Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a significant impact on mental health when someone is trying to deal with past trauma. A variety of treatment options and self-healing techniques can reduce PTSD symptom frequency and intensity.
Helping someone with PTSD is a wonderful way to support them as they battle the pain from past trauma. You should go in knowing that managing PTSD effectively takes time, dedication, and effort, but it is possible. Be patient and don’t rush the healing process — which it’s worth pointing out, is unique for everyone.
We’re offering 8 strategic ways you can help a friend or loved one better manage a PTSD diagnosis, starting today.
1. Encourage Them to Find Treatment
Encouraging a friend or loved one to seek treatment is one of the top things you can do to help someone with their healing process. Trauma and PTSD is such a delicate and sophisticated process. Therefore, it’s important to help them find a trained professional that can offer the best outcomes.
Therapy for PTSD can offer various techniques that help someone with post-traumatic stress disorder to learn, anticipate, recognize, assimilate, and navigate their symptoms. When learning how to deal with PTSD, knowledge really is power. It’s a good idea to couple any work done in therapy with self-healing techniques at home. Keep in mind, though, in some cases, there really isn’t a replacement for a professional therapist.
Support groups, online chat groups, and other post-trauma resources can be very effective when dealing with PTSD.
You might also consider guiding and supporting your friend or loved one by encouraging them to take a PTSD assessment. This test could be useful in the future if they ever decide to seek therapy.
As a short-term and possibly longer solution, prescription medications for PTSD can be considered under the careful guidance of a licensed psychiatrist.
2. Learn More About PTSD
They say knowledge is power, and that’s true when dealing with any type of mental health condition…even PTSD. Increasing your understanding about post-traumatic stress disorder, its causes, its symptoms, and the PTSD treatment options and types of therapy for PTSD available will enable you to help a friend or loved one more effectively. If you’re hoping to have a deeper understanding of the condition and how you can help, consider taking one or more of the following steps:
- Read authoritative articles and books about PTSD
- Join a local PTSD support group in your community
- Listen to radio & television broadcasts about post-trauma topics
- Listen to podcasts and participate in online group discussions about PTSD
- Schedule an appointment with a therapist to discuss the nuances of PTSD
Of course, there are many other ways to educate yourself about post-traumatic stress disorder so you can help your loved one — and you don’t even have to do it alone. Encourage your friend or loved one with PTSD to join you in some of these activities so you can both learn at the same time.
3. Identify the Signs of PTSD
You can learn how to help someone with PTSD by knowing the signs. Learning to recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in a friend or loved one means you’ll be able to understand when they’ve been triggered and can take action.
Some of the main PTSD warning signs to keep an eye out for:
- General negative mood symptoms
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Having difficulty experiencing any positive emotions
- Physical and emotional reaction changes
- Becoming easily startled
- Engaging in self-destructive activities
- Being unusually suspicious
- Feelings of guilt
- Avoidance symptoms like staying away from anyone or anything that might strike memories of the past trauma
- Intrusive memory symptoms
- Recurrent dreams
- Reliving a traumatic event
- Sleep disturbance
- Angry outburst
- Vivid memories of a traumatic event
- Having extreme reactions in unwarranted situations
- Unable to be vulnerable with others
- Feeling ‘stuck’ in one area of your life despite best efforts
Many people with untreated PTSD engage in alcohol use, drug use, or other self-destructive behaviors. They are commonly used because they offer short-term help by making you feel better in the moment, however, they ultimately create long term problems. Think of it as ‘bandaid’ to a deeper wound that needs proper healing.
It’s important to remember that post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable. Progress can be made to lessen symptom frequency and severity in a relatively short time. Learning self-healing techniques can be beneficial for anyone with PTSD. If symptoms are allowed to continue untreated, they’ll generally worsen over time. This is why it’s essential to begin healing and learning today.
4. Understand What Triggers PTSD Episodes
Virtually anything can become a PTSD trigger. It can be a sound, smell, thought, object, or even a feeling from something touched. For example, if someone experiences trauma on a bright sunny afternoon, they may be triggered by beautiful weather. It can be that nuanced.
What might be a trigger all depends on the person, trauma, how long ago it was experienced, and the individual’s resilience to stressors. By paying attention and by helping the person with PTSD to also pay attention, you can learn to spot triggers and interact proactively to stop symptom expression, sometimes before it even begins.
“It’s important to recognize what triggers PTSD symptoms, so it becomes easier to cope with them. Becoming more aware of what is making us feel worse can help us prevent or avoid being exposed to our triggers.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
Be prepared for things that are out of your control
Even with the best of intentions, the most accurate information, and the most wholehearted intentions to help, be prepared for times that feel incredibly challenging. You have to expect the unexpected.
You should also be aware that the times you can’t control a situation will feel daunting. You may feel like you’re being disrespected or underappreciated. Don’t be afraid to communicate how you are feeling, assuring them that you don’t want to abandon them but explaining that you aren’t sure what the best way to support them is.
5. Create a Safe Environment
You should be willing to invest a fairly significant amount of time before understanding how to help someone with complex PTSD. Create a safe and secure environment where they’ll feel at ease. Trauma affects the brain in various ways. People with PTSD have imbalanced neurotransmitters, which can make it very difficult for them to experience certain things the same way other people do.
It’s common for them to often experience anxiety symptoms like:
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled
- Drifting off into their thoughts
- Generally having a sense of impending doom in everything they do
- Being quick to cry
- Acting out of character (i.e. isolating themselves if they are typically more social)
“Trauma can impact the brain’s cognitive functioning in many different ways. It can cause issues with memory, recall, and disassociation. The mind can react in a negative way when the body is triggered and vice versa.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
This is why it can be so helpful to create a relaxing, calm environment. Light some candles, diffuse some essential oils, and put on some soothing ambient sounds, and do something enjoyable. Create an environment that reflects calmness, safety, and security. Everybody likes to feel safe in their surroundings.
6. Listen to Their Feelings
If you want to know how to support someone with PTSD, you need to be a good listener and acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. Take a little time to explain that, although you can’t know exactly how they’re feeling, you do understand that their feelings are real, and you care very deeply and are there to help.
However, it’s important to maintain a sense of reality as well. If you find that your friend constantly needs reassurance or they seem to feel like life is about to end with no justifiable reasoning, then you might need to be willing to do more than just listen to what’s said and blindly agree. Doing so might reinforce unrealistic behaviors and beliefs, which would be damaging rather than helpful.
“Encourage the person to share whatever they’re comfortable with telling you. Pay attention to what they tell you and validate their feelings. If they feel safe and comfortable then it will help their healing process.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
7. Share Helpful Resources
One of the best things you can do when helping someone with PTSD is encourage them to become actively engaged in their healing by finding all the resources they can.
Here are some excellent places to begin:
- PTSD: National Center for PTSD
- American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
Introduce them to self-care techniques
There are so many things someone can implement into their daily life and routine to help them cope with PTSD. Meditation and yoga, a healthy diet, working out, and good sleep habits can all play an important role in addressing symptoms of PTSD.
8. Protect Your Own Mental Health Along the Way
Does learning how to help people with PTSD feel like it’s overwhelming? That’s fairly normal. Remind yourself that what you’re doing can be taxing and draining. You’ll want to support yourself while you’re trying to help your loved one. You must remember to take care of your own physical and mental health as you navigate a relationship with a family member, partner, or friend with PTSD.