The stress and triggers may come from time-to-time, but here are some suggestions on how to manage post-traumatic stress responsibly.
Like many types of mental conditions, post-traumatic stress can go undetected for a long time. So if you’ve already been diagnosed or you think you may be struggling with post-traumatic stress, you’ve already taken the first step to managing it – by recognizing and acknowledging it.
Stress induced by past traumatic experiences generally stems from taking part in or witnessing a traumatic experience, prompting a set of symptoms including anxiety, muscle tension, irritability, nightmares, and most notably, intrusive and unwanted flashbacks. And if these symptoms become severe or uncontrollable, the condition can be classified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
And while it’s normal to feel frightened or anxious after you’ve experienced something scary, for some people, these symptoms can persist for a long-time.
PTSD can affect your mood, relationships, work, and overall well-being. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the triggers, and keep a roster of coping mechanisms in your back pocket so you’re readily prepared to manage your symptoms in any circumstance and situation.
Ways to manage traumatic stress
Traumatic stress can make life incredibly difficult and unpredictable, as those painful thoughts and memories can pop up suddenly at any time, take you off guard, and affect your day-to-day and your ability to function.
That being said, people with PTSD generally find themselves avoiding people, places, activities, or anything that reminds them of what they went through.
For example, someone who was in a bad car accident may be afraid to drive on highways. Or someone who was attacked in the dark may have an adverse reaction to dark movie theatres.
And while avoiding triggers is one way to manage symptoms, relying solely on avoidance has the potential to cause more harm than good in the long run. In fact, it may cause you to close yourself off to opportunities and create anxiety over “fear of missing out”.
So how do you manage?
Find out what helps you relax
When feeling anxious or stressed, the last thing you want to hear is “just relax”. But when someone is feeling an immense amount of anxiety due to past trauma, it’s generally because they feel threatened, vulnerable and exposed to immense danger. Calming activities may seem cliché, but with practice, they can become very effective in combatting traumatic stress and feeling safe again. For example:
- Taking a warm bath
- Listening to soothing music
- Deep breathing or muscle relaxation exercises (like this one!)
- Physical exercise
- Cleaning or organizing
- Channeling your creativity through art
- Having a warm, low-caffeine drink
- Using a weighted blanket: Studies have shown that a weighted blanket mimics the feeling of a hug or a warm, firm embrace, helping you sleep if you have trouble sleeping due to invasive thoughts.
- Cuddling a pet
- Watching a video or show you know will make you laughCoping mechanisms can sometimes be viewed as “self-care” as well. Schedule some time to truly understand what (responsibly) makes you happy and brings you peace and try to incorporate that more regularly into your day-to-day life.Forgive yourselfRemind yourself that you’re not in danger and there’s nothing “wrong” with you. What happened to you was real and your feelings are completely valid! Practicing self-compassion and validating your own feelings can help you move on.Talk about itOf course, this is easier said than done, but speaking with someone (a support group, mental health professional, or therapist) about your trauma can help you slowly and safely – yet surely – confront your triggers and fears. Finding the right person may take some time though, so do your research and be patient. Consider things like affordability, race or gender preference, experience, etc. With access to the internet, you also have the option to join a group or speak with anyone in the world if you find that they fit your preference more than someone locally.A mental health professional or therapist can also help you develop cognitive strategies in which you identify negative thoughts and replace them with more compassionate, helpful ways of thinking. This way, you’re able to confront your trauma, maintain confidence, and feel safer in the face of triggers.-Learning to live with trauma is hard work, but it’s not impossible. You deserve to be happy and in control, and by using these coping strategies (or tweaking them to fit your lifestyle and personality), you can live a joyful life. The stress and triggers may come from time-to-time, but you now know how to manage it responsibly.*Triggers and coping strategies are unique to each individual. The activities listed in this article are meant to be taken as helpful suggestions.