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Five ways to cope with PTSD
How can you cope with PTSD symptoms? We look at five possible strategies.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is best known as the condition that affects people who have served in the military, and who are therefore most likely to have witnessed a disturbing event on the battlefield.
Yet developing PTSD can be a natural response to any number of distressing experiences, such as sexual abuse, physical assault, accidents, or any type of violence.
Symptoms of PTSD include a heightened state of anxiety — especially accompanied by persistent flashbacks of the traumatic event — sleeplessness, moodiness, and avoidance of places or social situations that might trigger flashbacks.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 7.7 million adults in the United States live with PTSD, though women are twice as likely as men to develop this condition.
PTSD can last for years, and its symptoms can severely impact overall quality of life. That being the case, it can sometimes be tempting to apply negative coping strategies to deal with symptoms of PTSD.
Negative coping strategies may seem helpful on the spur of the moment, yet they can easily turn self-destructive in the long-term. These can include resorting to alcohol or recreational drugs to numb your feelings, decrease stress, or quieten your thoughts.
Alcohol and other substances may take the edge off to begin with but can cause addiction if used as a substitute for a proper treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been recognized as a “safe and effective intervention” for this disorder.
So what are some things you can do, in addition to CBT and any other treatments recommended by your doctor, in order to keep your PTSD symptoms under control? Here are a few approaches you may want to consider.
1. Mindfulness meditation
Increasingly, meditation and mindfulness-based relaxation techniques have been shown to help manage a range of disorders.
A review of mindfulness-based treatments for PTSD points to a few therapies that have been found effective in reducing avoidance and self-blame in people diagnosed with the disorder. These are:
- mindfulness-based stress reduction(MBSR), which is an intensive 8-week program focused on the practice of mindfulness meditation that aims to train people to focus their attention on their breath and learn to avoid getting carried away by intrusive thoughts
- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), defined as “an adaptation of MBSR,” has a very similar structure but is designed to target depressive moods and negative thoughts, more specifically
- mindfulness-based exposure therapy, which includes a 16-week non-trauma-focused programthat incorporates MBCT techniques and favors safe and controlled exposure to avoided stimuli, focusing on self-compassion training
- meditation-relaxation, such as loving-kindness meditation, was also deemed effective in increasing self-compassion and reducing depressive symptoms related to PTSD
- mantrum repetition practice, which refers to “the silent repeating of a sacred word or phrase,” appears to be effective in targeting anger, hyperarousal, or the state of being constantly on guard, and symptoms of anxiety and depression
2. Regain focus through physical activity
Many people who have been diagnosed with PTSD say that finding an enjoyable physical activity that they can perform regularly has helped them to reduce their levels of stress and cope with their symptoms.
Rebecca Thorne, who was diagnosed with PTSD following childhood trauma, explains how runninghas helped her to cope with the symptoms that were impacting her life.
“I am a runner – and I suffer from [PTSD],” she says. “One of the many things I think about while I’m running, and also when I’m not, is the relationship between the two.”
“I embrace running in all weathers […], always with a considerable amount of ascent. As I fight my way up the climbs, I often imagine that the hill is my illness and I am going to slowly and steadily conquer it. Yet it never feels like suffering and, once at the top of the hill, I can reach out and touch the sky.”
Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge in the United Kingdom found that surfingcan be an effective coping strategy for war veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
According to the team, this sport helps veterans to attain a focused mind state known as “flow,” in which they are so absorbed in the activity they are performing that all other thoughts and emotions are pushed aside.
Dr. Nick Caddick, who was involved with the study, compares this with the effects of mindfulness meditation, just that it is more active. He calls it “a moving form of mindfulness.”
Medical News Today also reported on a study that suggested that Tai chi — a form of martial arts — can help war veterans to manage their PTSD symptoms.
In order for prolonged exposure therapy, an evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD, to reach its full potential, any misperceptions or ruptures in trust and communication between therapist and client need fixing, according to a new Case Western Reserve University study.
The study, reported in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology online article, “Patterns of Therapeutic Alliance: Rupture-Repair Episodes in Prolonged Exposure for PTSD,” is among the first to examine how ruptures in the relationship between the therapist and client can damage a patient’s treatment outcome.
An alliance rupture may occur when there is a break in the therapist-client bond. For example, ruptures in the therapeutic relationship may occur when therapeutic progress stalls, negative feelings arise between the therapist and client, or when the work in therapy becomes challenging.
“We want therapists to know that a rupture in the therapeutic relationship isn’t a bad thing, as long as the therapist tends to it,” said Stephanie Keller, one of the study’s researchers and a Case Western Reserve doctoral student in clinical psychology. “However, if the rupture is not repaired, then your patient may not do as well in treatment.”
The research study included 116 people who experienced a traumatic event such as childhood sexual or physical abuse, physical assault, or combat exposure, and had a primary diagnosis of PTSD. Participants engaged in a 10-session treatment program called prolonged exposure (PE) therapy.
To help therapists chart progress and examine the therapeutic relationship, each client assessed his or her own PTSD symptoms and perception of their relationship with the therapist during treatment. This helped researchers to identify those clients who experience no ruptures in the therapeutic relationship (a stable relationship), clients who experienced a rupture that was subsequently repaired, and those with ruptures that went unrepaired.
Researchers have just identified a drug capable of preventing memory problems and increased anxiety in traumatized mice suffering from PTSD-like symptoms.
The finding has huge medical implications for future human PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) treatment and/or prevention.
According to Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, a receptor called Oprl1 is altered when mice experience PTSD symptoms. The scientists then developed a drug that targets that specific gene, thus preventing the development of the disorder.
Mice were put through a traumatic event – being restrained to wooden boards – and were at a heightened state of fear.
The researchers then gave the mice the Oprl1-targeted drug and found that it had a preventive effect on PTSD and a significant impact on fear memory modulation.
The study, which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, indicated that humans with genetic variants of the Oprl1 gene are at a higher risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event, suggesting that the new drug could have a similar effect in humans.
Study leader, HHMI investigator Kerry J. Ressler of the Emory University School of Medicine, said:
“PTSD is a tractable problem that can be prevented and treated if we put our mind to it. Bringing neuroscience and genetic approaches together provides a powerful way to understand this debilitating illness.”
PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder brought on by direct experience of traumatic events – the NHS (National Health Service) in the U.K estimated that about 40% of sufferers developed PTSD after a loved one died suddenly. A sufferer’s life may be completely disrupted, by reliving the horrific event through nightmares as well as flashbacks. Approximately 5% of men and 10% of women suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.