Sunday, December 6, 2020

Positive Approach to PTSD: Dealing with Trauma


When life throws us a curve

Bad things inevitably happen in life. Our parents die, as do others we love. Maybe we witness violence or suffer injury ourselves. All of us watched in horror on 9/11 as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. What positive steps can we take to deal with trauma?

The mental health professionals at the National Center for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders) say that your goal should be to adopt short-term and long-term strategies to cope. Remember that it is normal to react to pain and trauma with bouts of crying, as well as intense feelings of loss and anxiety. Many people will also experience nightmares or insomnia. Some will lose their appetite, while others will eat everything in sight.

The challenge is to do whatever we can so that today’s trauma does not become tomorrow’s PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. This constellation of symptoms can be normal immediately following a trauma, but if the problems persist for more than six months, we call it PTSD. Hallmarks include intrusive recollection (flashbacks) and heightened arousal (you jump sky-high at the slightest provocation).

Sadly as well, PTSD sufferers also lose a sense of joy in life – their world turns gray, as if eliminating the high-highs offers protection against the low-lows. One in 10 people in the United States suffers PTSD. When bad things happen, your goal should be to do all you can to prevent future problems with PTSD.

As the trauma unfolds

Your child is ill and you must decide on treatment. You have witnessed something terrible and the police need your help. Your husband has announced he wants a divorce and you need to take action immediately to protect your position. How do you deal with your feelings when circumstances call for you to function rationally?

  • Go on short-term autopilot – If there is a crisis that you must deal with, you may need to shut off your feelings to do what must be done. If your child is ill and you must make quick decisions, you will need to focus on the problem at hand. But never forget that this is only a short-term strategy.
  • Promise yourself a time to deal with the situation (and then live up to the promise) – Going on auto-pilot can be seductive. We want to believe that we have dealt with the trauma and can continue to keep it at bay. Yet for many of us, refusing to deal with our feelings about painful incidents ends up getting us into even more trouble. The best idea may be to set a date-certain – Friday at 4 p.m. I will devote an hour to working through my feeling about what happened. The other half of that equation, of course, is to live up to that promise when the time comes.
  • Take mini-breaks – Whenever and wherever you can, try to take a moment to lift up your head and see the bigger picture. Take a 10-minute walk outdoors, literally taking the time to smell the roses. You may not be able to appreciate it at the moment, but you need to see for yourself that the beauty of life will be waiting there for you when you can honor it fully again.
  • Don’t beat yourself up – We have a tendency to put unrealistic burdens on ourselves. We cannot take a momemt away from the hospital. We need to make a flurry of phone calls right now – and if we forget just one, terrible things will happen. This is a good time to take a deep breath and remember that all we can do is our best. We are not indestructible super-heroes and super-heroines.

Long term treatment plan

The immediate nightmare is over. Your are left with your thoughts:

  • Talk to supportive peers – The self-help movement recognizes that no one understands your situation better than others who have suffered the same thing. If you have suffered a loss, you will likely find a bereavement support group in the community (check with your funeral director). There are also numerous groups for other problems, from adult survivors of incest to parents of murdered children. If there are no resources in town, use a good search tool like Google or Yahoo! to search for online support.
  • Learn about trauma and PTSD – The first thing to understand is that you are not alone, not weak and not ‘crazy.’ Trauma assaults our emotions in the same way that a physical blow assaults our body. Healing the damage takes time and it can require treatment. The more you know, the better you can take care of yourself.
  • Lean on your personal support systems – Humans are social animals and most people want to help. Talk with famuly, friends and (somteimes) co-workers, as your own pace. There are times in life when we will all need a shoulder to cry on and the good people in our lives take pride in our willingness to call upon and trust them.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Now is a good time to explore meditation or yoga. Look into muscular relaxation, breathing exercises, swimming, stretching, prayer, listening to quiet music and spending time in nature. The National Center for PTSD wanrs that, for some people, disturbing physical sensations can intensity when you are relaxed, so experiment to find what it tolerable for you.
  • Expand your positive, creative activities – Learn to paint. Take a course on flower arranging. Keep a journal. Visit a museum. Play with children. Distraction alone cannot rebuild our lives, but these activities can be positive forces in the right direction.
  • Start an exercise program – After getting your doctor’s OK, embark on an exercise program. Not only will it help you generate good brain chemicals that can drive out depression, but you will end up in better health and therefore better able to cope with whatever else life throws your way.
  • Take care of your physical self – Eat regularly and eat well. Take time to sleep. Get a massage. Structure time away from the telephone. Say no to new responsibilities for now.
  • Seek help sooner rather than later – Don’t buy into the argument that you should tough it out as long as possible. Talk with your physician about what you have experienced. Seek references to counselors from family, friends and physicians. There is no shame in taking good care of yourself.
      • You are experiencing any symptoms that are causing distress or are causing significant changes in your relations or your functioning at work.
      • You are self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs.
      • You are unable to find relief with the strategies we’ve offered.

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