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Cheat Sheet

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) give medical professionals clues to help make proper diagnosis of the disabling condition. The right medications, a good attitude, and positive affirmations can help to relieve the overwhelming signs of PTSD.

Symptoms That May Signal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

If you’re battling with the idea that you are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there are signs that you — and your medical professional — can look for. Here’s an overview of symptoms that may point to a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.

  • Intrusive thoughts, emotions, or images: These may include vivid nightmares and/or flashbacks in which you feel as if the event is occurring all over again.

  • Avoidance and/or numbing: For instance, you may avoid people or things that remind you of your trauma, feel emotionally detached from the people around you, or block out parts of your traumatic experience.

  • Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal means being on red alert all the time, being jumpy or easily startled, having panic attacks, being very irritable, and/or being unable to sleep.

You may also experience symptoms including body aches and pains, depression or other mental disorders, or problems with drugs or alcohol. If you have any or all of these symptoms, seek medical help — because if you do have PTSD, there’s help and hope!

How to Relieve Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

You can work to get your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms under control — and calm the signs of distress when they intensify — by taking some of these quick and easy stress-busting steps:

  • Starting with your feet and working upward, tense each part of your body for a few seconds and then relax it.

  • Visualize a wonderful, relaxing place — for instance, a deserted beach or a cozy chair by the fireplace — and go there in your mind. If you become distracted, think about a parent, sibling, friend, teacher or other person who was there for you during a tough time and imagine that person saying to you, “Hang in there. You can get through this. You can handle this.” Then, gently bring your attention back to your mental paradise.

  • Think of three big or little things you’re grateful for in your life — for example, your best friend, your cat, or even your favorite CD.

  • Give your confidence a boost by thinking of something important you’ve learned, accomplished, or overcome, such as learning how to create a Web site, running your first 5K race, or passing a hard class in school.

  • Do 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. If you find yourself getting distracted or not being able to keep going, imagine a close friend or family member rooting you on.

  • Use an anchor — an object you can touch or look at, such as a ring or a photo, that reminds you of a happy place or time or of a person you love. Think of the place you went to when you were growing up to calm yourself down — was it your room? Your yard? A park? A long drive in a car? The beach?

  • Distract yourself — read a book, clean out a closet, plant some tomatoes, or exercise your creative interests. Better yet, watch a funny movie (because laughter really is good medicine).

Truths to Embrace when Recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

You may hit some rough patches on the road to recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sometimes, setbacks stem from low expectations of yourself and negative self-talk. Here are some statements that can point you toward the positive side when your spirits are low.

  • Persevering through this time and continuing with my healing is courageous.

  • Setbacks are just bumps in the road — I can get past them and continue my journey.

  • Taking care of myself is important for me and for my loved ones.

  • The stronger I become over time, the easier my road to recovery will be. The beginning of this journey is the hardest part.

  • I’m doing my best each day, and I don’t need to be perfect.

  • I have supportive people in my life who will help me overcome this problem.

  • Just because I feel afraid doesn’t mean I’m in any danger.

  • Often when I feel afraid, it’s because I haven't processed my emotional trauma, putting it behind me, and moving on. After I do this, I’ll be less afraid. I can look forward to that time in the future, even if I’m afraid today.

Is Your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Medicine Working?

Medications prescribed to help to manage symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) work to differing degrees among patients. Here are some of the ways you can tell if your doctor-ordered medicine is relieving common signs of PTSD:

  • You begin to fall asleep more easily and begin to sleep through the night (if sleep has been a problem for you).

  • You start to get your appetite back.

  • You find it easier to do the daily activities that you didn’t have the energy or motivation to do before.

  • You look forward to each day instead of dreading it, and you feel more hopeful.

  • You start wanting to be around people instead of wanting to avoid them.

  • You’re able to bounce back from little annoyances instead of crumbling when they happen.

  • You’re less jumpy when you hear loud noises.

  • You can handle being in situations that used to freak you out.

While you’re looking for the positive effects of your medication, you also need to take notice of any negative reactions, such as a poor interaction with another med you’re taking. The med might not be working for you at all, or the dosage may require adjustment to deliver better results.

  • If your sleeping, eating, or mood doesn’t improve at all after you’ve taken an adequate dosage for a period of ten days to two weeks, you may need a higher dosage or another med.

    Non-psychiatric doctors are often hesitant to prescribe the necessary amount, because psychiatric meds aren’t their specialty. So if you think you may need a higher dosage, consult a psychiatrist.

  • If you feel one or more of the many nonspecific side effects listed in your medication’s instructions for more than three days, you may need a lower dosage or another drug.

  • If you have abnormal laboratory tests — such as blood count abnormalities, liver function tests, or a kidney function test — you probably need another medication.

  • If you develop allergic reactions, such as skin conditions or difficulty breathing, you probably need a different med.

If several professionals are treating your PTSD, other mental disorders, and/or substance abuse issues, be sure that each professional knows about every medication you’re taking.

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