Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves the mental and emotional stress a person experiences after going through some sort of trauma. Many people think of PTSD as a disorder that only military members and veterans deal with, but it can also occur in reaction to other distressing events like sexual violence, childhood or domestic abuse, the sudden death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. For many people with PTSD, the traumatic experience leaves them with not only memories of the event but also high anxiety and depression.
PTSD takes a significant toll on the individual, but what is often forgotten is its effect on loved ones caring for them. It can be very difficult to watch someone you love go through such a painful time. There may be a feeling of frustration and not knowing how to help. You may feel like you need to tread lightly with what you say because you don’t know how they will react. This can be exhausting and tiring. One important thing to remember is that your partner or loved one needs you! Showing your support and being there for them is invaluable during the hard times. Here are some tips to support someone with PTSD.
Get to know PTSD and the common symptoms. It is important to understand that every person diagnosed can have a variety of those symptoms. Try to understand what being “triggered” in PTSD really feels like. Flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, and hyperarousal can be debilitating and frightening. Also, some might react to something in the environment as if they are actually in danger. Many of these symptoms are an extreme version of our body’s natural response to stress. Understanding this fight or flight response better will help with developing a plan to deal with these symptoms.
Provide a Safe Space
People who have experienced trauma are left feeling unsafe and struggle with trusting others. It is your job to let them know they are safe with you and you are someone they can lean on. Show them you are dependable and reliable when they are at their lowest. They want to know they have someone in their corner they can trust. Providing love, support, and stability can create an environment that is safe to experience symptoms in without judgement or feelings of embarrassment.
Become an Excellent Listener
The key to supporting anyone struggling with their mental health is to be an excellent listener. Those coping with PTSD have conflicting feelings about their experience, their recovery, and their life in general. All of these things are difficult topics to talk about. Being an active listener will show your loved one that you can be someone they can talk openly to. But remember, telling them that everything is going to be ok isn’t what they need to hear. It is possible that things could get worse before they can get better. For someone struggling with feelings of anxiety and guilt, it’s best to not to share your own thoughts unless they ask. Provide support for them, not advice.
Don’t Take Everything Personally
When you take a step back and take time to understand PTSD, you realize it is more than an everyday struggle with stress and anxiety. People with this diagnosis are not exaggerating when they describe the feelings as terrorizing and all-consuming. At first, it may be hard not to take the anger, frustration, and sadness personally if it seems worse than normal. It’s best to leave some breathing room if things start to get heated but always come back without holding onto resentment or hurt over anything that was said.
PTSD is different for everyone! There is no standard time frame for recovery because the amount of time it takes to learn to cope with someone’s new realities varies from person to person. This isn’t something you just “get over” either. PTSD doesn’t just go away. People will always remember traumatic experiences. Recovery is learning the coping skills to be able to live with those feelings and handle the symptoms on a daily basis. What may not seem like a big step for you may be a huge accomplishment for them, so always make yourself available for support because you are helping!
Self-Care is important
When it comes to caring for others, you must remember to care for yourself first. Remember, you can also be struggling even when you feel like your loved one is “much worse.” Continue to take care of your diet and exercise and make time for yourself. Ask others for help if you start to feel like the burden is resting solely on your shoulders. You also need support during this time, so don’t be afraid to talk to close family members or friends. Burn out is real so make sure to make taking care of yourself a priority.
Helping support someone with PSTD can be difficult and can get frustrating at times. Give yourself and your loved one grace throughout their recovery, and trust that your support is valuable.