If someone you know is dealing with PTSD, try to be there to support them the best you can! Here are some helpful tips for helping someone cope with their PTSD.
Don't pressure the person into talking...
It can be difficult for people with PTSD to talk about their traumatic experiences. For some, it can even make them feel worse. Instead, let them know you’re willing to listen when they want to talk, or just hang out when they don’t. Comfort for someone with PTSD comes from feeling engaged and accepted by you, not necessarily from talking.
Do "normal" things with the person...
Things that have nothing to do with PTSD or the traumatic experience. Encourage your loved one to participate in a rhythmic exercise, seek out friends, and pursue hobbies that bring pleasure. Take a fitness class together, go dancing, or set a regular lunch date with friends and family.
Let that person take the lead...
Rather than telling him or her what to do. Everyone with PTSD is different but most people instinctively know what makes them feel calm and safe. Take cues from your loved one as to how you can best provide support and companionship.
Manage your own stress...
The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one.
Recovery is a process that takes time and often involves setbacks. The important thing is to stay positive and maintain support for your loved one.
Educate yourself about PTSD...
The more you know about the symptoms, effects, and treatment options, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one, understand what they are going through, and keep things in perspective.
Accept mixed feelings...
As you go through the emotional wringer, be prepared for a complicated mix of feelings—some of which you’ll never want to admit. Just remember, having negative feelings toward your family member doesn’t mean you don’t love them.
Be a good listener...
While you shouldn’t push a person with PTSD to talk if they do choose to share, try to listen without expectations or judgments. Make it clear that you’re interested and that you care, but don’t worry about giving advice. It’s the act of listening attentively that is helpful to your loved one, not what you say.
The person may need to talk about the event over and over again...
This is part of the healing process, so avoid the temptation to tell your loved one to stop rehashing the past and move on.
Some of the things the person tells you might be very hard to listen to...
But it’s important to respect their feelings and reactions. If you come across as disapproving or judgmental, they are unlikely to open up to you again.
Communication pitfalls to avoid...
Give easy answers or blithely tell your loved one everything is going to be okay
Stop your loved one from talking about their feelings or fears
Offer unsolicited advice or tell your loved one what they “should” do
Blame all of your relationship or family problems on your loved one’s PTSD
Invalidate, minimize, or deny your loved one’s traumatic experience
Give ultimatums or make threats or demands
Make your loved one feel weak because they aren’t coping as well as others
Tell your loved one they were lucky it wasn’t worse
Take over with your own personal experiences or feelings
Rebuild trust and safety...
Trauma alters the way a person sees the world, making it seem like a perpetually dangerous and frightening place. It also damages people’s ability to trust others and themselves. If there’s any way you can rebuild your loved one’s sense of security, it will contribute to their recovery.
Structure and predictable schedules can restore a sense of stability and security to people with PTSD, both adults, and children. Creating routines could involve getting your loved one to help with groceries or housework, for example, maintaining regular times for meals, or simply “being there” for the person.
Speak of the future and make plans...
This can help counteract the common feeling among people with PTSD that their future is limited.
Keep your promises...
Help rebuild trust by showing that you’re trustworthy. Be consistent and follow through on what you say you’re going to do.
Emphasize your loved one's strengths...
Tell your loved one you believe they’re capable of recovery and point out all of their positive qualities and successes.
Encourage your loved one to join a support group...
Getting involved with others who have gone through similar traumatic experiences can help some people with PTSD feel less damaged and alone.
Anticipate and manage triggers...
A trigger is anything—a person, place, thing, or situation—that reminds your loved one of the trauma and sets off a PTSD symptom, such as a flashback. Sometimes, triggers are obvious. For example, a military veteran might be triggered by seeing his combat buddies or by the loud noises that sound like gunfire. Others may take some time to identify and understand, such as hearing a song that was playing when the traumatic event happened, for example, so now that song or even others in the same musical genre are triggers. Similarly, triggers don’t have to be external. Internal feelings and sensations can also trigger PTSD symptoms.
Common external PTSD triggers
Sights, sounds, or smells associated with the trauma
People, locations, or things that recall the trauma
Significant dates or times, such as anniversaries or a specific time of day
Nature (certain types of weather, seasons, etc.)
Conversations or media coverage about trauma or negative news events
Situations that feel confining (stuck in traffic, at the doctor’s office, in a crowd)
Relationship, family, school, work, or money pressures or arguments
Funerals, hospitals, or medical treatment
Common internal PTSD triggers
Physical discomforts, such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, sickness, and sexual frustration
Any bodily sensation that recalls the trauma, including pain, old wounds, and scars, or a similar injury
Strong emotions, especially feeling helpless, out of control, or trapped
Feelings toward family members, including mixed feelings of love, vulnerability, and resentment
Talking to the person about PTSD triggers...
Ask your loved one about how they may have coped with triggers in the past in response to an action that seemed to help (as well as those that didn’t). Then you can come up with a joint game plan for how you will respond in the future.
Decide with your loved one how you should respond when they have a nightmare, flashback, or panic attack. Having a plan in place will make the situation less scary for both of you. You’ll also be in a much better position to help your loved one calm down.
How to help someone having a flashback or panic attack...
During a flashback, people often feel a sense of disassociation, as if they’re detached from their own body. Anything you can do to “ground” them will help.
Tell your loved one they’re having a flashback and that even though it feels real, the event is not actually happening again
Help remind them of their surroundings (for example, ask them to look around the room and describe out loud what they see)
Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths (hyperventilating will increase feelings of panic)
Avoid sudden movements or anything that might startle them
Ask before you touch them. Touching or putting your arms around the person might make them feel trapped, which can lead to greater agitation and even violence
Dealing with volatility and anger...
PTSD can lead to difficulties in managing emotions and impulses. In your loved one, this may manifest as extreme irritability, moodiness, or explosions of rage.
People suffering from PTSD live in a constant state of physical and emotional stress. Since they usually have trouble sleeping, it means they’re constantly exhausted, on edge, and physically strung out—increasing the likelihood that they’ll overreact to day-to-day stressors. For many people with PTSD, anger can also be a cover for other feelings such as grief, helplessness, or guilt. Anger makes them feel powerful, instead of weak and vulnerable. Others try to suppress their anger until it erupts when you least expect it.
Watch for signs that the person is angry...
Such as clenching jaw or fists, talking louder, or getting agitated. Take steps to defuse the situation as soon as you see the initial warning signs.
Try to remain calm...
During an emotional outburst, try your best to stay calm. This will communicate to your loved one that you are “safe,” and prevent the situation from escalating.
Give the person space...
Avoid crowding or grabbing the person. This can make a traumatized person feel threatened.
Ask how you can help...
For example: “What can I do to help you right now?” You can also suggest a time out or change of scenery.
Put safety first...
If the person gets more upset despite your attempts to calm him or her down, leave the house or lock yourself in a room. Call 911 if you fear that your loved one may hurt himself or others.
Help the person manage their anger...
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, but when chronic, explosive anger spirals out of control, it can have serious consequences on a person’s relationships, health, and state of mind. Your loved one can get anger under control by exploring the root issues and learning healthier ways to express their feelings.
Take care of yourself...
Letting your family member’s PTSD dominate your life while ignoring your own needs is a surefire recipe for burnout and may even lead to secondary traumatization. You can develop your own trauma symptoms from listening to trauma stories or being exposed to disturbing symptoms like flashbacks. The more depleted and overwhelmed you feel, the greater the risk is that you’ll become traumatized. In order to have the strength to be there for your loved one over the long haul and lower your risk for secondary traumatization, you have to nurture and care for yourself.
Take care of your physical needs...
Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat properly, and look after any medical issues.
Cultivate your own support system...
Lean on other family members, trusted friends, your own therapist or support group, or your faith community. Talking about your feelings and what you’re going through can be very cathartic.
Make time for your own life...
Don’t give up friends, hobbies, or activities that make you happy. It’s important to have things in your life that you look forward to.
Be realistic about what you’re capable of giving. Know your limits, communicate them to your family member and others involved, and stick to them.
Information gathered from:
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson.
HelpGuide - www.helpguide.org