By Michele Rosenthal
If you’ve survived a trauma, you’ve probably already discovered there are some basic ground rules for coping. For example: Make sure you are as safe as possible. Avoid triggers, and if you can’t: figure out how to minimize their effect.
When you discover you’re struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you’ll find out that your coping skills need to be built up a bit. Managing symptoms of PTSD such as nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, hyperarousal and emotional numbing can enormously test both your own skills and those of the people sharing your life – professionally and privately.
PTSD coping requires a few more ground rules. For example:
1 *- Know you are not alone* – Imagine yourself at a concert of your favorite famous band or symphony. Remember the last time you did that? Remember how many people were there? Thousands packed into seats. You could hear the din of voices. You could sense the vibrant energy. You knew you were a part of a large crowd. Now, imagine that every single person in that crowd has PTSD. That would only be a drop in the bucket of the actual numbers.
2 – *Accept that PTSD is not your fault*- It’s easy to blame yourself for symptoms or, as way too many people put it, that you can’t “just get over it”. The truth is that trauma can cause changes in your body chemistry and biology. These things have nothing to do with ‘getting over it’ and everything to do with finding a way for your body to readjust. Also, trauma makes a large imprint in the mind. Often we say, “PTSD is a normal reaction to abnormal experience.” This means how you feel is absolutely justified and nothing to be ashamed of.
3 – *Commit to the recovery journey* – Over and over I see survivors fight the recovery process. They don’t want to do the work. Admittedly (and I know this since I had to do it, too), the PTSD recovery process is difficult. You will have to feel things you don’t want to feel, face things you don’t want to face and do things you won’t want to do in order to release the past and its effects on you. Going into healing with the commitment to do it no matter what it takes strengthens your core resolve and allows you to focus on feeling better.
4 – *Explore your post-trauma identity.* – There will be times when it feels like PTSD symptoms define all of who you are. However real that may seem, know the truth: There is a whole you outside of symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Make a dedicated effort to see yourself in the future when PTSD is a thing of the past. Ask yourself questions that help you know what want to do, who you will seek to be with, what you wish to accomplish, what work you wish to have when your recovery period is done. Then, start finding ways to engage in those things today.
5 – *Reconnect to things you love. * – The road to PTSD recovery is tiring, which is why it can really help (in so many ways!) to connect to your sense of joy. Sure, at first that may seem like something unattainable, but as humans we’re hardwired to smile and feel good. What did you love to do before your trauma? What do you feel good about when you do it now? What activity causes you to be so focused you lose track of time? Engaging in things that make you feel good help positively change your body chemistry, which helps shift your mood, which helps give you focus, which helps give you strength for recovery.
6 – *Reach out for support.* – Popular survivor myths include that you have to be strong all the time, you can’t lean on anyone, and you have to achieve recovery (for the most part) alone. Those are, hands down, the worst myths to buy into. PTSD recovery is a time of deserving enormous support both professionally and personally. To find the most helpful support, research trauma trained providers. Read up on PTSD and what it means and how it works. Deliberately build a personal support system of friends, family and colleagues so that you have a team helping you move forward.
7 – *Develop belief in yourself.* – It may be hard, in this minute, to believe you will ever be free, or that you have the courage and means to affect a full recovery. Think about who you are, though. You are a survivor. You lived through and endured something so challenging that the result has been PTSD. You had the strength to make it to the other side of that trauma. Whatever you did to preserve yourself and get to this very moment means you have bravery, stamina, creativity and resolve. Use those gifts now to help you move forward. Appreciate them as part of you and lean on them to help you believe that you can overcome PTSD.
You have enormous healing potential. The goal is learning to access it. You can do this. Dig deep. I believe in you!