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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.