Every single PTSD client I have encountered wants to get better but how many of them are willing to look deep inside themselves to heal? How many of them have come to me looking for a miracle pill or a life-changing 45-minute lesson? More importantly, why do so many of them not consider self-help as a tool for healing their PTSD.
I have faced people who believe self-help is nothing more than a trend that promises magical results for mental health patients. They are right about one thing: self-help currently is a trend. Besides that, self-help doesn't promise anything beyond what you are looking for. It is not a magic wand. It is inner work, nurturing your awareness, and understanding the world around you by understanding yourself first.
Could PTSD be cured with self-help? Let's figure that out together.
WHAT IS SELF-HELP?
A few weeks ago, I posted an article and started it by saying that this process wasn't for everybody. I still mean that.
Want a magic solution
Don't believe that answers are inside of you
Approach self-help with prejudice and skepticism without any intention of lowering your defenses to possibly discover something that is not harmful but helpful
Then maybe self-help is not the approach for you. If you truly want to move on and heal from your trauma, if you are ready to try something different and to experience it with arms wide open, then keep reading.
Self-help can be defined as the process of becoming a better you through inner work and without relying on others such as coaches and psychologists.
I must recognize that, after so many years as a motivational coach, I have indeed met people who cannot benefit from self-help even though they are doing everything they can to practice it. It is a matter of incompatibility but it is not the end of the road.
Essentially, self-help or self-improvement is about trying to decode yourself to find new perspectives, to react instead of overreacting, and to find peace inside yourself.
Self-help has been a trend lately because society is changing. We as a people are trying to be more independent, not waiting for others to tell us what to do to achieve our goals. A great way to see this is by how many people have become entrepreneurs. How we are facing a worldwide pandemic but that didn't stop us from exercising and finding time for ourselves.
Self-help is a tool that has been helping many people who can't afford therapy or who don't have a support system. We can function without these elements in our lives when they are not available to us but does that mean we have to? That we must lay back and wait for our world to fall apart? Of course not.... especially when it comes to managing PTSD.
UNDERSTANDING PTSD AND HOW TO HEAL FROM IT
In a previous article, I spoke about PTSD and its recovery. I explained that PTSD doesn't have one miraculous cure or a 12-step guide on how to overcome it. It is a condition that requires a lot of inner work from you and self-help is a good place to start.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is the result of a traumatic experience in ones life such as:
Violent life episodes
War or exposure to terrorism
Poor work environment
Emotional and/or physical neglect
Lethal disease diagnosis
It usually takes six months to a year to develop PTSD symptoms such as:
Sudden unexplained detachment
They all seem pretty serious right? How could something that seems so fragile and unsupported as self-help help you move on from such symptoms? What benefits could self-help offer to people with PTSD?
First of all, self-help is a tool that empowers all kinds of people, independent of their economic, socio-historical context, gender, race, sexuality, age, or location in the world.
It saves you time and money. Self-help offers you enough time for yourself and your loved one. It is efficient.
It has been proven that those who approach self-help with an open mind avoid mental breakdowns and feel more capable of getting their lives back together. Around 80% of people learn to improve their family and work relationships, go back to college, stop using dangerous substances, develop higher self-esteem, and move on from trauma.
Please note that I am not saying self-help is the cure for PTSD. It is a holistic approach that can strengthen your spirit and give you tools to move on from trauma without having "a leader" or a "power figure" telling you what to do.
Under no circumstance is self-help an approach that affects any kind of therapy you are already receiving. For example, cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is an approach that tries to figure out what keeps the trauma alive. Interrupting the cycle has shown positive results in PTSD patients. This therapy focuses on intervening in your memories, beliefs, and coping strategies to stop reliving the trauma over and over again.
Self-help also promotes this premise. By digging deep inside you and offering you techniques to slow down and notice patterns, self-help can properly interrupt them and give you control of your emotions.
SELF-HELP TIPS TO OVERCOMING PTSD
Here I will leave you with some tips I have practiced myself to cope with my PTSD along with some others I have tried with current and previous clients.
This is not a mandatory list. It is a compendium of techniques and practices that will help you deal with yourself and change your perspective from victim to survivor. This change, from victim to survivor, is ultimately the biggest mindset change that will help guide you in this awareness and self-discovery journey.
Meditate in the mornings.
Many people, especially military men, who have sought help from my programs before, believe meditating is for the weak and do not want to try it at all. Once I convince them to give it a go, they will find any excuse to "prove" that it is not working.
Meditating is about finding silence in your thoughts. It is being comfortable with who you are right now. It is not paying attention to what's happening around you for those minutes. It's about time for you and you alone.
And, of course, it is a tool that requires a lot of practice. But the positive results will be seen very quickly.
If you just started meditating and are struggling to quiet your mind, stop making an effort! Really! All you have todo is be gentle with yourself. Be patient with yourself. Try to slow down your thoughts whenever your mind inevitably starts to wander while meditating. Practice will take you there.
My advice... try to meditate for 5 to 10 minutes before getting out of bed. Make it a constant practice. Find time to meditate daily. And, first and foremost, practice gratitude.
Get to know your triggers.
The more you know what triggers you, the better you can understand them and, ultimately, control them.
It's not about avoidance. It's about being quick enough to identify your triggers and be ready to deal with them without an explosion of emotions or erratic behavior.
For example, if you were involved in an an incident in a war, you probably feel triggered when in confined space with little light or by strong sounds. It makes you feel in danger. Your heartbeat rises and the voices inside your head and heart are telling you to flee immediately.
When you understand that this trigger exists for you, you will have the time and understanding to either avoid that kind of place or sound until you are ready or face them slowly, aware of trigger. You can remind yourself that this is the present and that the past is nothing but a memory with functional tools. That right now, remembering or associating your trauma with the current event is just a scar being touched, not you living it again.
As I said before and will say again, it is a matter of changing your perspective.
Have you ever had a plant that is one day strong and beautiful and the next, suddenly, is collapses and looks tired? Once you give the plant water, does it find its strength? We as humans need attention as well.
We need to be watered often. We need to stay active. These are our ways to feel productive and create natural serotonin and dopamine.
It doesn't need to be a high impact sport. All you need is to find something that keeps you physically active and commit to it.
Some successful alternatives are long walks around your neighborhood or in a natural habitat, yoga, pilates, CrossFit, weight lifting, running, and swimming.
Physical activity also can provide social support. Whether starting an activity with friends or joining a new club, it is a great way to not only stay active but to interact with people.
One of the first things I tell people who attend my lectures and classes is that limits are necessary.
Sometimes our loved ones can demand too much from us when we don't have it to give. Sometimes we get too close to toxic people and they end up hurting us beyond our expectations. Sometimes we take on too many things at the same time.
All these things can be avoided by setting personal boundaries. It is necessary to be open and honest enough with your PTSD and your triggers but also be assertive with your words.
Understand that all they anyone that cares about you wants is to help you get out of your dark place. Sometimes, most times, they will not be able to fully understand what that means to you.
Instead of dismissing them immediately, be thankful for their intentions. Politely request they try a different approach or they give you more space, depending on what you need. This will help you keep a healthy communication with them and avoid the negative feelings of that anxiety.
Educate yourself about trauma.
Don't educate yourself just about understanding what PTSD and traumas are but also how it affects you and the people around you.
I make a point to recognize ourselves not as PTSD victims but as PTSD survivors. A victim can't do much more than complain, be sad, and live in that sadness. Survivors fight hard to get back on their feet. They are brave and use that bravery to look inside themselves to identify patterns and understand that whatever happened to them wasn't their fault. That they don't have to prove anything to anyone. That they did not deserve anything bad that has happened to them.
Go to PTSD meetings. Read new research. Watch videos of others explaining their trauma and how they overcame it. Join chat groups of others struggling with PTSD.
It will put you in contact with people like you that can support each other. It will offer you a wider understanding of your trauma that will help guide you to healing from PTSD.
WHAT IF SELF-HELP IS NOT MY THING?
It can happen. Some traumas are too deep for self-help techniques and practices to be helpful. Some traumas are too much to handle without help.
My suggestion is to not discard it immediately. To give it a chance. It will become helpful later. For the moment, if you have been trying self-help in the past few weeks or months without positive results, it may be something to do with the choices of practices you have made. For example, meditating without making slight changes in your routine, such as being grateful for all things, or nurturing negative feelings toward others who are seemingly "better" is going to poison your progress.
Sometimes, it is a matter of complete incompatibility. Sometimes we need to be ready to understand that and not force things to happen.
In me, you have a friend and a guide. Contact me now and let's being this journey toward recovery together.
Trust me. Let me show you how awareness and enlightenment, along with self-help, can help you find join in your life once again.