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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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Negative Coping and PTSD


Negative Coping and PTSD

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When you have PTSD, you may try to deal with symptoms in ways that cause more harm than good. This is called negative coping. Learn how negative coping may make your PTSD symptoms worse in the long run or create new problems.

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What are examples of negative coping to avoid?

Photo of Ginger Mercer

"[Once I] learned new coping skills, my whole dynamics changed at home as well, not only with myself, my sleep but with my family."

Ginger Mercer

U.S. Army

Substance use

You may take drugs or use alcohol to help escape problems, sleep, or make symptoms go away, but regular use of substances can cause serious problems. Drinking or using drugs can put your relationships, your job, or your health at risk. You may become more likely to be mean or violent. When under the influence of alcohol or drugs, people often make decisions that can have negative effects on their life.

Avoiding others

Certain social situations may cause you stress, make you irritated or angry, or remind you of bad memories. Because of this, you may try to avoid doing things with other people. You may even avoid your friends and family in hopes that being alone will prevent stress.

Avoiding others can make you feel isolated. When you distance yourself from others, your problems may feel worse or seem to build up. You may have more negative thoughts and feelings like sadness, anger and fear. You may feel worse about yourself or as if you're facing life all alone. Reach out to those in your support circle, even if you don't feel like it. While you don't need to have a lot of friends, the right social support can be critical to healthy coping. Connecting with others can help you with solving problems or completing tasks, with getting advice or guidance, with allowing you to vent and feel like you're not alone, and with participating in enjoyable activities.

Staying always on guard

After going through a trauma, it may seem sensible to try to stay extra alert. You may be on the lookout for danger at all times, in an effort to never be taken "off guard" again. However, using this way of coping too much can also cause you to feel stressed, fearful, and worn out.

Avoiding reminders of the trauma

Trying to avoid bad memories or trying to shut out feelings may help you reduce distress in the short run. But if you always avoid thinking about the trauma or avoid seeking help for any reactions you have, it can eventually make things worse. Treatment research shows that some focus on the emotions and thoughts associated with a traumatic event is crucial to helping you cope with it and its consequences.

Anger and violent behavior

After trauma, your nervous system may become overly sensitive, and you may feel a lot of anger at times. Your anger may cause you to feel bad about yourself, lose your temper, or do reckless things. You may distance yourself from people who want to help.

This is understandable. It's natural to feel angry after going through something traumatic. But anger and violent behavior can cause problems in your life and make it harder for you to recover.

Dangerous behavior

You also may cope by doing things that are risky or dangerous. For example, you may drive too fast or be quick to start a fight when someone upsets you. You may end up hurting yourself or someone else.

Certain ways of dealing with stress can be dangerous. If you start smoking or smoke more, you put your health in danger. Gambling, over-spending money, self-harming, restricting or binging and purging food, and feeling driven to have an "adrenalin rush" with dangerous activities can all become dangerous as well.

Working too much

Work can be good because you learn new things, interact with others, feel productive and gain confidence. But working too much can be a form of avoidance. You may be working to avoid memories, avoid other people, or to help yourself forget about the trauma. This can become negative when it prevents you from seeking help for your PTSD, spending time with family and friends, or if it causes you to lose sleep, not eat properly, or lose a work-life balance.

What are more positive ways to cope?

Learning how to cope with PTSD is part of your recovery. You can read about positive ways to cope with traumatic stress 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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PTSD Information Voice Mail: (802) 296-6300
Also see: VA Mental Health