, arm, or elbow if you don’t have a tissue.
- Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
- Stay at home if you are sick.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect objects or surfaces that may have come into contact with germs.
- Make plans for what will happen if someone in the home becomes ill or if quarantine or shelter-in-place measures are ordered.
While it is wise to keep abreast of what is developing with the Coronavirus, do not watch television or follow it on your computer all day long. Remember, most people who get the virus will get through it just fine. Even if you are elderly or your immune system is compromised, it is not a guarantee that you can’t survive the virus. Do not give up hope! Do not give in to fear. We will get through this and we’ll be stronger for it.
If you have PTSD, chances are fairly good that you are also having nightmares. Add a little depression or anxiety in with your PTSD, and it increases your likelihood of having nightmares. Nightmares are difficult to deal with because they increase your fear, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, panic, and screaming or crying in your sleep. Absolutely no fun. But the negative effects of having these nightmares continue even after you wake. PTSD nightmares can result in a higher increase in REM sleep than normal, an increase in night-time awakenings and extended periods of being awake, decreased amounts of deep, restorative sleep, decreased sleep time, and problems functioning the day after due to exhaustion.
The negative effects don’t stop there either. PTSD nightmares keep you in your traumatic “flight or fight” mode of heightened arousal. You may find you avoid going to bed at a reasonable time because you are apprehensive about having more nightmares. PTSD nightmares may even prompt you to turn to using drugs in an attempt to prevent additional nightmares. PTSD nightmares have a negative impact on your quality of life.
Treatment for PTSD nightmares is often an arduous journey, slow and frustrating, but treatment can help. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques can help calm you before sleep. Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) is a cognitive-behavioral therapy where you focus on a different ending for your nightmares, replaying the scenario over and over so eventually the new ending will replace the nightmare ending. There has also been some success using orientation techniques to ground you in the present moment following a nightmare.
There are several other considerations those with PTSD nightmares should keep in mind. Recent research indicates that many people who have PTSD nightmares also have sleep apnea. This research indicates that restricted oxygen intake keeps the brain from its normal attempts to sooth itself, and this makes the nightmares worse. Treating the sleep problems may well resolve the nightmare issue.
Other possible treatments include somatic therapy where you focus on movement and sensations to work through the physical and emotional aspects of the trauma, and EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy.
Whatever form of treatment you try, remember that PTSD nightmares do respond to treatment and life can get better. You deserve a calm, peaceful life. Don’t let PTSD nightmares keep you from it!
Living with PTSD certainly has challenges! I accept that I have changes in my brain chemistry due to how my body responded to long term trauma, but I’m not sure other people really understand what that means. With PTSD, my body remains in a state of “fight or flight” continuously, and I am more easily irritated because I am already mentally aroused and ready to defend myself at all times. I think most people think of PTSD as a state of “mental fatigue,” and that it’s something that we should just “get over.” That’s not the reality of living with PTSD.
PTSD means that I’m wired now to respond to threats in the blink of an eye. That means that alertness-wise, I’m on my toes ready to run or do battle all the time. It’s an exhausting way to live, and the thing is, it’s not by choice that I live this way. It is something I cannot control.
In the long run, having this response makes sense to me. It is a form of ensuring survival of the species. If you are on your toes all the time waiting for something to happen, then when it does, you are able to react more quickly. That response time may just save your life. I guess that’s the upside of having PTSD…if there is an upside.
The thing is, if you have PTSD, your life is different, you respond differently to perceived threats, you live on the edge. That is the reality. I can’t “get over” this. It is a part of my life. The reality is that PTSD is part of who I am whether I like it or not. Fortunately, over time it becomes easier to live with.
Excessive noise is a trigger for me, sending my PTSD into overdrive. It took a long time for me to realize that loud noise irritated me more than it should have, but I finally was able to see what was happening. I hate when I start feeling like “something” is about to happen. Loud noises make me feel that way. I need to manage my environment so I can survive, yet this is an on-going problem. The steady drip of the faucet, a barking puppy, the television being on when no one is watching it – all of these things, and many more, make me a nervous wreck.
Managing the environment is one way of reducing the triggers that set my PTSD off. Unfortunately I can’t always have things the way I want and need them to be, but I can make every effort to keep things down to a dull roar! I’ve found that I need to respond quickly when I hear the faucet dripping and make sure it’s fully off. If the puppies are crying, I have to get right up and see what’s wrong so they quiet down. If the television is on and no one is watching it, I turn it off.
I can’t manage everything all the time, but I can make every effort to do what it takes to keep my PTSD under control. Learning to live with PTSD often means making an extra effort to keep things on an even keel. Fortunately, I can do that!
If you are living with someone with PTSD, you may find you are feeling some of the same symptoms as the person you’re caring for. You may find that being responsible for running a smooth household while getting the kids off to school, making sure nothing disrupts the life of your loved one with PTSD, and having your own needs go unmet, leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, individuals with PTSD may not be very available for their spouse’s emotional needs. If you are the caregiver, you may find yourself constantly walking on eggs as you try to keep the home quiet and make sure no one does anything to aggravate your spouse. You can end up feeling like you have a shadow version of PTSD. You may even exhibit some of the same symptoms: sleeplessness, hypervigilance, isolation, depression, and anger.
Living with someone who has PTSD is not easy for anyone. It can take its toll leaving you emotionally drained. There are a few things you can do to cope though:
- First and foremost, take good care of yourself. You have to do this; no one else will. Try to get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and get some exercise.
- Make sure you take some time for yourself each day to nurture yourself; you’re worth it and you deserve it!
- Make good use of your friends. Talk to them, go out with them, and let yourself relax a bit. Don’t feel guilty for tending to your needs – if you don’t, you won’t be able to care for your loved one with PTSD.
- Be gentle with yourself; forgive yourself if you make mistakes. As tired and overwhelmed as you are, you get to be human too, and no one is perfect.
- Go for counseling if you need it. Meeting the needs of everyone else can leave you feeling drained and empty.
PTSD takes a toll on the whole family, and as the spouse of a loved one with PTSD, you are at risk of feeling like you have a shadow version of the disorder. Take care of you. What you do is priceless and your family depends on you to make it all work. Taking care of yourself is your right; don’t let anyone take that from you. You do great work and you deserve to be happy too.