M4S 064: Coping and Managing Stress with PTSD

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Tips for managing stress or helping others cope

Coping and managing stress can be difficult during normal times. During a disaster or another stressful situation, the difficulty is even greater. And if one of the people dealing with the situation has PTSD, the need to manage this reaches an entirely different level.

Now, while I’m not a therapist, I know a lot about this topic because I’ve had my own dealings with stress in the form of PTSD. That has caused me to sit on the couch side of the therapist’s office. Yes, they all seem to have couches. During that time, I’ve worked on my mechanisms for coping and managing stress. I’ve learned a great deal about how the mind works for those of us who deal with very stressful conditions, which disasters bring and like those we’ll all experience during long-term events, should they happen.

My Personal Story of PTSD

After being home from overseas for a couple of years, I started having problems. I had no idea what was going on. I had panic attacks. Also, I got light-headed, agitated, and was not understanding what was happening. Then, on August 30th, 2017, a fair amount of stress was happening where I worked. I was a Stateside program manager, overseeing a large security contract in Iraq. Well, this week was not fun. Tuesday the 29th was bad, but when I woke up on Wednesday the 30th, things were definitely worse.

It’s hard to describe, but in a nutshell, I was a wreck. I felt like I’d been awake for a week and as if somebody had worked me over with a baseball bat. I was agitated, confused, short of breath, and on and on. Not sure of what was going on, I asked one of my co-workers to take me to the hospital.

My heart and everything other than my blood pressure were fine. My blood pressure, though, was through the roof and wouldn’t come down. Luckily the ER doc and my boss both recommended I talk to someone, so I set an appointment up with a counselor. I did that and was sitting in his office the next day.

Stress and Conditions Such as PTSD Are Related

Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with PTSD that goes back to my years working for Blackwater in Iraq. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster with some challenges, many of which manifest themselves in the next section on Common Stress Reactions. Now, before we move on, I want to say that until August of 2017, I was someone who thought PTSD and stress-related problems were overrated and used as a crutch.

I’m here to tell you and will speak with anyone who wants to know. PTSD, stress, etc., are real problems that can be very challenging. So, if you know someone with a stress-related condition, don’t discount the challenges they face. And, to those people like me who didn’t put much stock in it, you’re very wrong. Stress and stress-related conditions do exist, and at times they can be crippling. It’s especially important for people with PTSD to find healthy methods of coping and managing stress.

How Does PTSD Work?

PTSD, as I’ve experienced it and it’s been explained to me, works like this. A person is exposed to one or more stressful incidents. When a stressful event happens, our bodies are probably in a fight or flight stage.

In other words, your mind isn’t able to take the time to process what is happening correctly. Instead, it focuses on just what it needs to do to survive the situation you’re in. So, instead of processing your thoughts so they don’t bother you later, your brain stashes the information brought in from your senses in the frontal lobe of your mind. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your mind that is responsible for thinking, analyzing, etc. However, the prefrontal cortex shuts down when your stress-related heart rate hits 180  to 220 beats per minute.

It means that your brain isn’t capable of processing the event, so it is stopped in your frontal lobe and is never handled to be filed away in another part of the brain where it is mostly forgotten.

Common Reactions to Stress and PTSD

Now, it’s sort of a lengthy explanation of what happens to those memories. To shorten it up, it’s good to know that when triggers occur that remind us of the event, or events, our bodies react chemically, as if they are in the event again. For example, many people will tell you that the slamming of a door or similar noise sounds like a mortar round explosion. So, when someone slams the door, while you’ll see me flinch, what is happening inside is a chemical shift to the fight or flight system. That’s partially why people with stress-related issues like PTSD act the way they do.

When it comes to some of the more common reactions to stress, people can experience many things.

  • Denial and shock
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • Apathy and emotional numbing (Acting like Eeyore)
  • Nightmares and bad thoughts about the situation or event
  • Anger and agitation
  • Sadness and depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Randomly crying or complete lack of crying
  • Body pains: Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
  • Insomnia
  • Using drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms

People who have been under tremendous stress in life-threatening conditions for an extended time may have recurring episodes of PTSD.

8 Ways To Help with Coping and Managing Stress

Some of the ways below can be helpful whether you are dealing with general stress or PTSD.

1) Talk About It With Someone Who Actively Listens

By talking with others about your situation, you can relieve stress and teach yourself that you’re not alone. When speaking with someone who is discussing the stressful situation or situations that are causing them problems, remember it is often difficult for them to discuss it. So, resist any urge you may have to talk about your situations and instead, sit back, listen, and be supportive.

It’s also essential to practice active listening, which is putting your own expectations of what you’re going to hear aside and REALLY listening to what the person says, instead of mapping it out in your mind.

As you listen, you can help guide the conversation when it gets stuck by asking who, what, when, where, and how questions. For example, ask, “What did you see,  hear, smell, etc.”

2) Spend Time With Friends and Family

They can help you through this tough time. If your family lives outside the area, stay in touch by phone if possible. If you have any children, encourage them to share their concerns and feelings about the situation with you.

Don’t forget. This is sometimes difficult for people when you or others have no point of reference. So, bear with the person having the trouble and go at their pace. Sometimes people dealing with stress isolate themselves because they don’t want to burden others with their problems. Remember, you are not a burden to people who love you, and they want to help and spend time with you.

3) Take Care of Yourself

Get plenty of rest and exercise and eat properly. If you smoke or drink coffee, try to limit your intake since nicotine and caffeine can also add to your stress. All of this can be difficult.

When my PTSD is acting up, it’s challenging to work out, eat right, etc. For example, while I love working out when my PTSD is terrible, it leaves me with too much time to get in my own head, which can take me to places that agitate me.

In the end, find out what works for you. Then ease into it.

4) Limit Exposure to Images of the Disaster

Watching or reading news about the event over and over again will only increase your stress. When you relive the events, they can come back and cause you to be agitated, depressed, and experience other problems related to stress.

5) No Forcing

If you are dealing with someone suffering from stress-related, don’t be overly insistent when trying to get them to do things they don’t want to do. Once they’re in touch with their situation, they will often know when something is going to trigger them.

In my case, some days going to a crowded place can be extremely stressful. For example, I once had a roommate who is still a good friend. However, before coming home on R&R from Iraq, we’d been attacked almost every day for the two weeks before I left. Heck, while we were waiting to get on the plane out of Iraq, the knuckleheads dropped mortars on us.

Then, flash forward less than a day later, and I’m sitting in my house in Georgia, feeling overwhelmed entirely and trying to wind down. Other than a few trips to the store, I ended up on the couch for weeks playing X-Box, watching shows, and eating pizza. All the while, my roommate kept trying to get me to go out at night.

I finally got tired of him pushing me, gave in, and went out. I think we were out for about two hours. During that time, we went to four or five bars. I lasted a max of 15-minutes in any of the bars and never finished a beer. So, two hours, four-ish panic attacks, and one near-fight later, we went home.

6) Take It One Day at a Time

For people suffering from PTSD and other stress-related issues, a typical workload may sometimes seem utterly overwhelming. So, choose one task and work on it. Once you finish that task, pick another, then another. As you do, “checking off” tasks may give you a sense of accomplishment and help make things feel less overwhelming.

Something that can be helpful for coping and managing stress is to find time for activities you enjoy. Read a book, go for a walk, catch a movie or do something else you find enjoyable. Taking part in positive activities when you can may help you get your mind off your situation and may help dial back your stress.

7) Avoid Drugs and Excessive Drinking

Drugs and alcohol may seem to remove the stress temporarily, but they don’t. They mostly mask the pain while you’re drunk, high, or whatever.

Ultimately, over the long term, they often cause additional problems that may compound the stress you’re already feeling. Then, while you continue masking the problem, you don’t get better, may get worse, and eventually can experience horrible issues.

8) Ask for Help With Coping and Managing Stress

If your feelings do not go away or are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function in daily life, talk with a trusted relative, friend, doctor, or advisor about getting help. Make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss how well you are coping with the recent events. You could also join a support group.

Don’t try to cope alone. Trust me, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s a sign of strength. It shows that you can take action despite everything going on, no matter how difficult it is, to help get yourself back on track.

The Bottom Line on Coping and Managing Stress

It’s important to remember that in any disaster event, or even worse, in a long-term, SHTF type of event, people will have problems. We’ll all have our good days and bad.

What’s essential in all of that is that we practice patience and work to help one another get through the moment, because we never know when we’ll have the stress monkey on our back and need the help of others.


Stay safe, secure, and prepared,


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