5 Effective Ways to Support Someone with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental health condition. It can be frightening not just for the individual suffering from the disorder but also for those closest to them. With the right help from you and other family members and friends, you can help them finally get over the traumatic event and get back to a normal life.

Key takeaways:
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    Taking care of a loved one with PTSD can be very demanding and stressful, yet it can also be rewarding and fulfilling.
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    Caregivers can find it hard not to take things personally. They can feel unloved and alone.
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    Listen with empathy and reassure your loved one that you believe they are capable of recovery.
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    The person with PTSD may resist getting treatment, and a gentle push may be necessary.
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    Taking care of yourself is important. Remember what makes you happy and healthy, and try to keep those things in your life.

Living with a person with PTSD

When a spouse, close friend, or a family member suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it also has an impact on your life. Living with PTSD is difficult, and it may have a significant impact on relationships and family life. You may be upset by how distant and unpredictable your loved one has become and find it hard to understand why they are emotionally detached and frequently volatile. You may feel as if you are walking on eggshells or living with a complete stranger.

It is difficult not to take PTSD symptoms personally, but it is crucial to understand that a person with PTSD may not always be able to control their actions. Your loved one's nervous system is "locked" in a heightened state of anxiety and may relive the painful event over and over again. This can result in anger, frustration, impatience, despair, distrust, and other symptoms of PTSD that your loved one cannot just switch off.

Learn the signs and symptoms of PTSD

Recognizing the symptoms of PTSD is a vital first step. It's important to be able to identify the signs so you can help when they are triggered.

The most common expression of PTSD is excessive fear.

Some of the other prominent red flags for post-traumatic stress disorder include:

Emotional changes, such as feelings of fear, hopelessness, emotional numbness, outbreaks of extreme anger, and inability to show emotions to other people.

Psychological changes, such as flashbacks, intrusive/obsessive thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and paranoia.

Engaging in self-destructive behaviors, such as excessive drinking or abusing drugs.

Sleep disruptions, including persistent nightmares.

What triggers a PTSD episode

Triggers are unique to each individual. It might be a sound, smell, memory, or simply the sensation of touching something. For instance, if an army veteran is walking down the street and a car backfires, it can cause them to run for cover in panic.

Learning your loved one's triggers and helping them to create a supportive environment where triggers can be avoided or minimized is key to supporting them.

Listen with sensitivity

While you can't force a person with PTSD to speak, you should strive to listen without expectations or judgments if they wish to share. Make it clear that you are interested and concerned, but resist the temptation to offer advice. Your attentive listening and effort to comprehend what your loved one is going through will be extremely beneficial to them. Be empathic and use statements like “I can only imagine what you are going through right now” and “I can appreciate that you are having a very hard time but I am here for you.”

A person with PTSD may need to repeatedly discuss the distressing incident. This is part of the healing process, so resist the urge to advise them to stop reliving the past. It is essential to respect their emotions and responses. Be aware that some of the things your loved one says to you may be traumatic and distressing for you to hear.

Support during a flashback

During a flashback, people often experience a feeling of detachment from their bodies. Anything you can do to “ground” them will help. Reassure them that what they are experiencing is a flashback and that while the experience seems very real, it is not actually happening. Remind them of their surroundings (for example, ask them to look around the room and describe out loud what they see). Encourage them to breathe deeply and slowly (hyperventilating will increase feelings of panic). Avoid rapid movements or anything that can shock them. Ask before you touch them. If you suddenly touch them or put your arms around them, they may feel trapped, which could make them angry or even make them lash out.

Dealing with anger and volatility

PTSD can make it very hard for the person to manage their emotions and impulses. This may manifest as severe irritability, moodiness, or outbursts of aggression.

People with severe PTSD live in a perpetual state of physical and mental stress. Since they frequently have difficulties sleeping, it means they are continuously fatigued, on edge, and physically worn out, increasing the probability that they will overreact to day-to-day stress.

Anger and aggression can often be a mask for deeper emotions such as loss, helplessness, or guilt. Anger can often provide a sense of control rather than the "out of control" feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.

Watch for signs that the person is overly anxious, frustrated, or angry. This could appear as tightening of the jaw or clenching fists, raising their voice, or becoming impatient. Take action to defuse the situation as soon as you observe the earliest warning indicators. Try to stay calm and offer some empathy and words of reassurance. In these situations, hearing soothing words of encouragement from a loved one can help alleviate anxiety and restore calmness.

Be mindful of your own well-being

Living with a PTSD sufferer can be extremely draining, and you can easily burn out, which will not help your loved one in the long run. You must remember to take care of your own physical and mental health. You can do this by scheduling time to be away from the person. Do whatever it is that you like to do to relax and emotionally detoxify. Take a yoga class or join a gym. It's entirely up to you, and remind yourself that this is YOUR time and is in the best interests of your loved one in the long run.

Supporting a loved one with PTSD is a complex journey that involves learning the symptoms, identifying their triggers, and listening attentively. While it is important to be supportive, make sure that you take time to address your well-being. You will not be able to provide your support if you are burnt out.


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