Anger is a side effect of PTSD that most of us deal with. I talk about it often because it is so destructive to us and to those we love. Anger hurts us in so many ways. It causes or contributes to the following:
- Increased blood pressure
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- Muscle and joint pain
- Dental problems (from jaw clenching and teeth grinding)
- Increases cholesterol
- Weakens the immune system
- Upsets the stomach and digestive system
- Early death
In addition, anger affects our personal relationships. It can lead to:
- Injury to self or others
- Domestic violence
- Child and pet abuse
- Work-related problems
- Legal and financial problems
- Road rage and tickets
- Jail or prison time
Anger can burn us if we don’t learn to control it. Unchecked, anger becomes aggression and people begin to fear and avoid us. So how do we control our anger?
Anger increases when we indulge in negative “self-talk.” I often call this “psycho-babble,” where we hold a conversation in our heads about a topic. As we concentrate about what we are angry over our anger grows until we work ourselves into a frenzy. That is the thing about anger; the more we think about it, the more we feed it until it grows so big it breaks free and spills over onto someone else. That is bad for them and for us.
Learn to control your anger rather than letting it control you. Don’t let anger burn you or those you care about.
As I get older, I’m finding that I have less patience, less strength, and less ability to bounce back from stressful situations. PTSD always seems to make the situation worse. I’m finding that what I really need to do is work smarter, not harder.
For one thing, I can’t work harder. I no longer have the strength I did when I was younger. As a senior citizen, I’m only able to do a part of the work I did in the past, at least where physical strength is required. I’d like to think I automatically work smarter, and I believe I do, but I need to slow down and think things through more often so I’m using my head and not my limited muscle.
While I may find it more difficult to recall things than I did when I was younger, I now have a world of experience to draw from and a lot more savvy. That makes a difference. I am learning to listen to my body when it tells me it’s time to stop and take a break, even when I’m in the middle of a project. I will get things done, just not all at once, and the quality of my work is better when I come back at it fresh rather than trying to force my way through.
I often grump about how old age is so awful, but I need to remember that the alternative isn’t that great either! I can either use my head and take a bit more time to get things done, or I can try to bull my way through and pay the price later on. I’m sick of paying the price. My body hurts too much for that anymore. It’s really time to work smarter, not harder.
I have a friend whose husband has PTSD, and one of his symptoms is having terrible nightmares. They got a puppy from me and asked if I would help them train it to be a service dog. They would like the dog trained to wake him during those nightmares. We are also going to train him to “block.” Block is a cue given to the dog so it moves in front of the veteran and sits or stands there to stop other people from getting too close. Block is used when the veteran is feeling crowded by too many people. The dog does not move away when another person approaches, but holds its ground. The dog is not aggressive, but it occupies the area that is personal space for the handler.
PTSD leaves many of us feeling that our personal space has expanded several feet. I do not like people standing too close to me; if they do, I am afraid I won’t have the time I need to respond if they make a threatening move. I am usually not even conscious of it. Instead, I just feel crowded and uncomfortable.
Not everyone can have a service dog trained to protect his or her personal space. If you are in the presence of a veteran with PTSD, remember, one of the symptoms is the need for extra space. Please, respect that need!
One of the ways we tend to look at things is by thinking that if we do not do something by a certain time, we’re a failure. It is called “All-or-Nothing” thinking, and most of us indulge in it at times in our lives. Although, if we do think about it closely, we realize that it is not true, we don’t tend to think about it closely. We just accept it as being the way things really are.
I recently worked with a veteran who told me he felt he was a failure because he would soon be 40 years old and he was still unmarried. He was successful in every other area of his life, but he felt he was a total failure because he had not found the right woman, married and had children. He had told himself throughout his life that this was a goal he had to meet.
I suggested he try the PTSD Coach website that the VA offers. On the site, he was able to print out a worksheet and then work through this thought pattern. Once he considered it, he realized he wasn’t a total failure because he had not found the woman of his dreams, he was holding out for a relationship that was balanced and healthy. That made him a success! He was also able to see that he had met his goals in many other areas of his life, and that turning 40 without being married didn’t mean he was a failure.
PTSD Coach is a good tool for helping you cope with PTSD. Please consider using it to examine your own thoughts and challenge those that are not healthy and are holding you back from finding peace.
One of the most interesting things I find with PTSD is there are so many different symptoms or ways it affects us; hypervigilance, sleeplessness, isolation, flashbacks, and on and on. Avoidance is one of those symptoms that we may indulge in without even realizing we are doing so.
Excessive sleeping is a form of avoidance, and there are times I find myself using it as a coping mechanism. If I am so tired I can’t participate in activities I probably should be involved in, it becomes a good excuse to not take part. Excessive sleeping can look like depression too as it can also be a driving force in that way.
Avoidance prevents us from engaging in life, and that is not healthy. We need challenge in our lives and we need interaction with other people. Avoidance prevents that. Sometimes the challenge becomes forcing ourselves to participate in events in our lives so we don’t indulge in avoidance.
Avoidance is often one of the symptoms of PTSD. With avoidance, we do whatever we can to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions concerning the stressful events we have experienced. When avoidance is extreme, or when it is our primary coping mechanism, it can interfere with recovery and healing.
Emotional avoidance occurs when you try to avoid thoughts or feelings connected to a traumatic event. For example, your thoughts are racing about something traumatic that happened and you decide, “I’m just not going to think about that now.” While we may go to great lengths to avoid thinking about the event, it is often necessary in order for us to process it and move on.
Behavioral avoidance occurs when you work to avoid reminders of the trauma. An example of this would be avoiding places where you may hear something that reminds you of what happened.
While not all avoidance is bad, it becomes a problem when it is your primary way of dealing with trauma. Therapy can help you learn to deal with your thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them or resorting to excessive avoidance.
I have always found hypervigilance to be one of the more frustrating aspects of having PTSD. It means being over-active in observing everyone and everything around you in an attempt to keep yourself safe. Hypervigilance uses a lot of energy and can leave you feeling chronically exhausted and overwhelmed. For me, it meant each time I entered a room I unconsciously evaluated each person there as to the amount of risk I felt they posed to my safety. I monitored everyone, tracking them as they moved throughout the room. I felt moderately safe only if I sat with my back to the wall so no one could approach me without my knowledge. I hated going out anywhere as it took so much energy to keep track of everything.
It has taken me many years to “reset” my observation button! I believe going to college forced me to come to terms with the fact that I could never really keep myself totally safe by monitoring everyone. It was just not possible. I am happy to say that over the years, it has become easier for me to enter a room and not feel like I have to control it. I am much more comfortable now enjoying the other people there without feeling like they are a threat. I can go out and have a good time where others are present, and although I will probably never like being in a large crowd, I am comfortable enough to enjoy going to the movies on occasion or to a popular restaurant.
PTSD may have caused me to make some changes in my life, but I no longer feel I am a slave to the disorder. I can do things I never dreamed I would be able to do when I was younger, and I can find contentment even in the presence of others.