Avoiding your PTSD symptoms can be more harmful than helpful. Instead, try expanding your ‘tool box’ to improve your ability to handle your symptoms.
Check out these 7 tools from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
1. Use The “Window Of Tolerance”
The “Window of Tolerance” (WoT) concept is a way to identify and talk about your current mental state. Being inside your window means that you’re doing okay and can function effectively. When you’re outside of the window, it means you have been triggered and you are experiencing a traumatic-stress response.
Your window expands as you develop tools to stabilize your feelings, which increases your capacity to handle more difficult information, emotions and physical stimuli/sensations. “Handle” means you can stay in the present moment, you know where you are, who you are with, what date and time it is, and are aware of all your five senses. This is coupled with being able to feel emotions and not be overwhelmed by them. You are present in the moment, you can think and feel at the same time.
Having the awareness of both the positive and negative states can help you identify and practice the tools necessary to either stay in your WoT, or return to your WoT if you find yourself outside of it. Being able to notify others of the size of your window, your triggers and your tools allows for realistic expectations of what you can handle and what you need to do to stay present and engaged.
2. Breathe Slowly And Deeply
This is a free and portable tool to use anytime and anywhere. Make sure you inhale through your nose and exhale for longer than you inhale, either through your nose or through pursed lips. A suggested rhythm is to inhale for four counts, hold for two and exhale for six to eight counts. By doing this you are activating the part of your nervous system that helps your body calm itself. This can help you to think clearly and return to the present moment.
3.Validate Your Experience
What you have experienced is real and hurtful. Having the name or context of traumatic stress/PTSD lets you know you that how you feel is not your fault. There is nothing “wrong” with you. What you’re going through is actually a normal response to abnormal experiences. It’s important to remind yourself of this as you go through challenging symptoms because self-validation is an important piece of healing.
4. Focus On Your Five Senses (5-4-3-2-1)
Start with five different things you see (the trees outside the window), hear (the buzzing of the air conditioner), sense with your skin (my collar on my neck or a warm breeze on my arms), taste (the lingering of coffee on my tongue), and smell (stale air or perfume). Then notice four of each, then three of each, and so on. Be as specific about these items as you can to make you really concentrate on external factors and to get out of your head. Pay attention to things like shape, scent, texture and color. You will probably be back to the present moment before you even realize it.
5. Think Positively For 12 Seconds
Bring to mind something positive. Such as a beautiful flower, a sunset, a smile on someone’s face or a compliment from a friend or colleague. And really focus on it for 12 seconds. Breathe and notice its impact on your body and emotions. According to neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, it only takes 12 seconds for the creation of new neuron connections. These positive experiences have the ability to replace stress/fear based thinking and coping.
6. Use A Gravity Or Weighted Blanket
A symptom of PTSD is sleep disturbances (which includes insomnia), nightmares, flashbacks and high anxiety. Not getting enough of the type of sleep you need can cause you to have problems concentrating, leading to difficulties at work and/or school. It can lead to irritability, negatively impacting important relationships. There is research to show that using a weighted blanket, which simulates being held or hugged safely and firmly, can assist in reducing anxiety and insomnia.
According to recent research laughter really is medicine, and is now being used more commonly as a therapeutic method. It is proven to reduce stress by releasing specific hormones that boost your immune system and rewire your brain. So, have a go-to funny video to watch when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Or spend time with a friend or loved one you feel safe with who can make you laugh.
You have a right to feel calm and in the present moment. Practicing these tools is a good first step to managing your traumatic stress and getting on the road to recovery.
Managing your symptoms is a great first step. If you find that you are still struggling to function, visit our PTSD info page to learn about our enrolling PTSD studies.