10 strategies to cope with post-traumatic stress
Post-traumatic stress is quite what it sounds like – triggered after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event followed by significantly intense anxiety symptoms. Individuals experience changes in physical and emotional reactions including trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, getting easily startled and always being on guard. Mood and affect are significantly impacted as well, including negative thoughts about oneself and others, hopelessness and worry about the future, difficulties socially and forming/maintaining relationships, detachment, avoidance amongst others. Intrusive memories of the traumatic incident/event are prominent and include recurrent memories, reliving moments as well as nightmares.
People dealing with post-traumatic stress deal with intense levels of anxiety symptoms which can often result in resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Here are 10 healthy strategies to cope with PTS – pick a few that resonate with you!
Deep breathing plays a key role in reducing stress and the responses associated with stress. Practicing simple deep breathing exercises can help regulate stress hormones, reduce physical symptoms, and help with grounding. Here are two interesting breathing techniques that can easily be incorporated in daily life:
– Diaphragmatic breathing – breathing from the stomach rather than the chest and noticing your breathing by placing one hand on your upper chest and the other below your rib cage.
– Rainbow breathing – sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Visualize a rainbow. Take a deep breath through your nose as you begin to move your finger along the rainbow until you reach the middle. Once you get to the center, exhale deeply until your finger reaches the other end. Continue doing so until you feel more relaxed.
Intense stress can significantly impact physical functioning and builds up tension in various parts of the body. Relaxation techniques help us identify where the tension is built up and guides in releasing tension. Here are two techniques, easy to use:
– Progressive Muscle Relaxation – a guided technique that focuses on tensing and releasing throughout the body to help in reducing stress and anxiety symptoms.
– Body Scans –This scan walks you through observing your sensations from head to toe without the need to change anything. The idea is to observe and stay focused on the sensations without the need to change.
One thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to feel. People with PTS experience trauma in different forms and intensities – don’t stress yourself over what you should be thinking, feeling, or doing. However, don’t ignore how you’re feeling. Self-monitoring can be a powerful tool to create awareness over your thoughts and feelings that often feel uncomfortable to think about or feel. Here’s what you can do:
– Journaling – journal your thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that you’re able to create a habit of being able to identify distressful thinking patterns. Use creative journaling ideas such as picture journals, 1-sentence journals, or gratitude journals.
– Goal setting – set positive self-reflective and self-awareness goals that move you towards a healthy lifestyle.
Avoid reliving the trauma/traumatic event
Repeated thinking and reliving the traumatic event can create significant distress and enhance symptoms, creating a negative loop and encouraging unhealthy coping. Be aware of your thought patterns and keep your mind busy with activities and tasks that keep your mind occupied. Do things that you like and have a passion for, as well as create some fun in your daily routine.
Create a routine
Experiencing life changing events can create a shift in routine and feed into negative coping mechanisms. Getting into a normal routine can help minimize the impact of the trauma and alleviate stress significantly. Use structure that works for you and remember to make it fun and ensure you incorporate a healthy sleep hygiene!
Increase Social Support
Trauma and stress significantly impact one’s social life and social support. It can be hard to get out and connect with people as well as maintain current relationships. Stepping out and meeting friends or family can help in overcoming the negative impacts of PTS. Furthermore, our social supports offer a great deal of emotional validation that can support growth and overall wellbeing. Social supports can also be accessed via trauma support groups – connecting with people who have similar experiences can help with normalizing and validating how you feel and can help form new connections.
Care for yourself! Engage in things that make you feel a sense of comfort. This could be enjoying a cup of tea, taking a nature walk, going for a massage, aromatherapy, music therapy or treating yourself to a pedicure! The point is to engage in activities that help enhance your mood and in turn reduce anxiety symptoms.
Exercise has proven to significantly reduce stress and post-traumatic symptoms of anxiety. Physical activity does not always mean going to the gym – do things that work for you and your body. This could be running, talking your pet dog out for a walk, Zumba/dance, cardio, Pilates, biking and much more. Staying active and continuously moving also helps release tension and results in increased focus and attention.
Creativity and engagement in arts, poetry, expressive writing can be helpful in minimizing the effects of PTS. Pick what works for you and use it as a form of self-expression and coping.
Give yourself time & talk to a therapist
While you consider some or all the above strategies, give yourself time to get into a habit of self-care. Don’t rush and don’t fear change. Allow yourself to experience these healthy coping strategies and keep what works for you. Talking to a therapist can be helpful in unpacking trauma and in processing thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Understanding that you need additional support is the first step in the positive direction and the outcomes of therapy can be validating.
If post-traumatic stress is something you’re struggling with, I would be happy to sit down and help you find ideas in which you can better engage in healthy coping, as well as unpack and navigate the traumatic experience and the outcomes.
To explore this more, please book a 15-minute no charge initial consultation to see how we can support your goals.