PTSD and How to Cope

Published on April 14, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can rear its ugly head at any time. In public, at work, in intimate situations with a significant other — PTSD knows no boundaries as to when the symptoms will manifest. These symptoms can be embarrassing.

A certain movement at dinner may put you on edge. A smell in the air could stop you mid-sentence and thrust you right back into a traumatic memory. The sudden onset of a flashback leaves you panicking and looking for an escape. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is exactly what it sounds like. Traumatic events cause stress on our brains, which then causes them to process the world in a light that is not congruent with the reality that we live in.

The symptoms can range from total brain dissociation and panic to just general feelings of uneasiness when a trigger presents itself. As a result, treating and managing PTSD is a complex, multifaceted exercise.

No trauma is the same as another, and each brain responds differently to the stimuli the world presents it. That said, grounding and controlled breathing are both simple tools that can be used to manage the symptoms as they rear their ugly heads in daily life.

Coping with PTSD

PTSD can leave you feeling powerless and hopeless, but there are ways to regain control. One method that is often used by the US Navy Seals to stay calm in high-stress situations is a technique called box breathing.

It’s both subtle and highly effective — perfect for use in public. Here’s how it works:

  1. Inhale for four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for four seconds.
  3. Exhale for four seconds.
  4. Hold for four seconds. 
  5. Repeat.

Focusing on inhaling, exhaling and holding your breath for a set amount of time slows your heart rate and shifts your focus from intrusive thoughts to proper breathing technique. By focusing on breathing, rather than intrusive thoughts or the panic of a PTSD episode, the brain is able to distance itself from the stress response that caused the symptom to manifest in the first place.

The hardest part about utilizing box breathing is that one has to be aware of their trauma and how their brain responds to it before the symptoms become too much to handle in a public setting. If you are not able to recognize the onset early enough, try to take time away from others to recenter yourself. This can be done by box breathing or another method.

A second method is a technique called grounding. This is a common method of controlling anxiety attacks, but it works well for PTSD as well. To perform this exercise:

  1. Find an object near you and focus on it. This object can be anything, but remember that the more complex your chosen object is, the better it will work. 
  2. Take note of every detail you can. Get specific: what colors do you notice? What is it made of? Is it heavy or light? Keep going until you run out of details.

This is another great way to draw your mind away from intrusive thoughts and slow your heart rate. And like box breathing, it refocuses your mind on something outside of the trauma response, thus allowing one to continue on with the day.

As it is a low key way of dealing with the symptoms of PTSD, it allows for little to no intrusion on the part of others. It’s difficult to tell that you’re doing anything besides thinking hard about something.

Remember though, that it is important to be self-aware enough to notice when symptoms might be too persistent in a moment, at which point distancing oneself from the trigger is the only way to find relief.

On top of that, remember that these are not a substitute for actual therapy, and are only ways to cope with PTSD. Box breathing and grounding are only two of many ways to cope but are not intended to be a cure-all.

PTSD is a complex disorder with many causes, symptoms, and treatments. Remember that the source of your trauma does not invalidate your PTSD.

It does not go away overnight, and it’s important to seek the advice of a doctor if your symptoms persist or worsen over time. If you or a loved one are struggling with managing PTSD, remember that you’re not alone. Seeking aid is not a sign of weakness. If you feel that you are in danger of harming yourself or someone else, please don’t hesitate to call 911.

Don’t let PTSD control you and keep you from living your life. The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with PTSD and/or addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.