KNOWING WHEN YOU’RE STRESSED

Stress, even good stress, can take quite a toll on us. It is helpful to learn to recognize the signs that you are becoming overstressed so you can take steps to alleviate it.

Recognizing the signs you are feeling too much stress can require some self-monitoring. Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Tapping your foot repeatedly
  • Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. This may occur most often in your sleep, but you will often feel the results in the morning when you wake with a sore jaw.
  • Feeling anxious, nervous, helpless or irritable.
  • Frequent accidents (we often rush too much when we are stressed).
  • Forgetting things you usually don’t forget.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion.

When you realize you’re feeling stressed, try to figure out what’s causing it.  This is a good time to use your relaxation methods to relax.

If you know what’s causing your stress, that’s a great first step to dealing with it. You can begin to work on solving the problem before things get out of control. Remember, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine can make the situation worse, so try to avoid them.

Use the techniques that work best for you; exercises, meditation, music, etc. If you find you remain stressed to the max, consider contacting a therapist or perhaps your spiritual advisor. Sharing the problem can often give you a better perspective on it or how to deal with it.

 

DEALING WITH DISASTER

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!

 

 

 

A TIME FOR CHANGE

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.

 

PTSD & ANXIETY

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.

 

 

MANAGING THE ENVIRONMENT

When you live with PTSD, things can act as triggers, setting you off in a fit of rage.  It’s the responsibility of those of us who have PTSD though to make sure we channel that anger into acceptable directions rather than allow it to hurt other people.  So, how does one do that?

Knowing what triggers your anger is the first step.  It can help to keep a journal, noting those times you’re raging over something.  Being mindful of what is happening not only to you, but within you, can help you intervene before you find yourself out of control.  What irritates you beyond the normal?  When the kids are screaming and having a good time, does the noise trigger your anger?  If your spouse is nagging about financial fears, is that the burr that gets under your hide?

If you can recognize what’s setting you off, you can often manage the environment so that you stop the anger before it gets a grip on you.  When the kids start screaming, send them outside.  When your spouse is complaining, take a good look to see if those complaints are valid.  If they are, then try to problem solve and seek realistic solutions.  If they aren’t, look at ways to offer reassurance.  It may be that the real issues isn’t the finances at all, but other fears you aren’t even aware of at the time.

Whatever you are facing as a trigger to your rage, brainstorm ways to head it off before it grows bigger than you can control.  Look at alternate ways you can respond other than giving in to your anger.  Is it easier to just let your rage lash out at others?  You bet it is!  But the courageous way to handle the situation is to accept responsibility for your anger.  You are responsible for the ways you hurt others.  In the long run, it’s may take some effort on your part to control your rage, but your relationships with family and friends will be stronger and healthier for it.

 

 

REFLECTIONS

I am so looking forward to this New Year! The past couple of years have been quite trying for me, so looking at a clean slate coming up is a delight. This year I would like to make some progress on stabilizing my finances. I have the tools to do this, and was quite successful last year, but then unforeseen circumstances pulled me back into the mud again. I don’t like being broke all the time, so it’s time to step it up and get back on track.

I’d also like to find more ways to reduce the stress in my life. I’m getting older now and find that stress affects me more negatively than it did when I was younger. For one thing, I am facing knee replacement surgery soon, and I’ll also need cataract surgery on both eyes. I’ve been putting it off for several years now, but I don’t think I can get away with that much longer.

As the New Year comes in, I want to have a plan for reaching some of the goals I have. I know that writing a plan down increases the likelihood of achieving it by greater than 50%, so I will think it through and write it down. These things are worthwhile to me as I want to achieve some things before I retire.

I hope the New Year is filled with blessings and prosperity for you too, and that, as a nation, we can learn to live in peace with each other and with ourselves. Happy New Year!

RETROSPECT

As 2019 draws to a close, I find myself reviewing all the things that have happened, and the effect it has had on me. I survived one of the worst years of my life, and that, I feel, is a success. I took on some new responsibilities, gave up some old ones, and found things to look forward to even in the midst of all the chaos. Although I would not want to repeat this year, I believe I have done a pretty fair job of getting through it.

Sometimes we have to look back to see how far we’ve come in order to appreciate the distance we’ve traveled. It also helps us to not become overwhelmed by all the negativity that life can throw at us. While I have to say there are things I could have done better, I can also say I’m a survivor and I made it through some very tough times.

I’m looking forward to 2020. I know there will still be tough times ahead – there always are. But I also know I can get through them, no matter what is thrown at me. And, as I enter this year, the slate is clean and perhaps things won’t be as bad as they were last year; that gives me some hope.

As this year closes, I congratulate you on being a survivor too, and I hope the New Year will be one of prosperity and peace for all of us. Happy New Year!

TOO MUCH

Christmas has been my favorite time of year since I was a child. We were very poor when I was young, but at Christmas time, it was a happy time anyway. I have a brother and two sisters, and we all shared one present, usually a boy’s gift because my mother felt it was better for her girls to play with a toy that traditionally was given to a boy, than for her boy to play with a toy traditionally meant for a girl. I didn’t mind. I didn’t know anything different. The season held such joy for me, and most of it revolved around things that didn’t cost anything. The lights, the music, the smell of the pine tree in the living room was so special. My how things have changed!

Last night, as I was driving into Grand Rapids to do my volunteer work for the week, I realized that I was not enjoying the beautiful Christmas lights like I usually do. As I thought about that, I realized I wasn’t even seeing them, I was too busy worrying about all the stressors that are overwhelming me. How will I pay for the rest of the presents I have to buy? I need a new furnace; where is the money for that coming from? Will the snow-blower start again this year? How long is my car going to go without falling apart?

There are a million things to worry about, and it seems that lately, that’s where my focus is. The problem is, worrying about things I can’t change, robs me of the joy of the season. I was fortunate in realizing what was happening before the season was over. I slowed down, said a short prayer of thanksgiving that my car is running, I can still shovel snow if I have to, and the holiday isn’t about how much money I spend. I actually was able to recapture some of the joy of the season!

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there will always be problems; that’s what life is about. It’s taking the time to be appreciative of what you have and for the good things in life that make it worthwhile. Take a few moments to stop this holiday season and appreciate all the wonders of the holidays. It will be over soon enough and you can get back to worrying then! Happy Holidays!

A HAPPY HOLIDAY

I remember loving Christmas as a child. It was the best of times! I was always filled with excitement and the season meant so much to me. Now, things are different, and it angers me that the innocence I felt as a child was taken from me. That’s one of the things PTSD does: it robs us of the joy in our lives, if it can.

I still love the lights and the scents of the season, but things are different with PTSD. I don’t enjoy the crowds at all. Anyone with PTSD knows the difficulty of living with hypervigilance. That makes shopping difficult too. And, family get togethers…not something I look forward to, that’s for sure.

Holidays are much more difficult with PTSD coming along for the ride. So, I have to look deeper for the good times. I’ve accepted that I have to find new traditions to look forward to, like baking and decorating cookies and dropping them off at the homes of friends rather than going to parties. And, I can still enjoy the music and the lights.

I have to accept that life is different with PTSD, but at least there are still pieces of Christmas that used to mean a lot to me that I can still hold on to. I refuse to surrender everything. The meaning of the holiday hasn’t changed, I have. But that’s okay; I can live with that and still find joy in the season.

Depression & PTSD

PTSD and depression can occur simultaneously, with symptoms that often mimic each other. While depression happens to all of us at one time or another, clinical depression lasts for an extended period of time, usually three months or longer. It flavors everything going on in your life and makes it difficult to get up in the morning and keep going throughout the day. PTSD can have the same effect.

It’s not unusual to experience depression following exposure to trauma. If you have PTSD, depression is 3 to 5 times more likely to occur than if you don’t have PTSD.  We may struggle as we process traumatic experiences and that can lead to depression. In addition, the trauma may have affected others around us leading to survivor guilt or grieving. The lack of trust we feel when we have PTSD can cause depression too.

Many of the symptoms of PTSD and depression overlap, such as sleep difficulties and concentration. In fact, you may not know which condition is affecting you. Both can lead to isolation and irritability. Fortunately, both can often respond to the same treatment too.

Milder forms of depression can be treated with counseling or talk therapy. More severe forms may involve medications. If you are suffering with PTSD and/or depression, talk with your healthcare provider. Treatments for both work!