Far too many individuals suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While the effects of PTSD may be long lasting it does not need to be a life sentence. If you are currently in therapy for PTSD, that’s great, you have taken the first step. There are helpful skills that you can use outside of the therapy rooms, to help manage PTSD symptoms. As the name states, PTSD is a disorder that occurs after trauma and involves chronic stress. Often, the symptoms of anxiety and stress that accompany PTSD can lead to unhealthy ways of coping such as isolation, alcohol/drug, binge eating, rage, or fear. Therapy should start with helping you to feel safe and provide you with skills that can help you regulate anxiety, stress, and dysregulation.
One such skill is deep breathing. This may seem simple or even silly, but slow deep breathing can help to calm the nervous system and help the body to reset. While taking a deep breath, allow your diaphragm to expand and your belly to swell naturally. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen. This focus on slowing and noticing your breath is in itself calming. Often, when under stress our breathing will become shallow. This is true when the body is readying itself for fight or flight. With PTSD, the fight or flight reflex becomes easily triggered, leaving us in a state of hypervigilance, panic or fear. Learning to notice our breath can allow us to slow it down and therefore facilitate calming the body and the mind and being “on-line’ the parasympathetic nervous system. While we focus on breathe it brings us to the present moment, and out of the past where the danger was.
Another technique that can be utilized outside of therapy is progressive muscle relaxation. This technique focuses on tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout your body. While lying down, start at your feet. Consciously tighten all the muscles holding them for a count of 7, then release and count to 7 again. Notice the difference. Now, continue up through all the muscles in your body doing the same thing. This practice promotes relaxation by helping you notice the difference in your body during tense states versus when its relaxed. Muscles tense up or constrict when we are anxious, so learning how to release muscle tension can help you feel emotionally calmer.
Pay attention to your body throughout the day. Noticing areas of tension or tightness. Practice checking in with yourself and noticing sensations in your body. Tracking bodily sensations as well as thoughts and emotions can help us to know when it is time to use one of the calming tools towards body relaxation.
Another great way to help yourself in a stressful situation is to try expressive writing. Being able to write out your feelings can be incredibly healing. It can help relieve PTSD symptoms of tension, and anger. Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper gives them somewhere to go, releasing them from your body. Distraction is another tool, that can be helpful. If you like to do puzzles, paint or work with clay, for example, you can lose yourself in the process of having hands-on work. This is especially helpful if you’re experiencing very strong emotions. Giving your brain something else to focus on can help lessen those huge emotions and make them much more manageable.
Of course PTSD is a serious disorder for which you may want to seek professional help along with using these self help tools. If you are currently looking for a therapist to treat PTSD in Los Angeles or Sherman Oaks, Trauma and Beyond ® therapists can help. We offer many different forms of trauma informed therapy and can work with you to find which will be best for you. Call us at (818) 651-0725 to make a consultation.