A relationship with someone who suffers from PTSD can be very challenging. Whether it’s your family member, relative, significant other, or friend who is coping with PTSD, you’re essentially coping with the disorder, too. You’re not alone, though, and there are ways you can help your loved one on their path to healing. From simply being a supportive listener to actively taking part in a healing plan for PTSD through a licensed therapist, this guide offers some tips that show you how you can help someone with PTSD.
Understanding PTSD and Its Symptoms
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition that can affect someone who has experienced a traumatic event. Traumatic events, such as a life-or-death situation like an assault or a tour of duty during wartime, can be emotionally and mentally debilitating and cause those who experience this kind of trauma to suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. Some who suffer from PTSD are able to recover and overcome their condition, while others suffer from PTSD for years or the rest of their lives.
It’s important to understand the symptoms of PTSD in the event that someone you know is suffering from this condition. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), PTSD is marked by depression and severe anxiety but can come with behavioral, psychological, and physical symptoms, including:
- Agitation and irritability.
- Panic disorder.
- Mood swings.
- Sleeplessness and insomnia.
- Emotional detachment.
- Social isolation.
In extreme cases, those who suffer from PTSD may have self-destructive behaviors and symptoms, such as self-medication with drugs or alcohol, suicidal thoughts, or explicit actions. No matter the severity of someone’s PTSD, though, you can offer support and help in a variety of ways.
Living With Someone Coping With PTSD
Living with a person with PTSD can be challenging, but you don’t have to feel alone in supporting the ones you love. First, as you and your family member or roommate cope with their PTSD, it’s important to remember not to take their symptoms personally, as PTSD “hijacks” the nervous system and results in the constant state of hyper-awareness, like the “fight or flight” instinct.
This can lead to some of the symptoms mentioned earlier, and while it may seem like your loved one is directing that frustration and anger at you personally, it really is the effects that PTSD is having on their brain. In these moments, it’s important to remain calm and supportive, and let your loved one express their feelings in a safe way.
While many who suffer from PTSD may withdraw from friends and family, the face-to-face interaction with loved ones can have a positive impact on their recovery process. Try encouraging your loved one to spend time with you and other family members. Suggest family game night, a movie night on the couch, or another relaxing activity that fosters togetherness but also respects your loved one’s boundaries for distance. Over time, this can lessen their feelings of isolation, helplessness, or grief.
Seek out professional support, especially a counselor or therapist with experience working with people who suffer from PTSD due to trauma or abuse. Regular counseling can help your loved one develop healthy coping strategies and can help you develop a deeper understanding of the disorder, along with strategies to help you cope, too. Consider applying these strategies with your family before your first session:
- Write out your thoughts and feelings that you want to discuss and work through during your sessions.
- Have a plan for setting boundaries in-session, such as a way of expressing discomfort with certain topics or a way to save a topic for later discussion.
- Write down goals for improvement and questions you have about PTSD, coping with it, and healing from it.
With love and support, you can help your loved one heal from past traumas and their PTSD symptoms.
How To Support Someone Close to You With PTSD
It can be just as challenging being in a relationship with someone with PTSD even if you don’t live with them. Since social interaction with family and close friends can help those with PTSD overcome their disorder, it’s important to let your friend know that they have your support. Often, this small gesture can have a powerful influence on PTSD sufferers because it encourages open communication.
Additionally, if your loved one or close friend needs to discuss their feelings or what they’re going through, listen actively, and avoid giving unnecessary advice. Instead, let your friend speak freely, express what they’re feeling, or ask for further help coping.
Encourage your loved one to participate in relaxing activities with you. Choose activities that are relaxing and that won’t induce stress. Some fun and relaxing activities to do with friends include yoga, biking, walking along nature trails, and other peaceful activities that can help reduce stress and boost both of your moods. It’s also important to let your friend bring up their trauma if they feel they need to. In this case, listen and avoid changing the topic of discussion. This open communication is something that can help them heal.
Other Ways You Can Help Someone With PTSD
If you are acquainted with someone with PTSD who isn’t as close as your best friend or family member, you can still offer your support in small and meaningful ways. For instance, be supportive if someone you know feels comfortable enough to share their experiences with you. While it may feel awkward, it’s important to listen to them.
Be sincere in your support, and avoid making insensitive comments like “that was a long time ago, haven’t you moved on?” or “but you didn’t experience war.” These types of comments, whether intentional or not, can cause harm and potentially make it harder for your acquaintance to cope with their PTSD.
If your loved one suffers from symptoms of PTSD and you’re concerned about their mental health and well-being, get in touch with NeuroHealth in Arlington Heights. NeuroHealth specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional health disorders and illnesses, including PTSD. NeuroHealth provides services to patients from diverse backgrounds to get them on the road to emotional, psychological, and neurological healing.