Helping someone with PTSD can be difficult. The author explains how to deal and heal.
By Dan Pitzer
PTSD is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms that can vary from person to person, yet have many characteristics in common. Folks with PTSD experience to varying degrees, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, hypervigilance, fear of crowds, and too much stimulation. In ordinary life, our frontal cortex, the center of our brain that processes logic, cause and effect, and rational thought, is in charge. The amygdala controls our survival instincts or “fight or flight response” and takes over when we feel that our life is in danger. People exposed to traumatic events and situations when they feared for their life for prolonged periods experience almost a “rewiring,” where the limbic system takes over for survival. The problem that many have when they leave that life-threatening environment is that the wiring stays that way, and they continue to fear for their life daily. The challenge of surviving these moments is where the conflicts lie but follow these seven support tips for a lot easier, and healthy, life.
Traumatic Experiences Travel
Pick your battles. “I don’t want to go.” If you hear that, appreciate what they are saying. Crowds are terrifying for them. The overstimulation of sights, sounds, smells from all different directions is too much to handle, and are dangers of triggering traumatic memories or “flashbacks” that are re-experienced at the moment. If the event is not that important, let them stay home where they feel safe. If it is essential, they attend, then consider travel with two cars if possible. If they can control when they leave, they are much more likely to have a chance at enjoying themselves. Let them choose where to sit, even if it is an inconvenience. Consider shortening the time at the event. Tolerate their needing to take breaks to walk outside to get fresh air.
Being Alone Can Be Healthy
Let them be alone; it’s where they feel safe. Then encourage them to connect with support who get them and understand not to let the isolation go on too long.
Let Them Decide
When it comes to keeping individuals dealing with PTSD or a traumatic event calm, you want to make sure they feel like they are in control. Think about something as simple as going to the grocery store. In circumstances like driving a car, it’s essential to know if the individual is comfortable driving or being a passenger. Once you get that answer, you can make the right decision. If they want to drive, let them drive. The more control they feel in a situation, the calmer they will be.
Talk About Topics They Can Explain
Do not push a person with PTSD to talk about a subject that makes them uncomfortable or a situation; they don’t believe you understand. They never talk to people about incidents where they were not there with them and can’t relate. The conflicting, complex myriad of emotions that go along with that is unbearable, and they have no idea how to deal with it. If they know, they are educating an audience or individual, that sense of control can ease their thoughts.
I’ll Be Fine
No, they won’t; encourage them to get help. Encourage and support them to reach out to a “battle buddy” or a program that treats PTSD explicitly. Most medical providers don’t understand PTSD, and when the person is ready to ask for help, it must be a positive experience.
Don’t Surprise Me
No surprise parties. No sneaking up behind them. No startling them awake. Remember, their instincts for survival will take over, and you may be hurt unintentionally. If you need to sleep in a separate bed, then go ahead. The combination of insomnia and nightmares makes trying to sleep sometimes unbearable for everyone. You deserve your rest too.
Take Care of Yourself; It’s Not Your Fault
You will not be able to relate or understand what a person dealing with PTSD or a traumatic event is going through, and that’s okay. Professionals that work with PTSD encourage patients to tell family members things like, “I’m upset, and I don’t know why” or “I’m dealing with things from the military or from the past that are overwhelming” and leave it at that. Then they can follow up with their treatment team. Just being able to reveal that much is a big step forward, but it doesn’t need to go further than that.