Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) occurs when a person finds a traumatic event difficult to overcome because the distressing memories, sensations and emotions associated with the event continue to intrude in their day-to-day life. Often people who experience PTSD will consciously or unconsciously decide to avoid certain people, objects, sensations (e.g. sounds, smells) or environments that have some association with the trauma in order to decrease the occurrence of flashbacks and other painful experiences. These patterns of avoidance often cause a great deal of interference in daily functioning and wellbeing. The following can be helpful for reducing the distress and interference of your emotional response following a traumatic event.
1. Understand and recognise that the event you experience was a stressful and upsetting experience. Allow yourself to be upset – it is only natural. You are not crazy simply because you are distressed.
2. Avoid drugs, alcohol and other stimulants, as these are physically unhealthy and, as they tend to numb your response to the event, they can prevent your mind from fully processing of the event in such a way as to reduce the distress it causes over time. You may then begin to rely on these substances in order to cope.
3. Avoid making important decisions immediately following the event, as your reaction may cloud your judgment and the decision may not be what you would like in the long run.
4. Allow memories and thoughts about the event to enter your mind and simply observe them. Try not to block or judge them, as coming to terms with what happened is a necessary step in recovering from it.
5. Let your feelings flow. Do not try to bottle up your emotions as they may eventually overflow in some way. Talk to understanding and trustworthy people, such as friends and family, about what has happened.
6. Try to lead your life as normally as you can. Where possible, return to normal eating, sleeping and exercise routines in order to achieve some life stability.
7. Do not avoid settings or activities that you previously enjoyed, simply because they remind you of the event. This can assist in desensitising you to the distress and allow your mind and body to learn that, in the vast majority of instances, these situations and activities are actually safe and need not be avoided.
8. Allow yourself to rest when you are feeling tired. A good time to do this is possibly after exercising, as this will help you to regain your strength and avoid feeling run-down. Distress often uses up a great deal of energy, so you may feel more exhausted than usually following a traumatic event. It is important to give yourself ample opportunity to recover.
9. Communicate with family and friends about your experiences. This enables others to understand that at times you may need to rest, need some time alone, need to talk to someone, etc.
10. Take time to practice relaxation and breathing. Possibly engage in progressive muscle relaxation, or do things that are calming and enjoyable, such as gardening or listening to music. By doing this you can allow your body to adjust and relax.
11. If the trauma also reminds you of other stressful life events and you become excessively distressed and anxious, try to recognise the reasons why these past memories have come up and process each event separately and in the context of the situation at the time.
12. Express your feelings externally. Talk to someone about them or write them down. Often this can enable you to appropriately process what happened.
13. If you are distressed about the duration of your post-event distress, seek help from a psychologist or GP about the possibility of experiencing PTSD. Trained professionals will be able to help you identify the factors that caused and are maintaining your distress, and recommend strategies to assist you in improving your levels of functioning and overall wellbeing.