Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur when you have been traumatized by witnessing or experiencing an event so frightening that the shock of it creates changes in the structure of your brain.

This triggers your body’s threat response, which in turn floods your brain with stress hormones, causing the memory of the event to be stored differently than a normal memory. Trauma memories feel as if they are still happening right now in the present, and your brain gets locked in a cycle of trying to defend itself from future assaults.

PTSD was first recognized as a condition affecting people who had served in the military and witnessed a terrifying experience on the battlefield. Originally, it was referred to as shell shock. However, PTSD is not limited to war veterans. Anyone can develop it in response to a life-threatening event such as serious illness or injury, physical assault, mass violence, sexual abuse, rape, or any other type of violence or trauma.

Each person’s experience is unique to them, but some common symptoms include a heightened state of anxiety, numbness, trouble sleeping, flashbacks of the event, nightmares, intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma, night sweats, survivor’s guilt, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, irritability, aggressive behavior, and/or becoming easily startled. These symptoms usually emerge immediately following or within a few months of the event, but they can sometimes be delayed by several months or even years.

PTSD is not a sign of weakness. Nor is it something you can merely will yourself to get over. When your nervous system starts operating on overdrive as a result of the trauma, and your body becomes stuck in survival mode, it can significantly impair your daily life and ability to function in a healthy way.

here are, however, steps you can take to live well amid this challenging condition, as well as effective techniques that can help you cope with flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares.

Steps to help you live with PTSD

Understand where your symptoms are coming from.

Counseling can help you reframe your memories of the trauma and learn new ways to manage your thoughts and feelings about it.

If, however, you’re having trouble verbalizing what you’ve been through, art therapy may be a good first step. Art projects such as painting or sculpture can help you externalize your emotions and explore the impact the traumatic experience has had on your life and personality.

Join a peer support group.

Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through because they’ve been through something similar, creates a safe place to share your story and the parts of your life you’re having trouble dealing with. It can also be a source of encouragement and hope as you listen to others talk about their experiences and how they’ve learned to cope.

Engage in a physical activity you enjoy.

Doing this on a regular basis can help reduce stress levels and help you cope with symptoms

Spend time with positive people.

Adopt a therapy dog.

These pets have been specially trained to recognize and interrupt the onset of symptoms such as nightmares and night sweats. They can help you relax, reducing your stress and anxiety.

Keep a diary and try to spot patterns that trigger symptoms.

Then be alert to early warning signs so you can deal with them before they happen.

Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol.

Alcohol (in order to cope) and drugs and are negative and self-destructive means of dealing with PTSD. What starts as a quick fix to numb your feelings, take the edge off your stress, and help you better cope with life, can easily become addictive and lead to alcoholism and/or drug addiction down the road.

Find things to make you laugh.

Laughter has a calming effect on the body and enables you to experience joy. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Laughter can give your immune system a boost by creating a chemical reaction that causes the brain to increase mood-elevating endorphins and decrease stress hormones.

Pour your heart out to God in prayer.

Cry out to Him, as did David in Psalm 61:2-3: “From the ends of the earth I call out to You whenever my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a tower of strength against the enemy.”

Remember that nothing can separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:35).

He is your ultimate support and healer, though He may use a doctor or a counselor as His instrument. Keep your eyes on Him and trust Him no matter how things may look. God is your strength and hope (Psalm 62:5-8). Though healing comes in His way, and in His time, He promises to give you sufficient grace to bear up under your hardships (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Know who God says you are.

Define yourself by his standards rather than by anything you have done or that has been done to you. If you are a Christian, God identifies you as His beloved child (Romans 8:14-16; 1 John 3:1); sealed in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14); forgiven (1 John 1:9); redeemed (Ephesians 1:7).

Coping with flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks

Focus on your breathing.

When you are frightened, you tend to hyperventilate, which increases your feelings of panic. Concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five. Inhale through your nose, using your diaphragm so your stomach expands, and your lungs fill with air. Then slowly exhale through your mouth.

Mindfulness techniques.

This can help ground you in the present when you are having flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. For example, look around you and name three things you can see; listen, and name three sounds you hear; move three parts of your body.

Repeating positive truths can help counter negative thoughts.

Make a list you can keep with you and read them aloud to remind you that you are safe, and God is in control. Here are some examples to get you started.

  • I am safe and in control of myself. (1 Timothy 1:7) These feelings will pass.
  • I am covered and protected under the shadow of God’s wings. (Psalm 91:4)
  • I have nothing to fear because God is right here with me. He will strengthen me and protect me. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • I trust God’s purpose and plan for my life. (Romans 8:28-30)
  • I can take one step at a time through Christ who strengthens me. (Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4:13)
  • God is my strength and my refuge. Whenever I am afraid, I can trust in Him. (2 Samuel:22-33; Psalm 56:2-3)
  • God loves me and cares for me. I can hand all my anxieties over to Him. (1 Peter, 5:7)
  • My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 12:2)
  • I am strong in the Lord and the power of His might. (Ephesians 6:10)
  • The Lord is my shepherd. I do not need to be afraid. (Psalm 23: 1,4)
  • The Lord is filling me with strength and peace. (Psalm 29:11)
  • When I am weak and weary, God renews my strength. (Isaiah 40:29-310
  • God’s grace is sufficient for me. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Christian counseling for people living with PTSD

If you have been living with PTSD and feel you need more help than what this article has provided, feel free to contact me or one of the other faith-based counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss practical techniques for dealing with PTSD from a Christian perspective.

References

Alison Escalante, “Helping PTSD With a Shot: The New Treatments That are Changing Lives,” Forbes, February 2, 2021.

Renee Fabian, “Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD,” Healthline, August 12, 2019.

Michele Rosenthal, Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity (New York-London: W.W. Norton & Company).

Photos:
“Mindfulness”, Courtesy of Lesly Juarez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Abstract”, Courtesy of Steve Johnson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “All Together”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Abstract Heart”, Courtesy of Marek Studzinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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