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When You Have PTSD, You Have to Create a "New Normal"

When you are diagnosed with PTSD, you may find yourself wondering if you are going to ever go back to the way you were before. It can feel overwhelming, like your feet have been knocked out from under you. You wonder if you will ever regain your footing again.

After you are first diagnosed with PTSD, you can feel your world getting smaller and smaller. The places where you feel safe are fewer and further between. There are unseen dangers lurking around every corner, and things that remind you of your trauma everywhere you go.

According to Good Therapy,

Certain topics of conversation are now off limits; particular people may be unwelcome company. Television shows, movies, and books are potentially fraught with hazardous triggering material. Crowded rooms can become overwhelming; sudden noises trigger painful downward spirals and so must be avoided, even at high cost. “Safe” options become fewer and fewer, and the world, for this now-struggling trauma survivor, becomes smaller and smaller.

Where once, you took your safety pretty much for granted, now the world feels like a dangerous place.

One of the best things that I can recommend with PTSD is that you find a good trauma therapist right away. Having someone who understands the effects of trauma on the brain can be extremely helpful for your healing. They can teach you coping strategies, prescribe medications if needed, and help you reprocess your trauma.

All of these are ways that you can learn to cope with the trauma that you have experienced, and the symptoms that can come and go throughout your lifetime. There may be times that your symptoms stay away for a long time (years even!) but sometimes things will happen that will bring them back.

Some signs that PTSD may be coming back after a respite are:

  • Avoidance

  • Hyper-arousal, which is a feeling of constantly being “on-guard” and unable to rest

  • Depression and distance

  • Changes in sleeping habits

  • Increased frequency of attacks and flashbacks

This happens because PTSD actually changes the way that your brain functions in response to threats. You may find yourself constantly alert for danger, especially if you have cPTSD from prolonged exposure to trauma.

It is only natural to mourn the loss of the way things used to be. But the thing is, you have changed. Your experience of the world has changed. Your mind itself has changed. There is no going back to the way things were before, there is only moving forward.

Creating a New Normal

Once you take the time to mourn the loss of the life you used to have, and the person you used to be, it is time to take charge of your future happiness and move forward. Just because you can't have your old life back, it doesn't mean you can't have a good life in the future. It will just look different.

Where before, the world felt safe, now you will need to learn coping skills to make you feel safe. You will need to be mindful of triggers and stressors in your life. This means, becoming aware of the types of situations that can potentially be triggering, and preparing for them in advance. Being prepared can make you feel ready to take on new challenges.

Also, it is important to find a network of supportive allies for your mental health. This can include your therapist, psychiatrist, case-worker, friends, family, coworkers or a formal support group that you attend. Having people in your corner that understand what you are going through can be very helpful. They can help you prepare for difficult situations, or process them afterwards.

If you take someone supportive with you to somewhere you may feel unsafe, they will be there to help you through the situation, and to help you get home if needed.

It can be difficult to accept that you may not have the same degree of autonomy as you had before. In the beginning, asking for help can feel humiliating or degrading. But, once you get used to it, and find people who are receptive to learning about PTSD, it gets easier to ask for help. Unfortunately, you may need to eliminate some people from your circle if they are not supportive.

Make sure that you state your boundaries clearly and confidently, and realize that you deserve to have them respected. Clear boundaries can help you to navigate through difficult situations or difficult relationships.

As time goes on, and you become more accustomed to coping with your symptoms, they may even begin to subside somewhat. You can start to feel safe in more places again. What may have taken a huge amount of willpower and determination to accomplish no longer will take as much. You will learn to feel stronger again.

By developing coping skills over time, and learning to handle difficult situations in a new way that works for you with PTSD, you can still live a full and fulfilling life. A new normal won't look the same for everyone with PTSD, and not everyone will achieve it in the same amount of time.

It will depend on your specific symptoms, your trauma and your triggers.

For example, one of my triggers is yelling. For a while, I would jump every time someone in the street yelled. Now, it is just if it is someone close by. I also know that I can assess for immediate danger by seeing if the person is yelling at me, or at someone else. If it is someone else, I am not likely to be in danger.

Many of us will also startle excessively from loud noises. While you can't counteract the startle response itself, you can learn to calm down more quickly from being startled using techniques such as deep breathing.

That is one of the key things with PTSD: Learning to bounce back more quickly when you do have symptoms.

While you may not ever be able to keep your symptoms completely at bay, you can learn how to calm down much more quickly. Learning self-soothing techniques and coping skills for when you are triggered can contribute a lot to your sense of self-confidence and well-being.

When I first started having panic attacks, for example, sometimes it would take me days to get back to a normal baseline of feeling not stressed out anymore. But now that I have worked on it a lot, I can feel much better in even 1-2 hours. For me, this is a huge improvement, so it lessens my stress about having a panic attack.

Your specific triggers and circumstances may be different from mine, but many of the same coping skills will work for you too. Some of the things that work for me are:

  • Mindfulness

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Deep breathing

  • Decatastrophizing

  • Spending time outdoors

  • Journaling

  • Saying affirmations

Many of these things can be either learned from a therapist, or from YouTube videos. There are also techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique that are helpful for many people. Learning more about these calming techniques can be very effective, as it both helps during a panic attack, and helps lower your baseline level of stress.

It is important to learn both skills to calm yourself in the moment, and lifestyle factors that can help you be more calm all the time. Using this two pronged approach can help you live successfully with PTSD and create a new normal in spite of your symptoms.

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