Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions
Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions
Available in Spanish: Cómo Afrontar las Reacciones de Estrés Traumático
When trauma survivors take direct action to cope with their stress reactions, they put themselves in a position of power. Active coping with the trauma makes you begin to feel less helpless.
Know that recovery is a process
Following exposure to a trauma most people experience stress reactions. Understand that recovering from the trauma is a process and takes time. Knowing this will help you feel more in control.
Positive coping actions
Certain actions can help to reduce your distressing symptoms and make things better. Plus, these actions can result in changes that last into the future. Here are some positive coping methods:
Learn about trauma and PTSD
It is useful for trauma survivors to learn more about common reactions to trauma and about PTSD. Find out what is normal. Find out what the signs are that you may need assistance from others. When you learn that the symptoms of PTSD are common, you realize that you are not alone, weak, or crazy. It helps to know your problems are shared by hundreds of thousands of others. When you seek treatment and begin to understand your response to trauma, you will be better able to cope with the symptoms of PTSD.
Talk to others for support
When survivors talk about their problems with others, something helpful often results. It is important not to isolate yourself. Instead make efforts to be with others. Of course, you must choose your support people with care. You must also ask them clearly for what you need. With support from others, you may feel less alone and more understood. You may also get concrete help with a problem you have.
Practice relaxation methods
Try some different ways to relax, including:
While relaxation techniques can be helpful, in a few people they can sometimes increase distress at first. This can happen when you focus attention on disturbing physical sensations and you reduce contact with the outside world. Most often, continuing with relaxation in small amounts that you can handle will help reduce negative reactions. You may want to try mixing relaxation in with music, walking, or other activities.
Distract yourself with positive activities
Pleasant recreational or work activities help distract a person from his or her memories and reactions. For example, art has been a way for many trauma survivors to express their feelings in a positive, creative way. Pleasant activities can improve your mood, limit the harm caused by PTSD, and help you rebuild your life.
Talking to your doctor or a counselor about trauma and PTSD
Part of taking care of yourself means using the helping resources around you. If efforts at coping don't seem to work, you may become fearful or depressed. If your PTSD symptoms don't begin to go away or get worse over time, it is important to reach out and call a counselor who can help turn things around. Your family doctor can also refer you to a specialist who can treat PTSD. Talk to your doctor about your trauma and your PTSD symptoms. That way, he or she can take care of your health better.
Many with PTSD have found treatment with medicines to be helpful for some symptoms. By taking medicines, some survivors of trauma are able to improve their sleep, anxiety, irritability, and anger. It can also reduce urges to drink or use drugs.
Coping with the symptoms of PTSD
Here are some direct ways to cope with these specific PTSD symptoms:
Unwanted distressing memories, images, or thoughts
Sudden feelings of anxiety or panic
Traumatic stress reactions often include feeling your heart pounding and feeling lightheaded or spacey. This is usually caused by rapid breathing. If this happens, remember that:
Each time you respond in these positive ways to your anxiety or panic, you will be working toward making it happen less often. Practice will make it easier to cope.
Feeling like the trauma is happening again (flashbacks)
Dreams and nightmares related to the trauma
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Irritability, anger, and rage
Difficulty concentrating or staying focused
Trouble feeling or expressing positive emotions
A Final Word
Try using all these ways of coping to find which ones are helpful to you. Then practice them. Like other skills, they work better with practice. Be aware that there are also behaviors that DON'T help. Learn more about these negative coping methods that you should avoid in our Self-Help and Coping section. You will also find information there about lifestyle changes that can help you cope with PTSD.
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