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PTSD Coping Skills

Rebecca Hilliard

Guest Blogger


I was diagnosed with PTSD four years ago. Up until then I had no idea what was going on with me. I knew I was anxious and panicked all the time but I didn’t have the words or understanding to be able to explain it. I was having emotional flashbacks on a weekly basis but I didn’t know anything about PTSD and I didn’t know that’s what they were. I knew I wasn’t OK but I was doing my best to avoid the pain and struggles I was having. It wasn’t until I found a well trained therapist that I began to understand what was going on for me. I was a trauma survivor. I had PTSD. And for the first time in my life I had someone who knew how to help me. It’s been a journey for sure and I’m definitely not recovered yet but I have made a lot of progress. The best part for me is that now I understand what is going on. I understand what’s happening when I have a flashback and when I get flooded with panic and I have learned things to help me get through those difficult times.

When I have a flashback or am flooded with panic/anxiety sometimes I feel frozen like I can’t move. The anxiety and panic are so intense. The dread and feeling like something terrible is about to happen paralyzes me. I get stuck in freeze mode. What helps me the most in these situations is forcing myself to move. Sometimes it takes all my strength but if I can just get myself to walk outside and sit down or in the shower with the water running it helps unfreeze me. Usually I’ll text my therapist and tell her what is going on. When she responds she tells me to ground. For some reason I always forget to do that when I have heightened emotions. The grounding that I do when she reminds me is naming 5 things I can see, 4 things I can feel, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell, and 1 thing I can taste. Sometimes I’ll do this over and over again until I start to settle. It doesn’t always help but it’s always worth trying in the moment. Sometimes my coping tools don’t always work right away and that’s why I’ve learned a lot of different ones. I just keep doing them until I find one that works in the moment. Sometimes it’s a different one every day. What helps me the most though is getting outside. Even if it’s just sitting outside my front door, it helps to shift my anxiety and panic and it helps to bring me back to the present. When I’m in a flashback I’m reliving or feeling things that happened in the past so finding something that can bring me back to the present is really helpful.

I’ve recently learned a new coping tool and that is deep breathing. I’ve heard for years how much deep breathing can help you but I never tried it because I didn’t think it would work for me. It’s always been hard for me to connect to my breath or focus on my breath and I didn’t really see how it would be able to help calm me down. But a few weeks ago I started listening to 20 minutes of guided breathing exercises every night before bed because that’s when I’m the most anxious and it has helped me so much. It’s much easier to listen to the guided meditation than it is to do it on my own. It always decreases my anxiety so much and I’m so grateful to have discovered this.

Sometimes when I’m struggling I will also text a friend but I won’t always tell them I’m struggling. It just helps to text with them as a way to distract me from what’s going on. I’ve also found that playing phone games with them or by myself can also be a good distraction. My favorite TV show right now is Modern Family because it’s funny and I’ve watched it a bunch of times and I know there is nothing triggering in it. It always gets me out of my head.

The most helpful thing in dealing with PTSD though is having a well trained therapist. Not all therapists are good therapists and if you’ve had a bad experience with one please don’t let that stop you from finding another one. If you need help finding one or can’t afford it TWLOHA.com has a lot of good resources.

You aren’t alone in this. Millions of people have PTSD and millions of people know what it’s like to struggle with it. If you’re looking for support there are people on the WhiteFlag App who will be able to give it to you. They aren’t trained therapists but sometimes it helps so much to have someone listen to you, especially when they have been through similar things as you. I hope you keep fighting. Recovering from PTSD is possible. I believe in you.

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