PTSD – Learning to cope with trauma

PTSD – Learning to cope with trauma

Feeling frightened, sad, anxious and disconnected are some of the common feelings felt after experiencing a traumatic experience. However, if these feelings do not subside, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In South Africa, there are several free facilities that handle depression, anxiety and many other mental health conditions.  

Here is a list of helplines if you feel that you may need assistance. 

How does PTSD happen?

PTSD can follow after any event where you felt fearful and unsafe.  The condition is most commonly associated with rape victims, or soldiers who have experienced trauma in wars, as military combat is the most common cause of PTSD for men. 

Experiencing PTSD can leave you feeling overwhelmed with hopelessness. Emotional pain can trigger PTSD, especially if the situation was unpredictable or uncontrollable. 

It is not only those who have directly experienced a traumatic event that are affected by PTSD. Those who witness the event, or who clear up afterwards can experience it too. Seeking treatment, asking for support and finding ways to cope can assist with learning to manage your symptoms, as well as reduce the painful memories and help you move forward with your life. 

PTSD Symptoms

Sufferers can find themselves constantly reliving the events in their head. It is common for them to try to retrace the series of events that lead to their trauma and to try and figure out what they could have done differently to perhaps change the traumatic outcome. 

Symptoms can be behavioural, Psychological, or mood or sleep-related. 

Behavioural: agitation, irritability, hostility, hypervigilance, self-destructive behaviour, or social isolation.

Psychological: flashbacks, fear, severe anxiety, or mistrust.

Mood: loss of interest or pleasure in activities, guilt, or loneliness and emotional detachment or unwanted thoughts.

Sleep: insomnia or nightmares.

Recovery from PTSD

Recovering from PTSD is an ongoing process, and unfortunately, it cannot be healed overnight.  Sometimes the memories of the trauma don’t ever disappear entirely. There are steps that can be taken to make your life seem less difficult while coping with residual symptoms and calming anxiety and fear. 

By reclaiming your sense of power and overcoming the sense of helplessness, sufferers are reminded that they are stronger than the actual trauma. Also, help others by volunteering your time, whether it is to help a friend, donating blood and more. The positive action will challenge the feeling of helplessness.


Exercise is another way that can assist with PTSD. By releasing endorphins, it will improve your outlook and mood on a daily basis. Exercising and focusing on your movement can help with feeling stuck. Try exercises that are rhythmic and that require the use of your arms and legs. This could be walking, swimming, running, or dancing as they allow you to spend more time focusing on how your body feels and less on negative thoughts. Martial arts, weight training, boxing or rock climbing are also options, as well as spending time in nature, whether to relax and be peaceful, or even to camp.

Surround yourself with people who love you

Withdrawing from social activities and from your loved ones is a common temptation for those who suffer from PTSD, as they already feel so disconnected from people. However, staying connected with people who care about you is important to regulate your life. It is not necessary to discuss your trauma, but more caring support and companionship. The support system that you reach out to is usually people who you feel won’t pass any judgement, criticise you or become distracted when they are in your company. 

A healthy lifestyle

Taking care of your physical health can help decrease the symptoms of PTSD. Take on meditation, deep breathing exercises, go for a massage or do yoga to activate the relaxation response of the body. Try to avoid alcohol and drugs. These substances can only worsen many symptoms of PTSD, as well as disrupt treatment and make relationships problematic. A healthy diet, such as breakfast to start the day, keeps your energy levels up with a clear and balanced mind. Nutritious meals should be eaten throughout the day, especially Omega 3-based foods that play a vital role in emotional health. This includes fatty fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Stay away from processed foods, fried foods, refined starches and sugars as they can cause mood swings and your energy to fluctuate. A sleeping ritual somewhere between 7-9 hours can decrease triggering anger, irritability and moodiness. 

Get help for PTSD

Seeking professional help for PTSD is not a sign of weakness. The sooner you receive treatment, the sooner you can learn the tools to navigate and manage and eventually overcome it. It is important to confront what triggered PTSD in the first place and accept it as a memory of your past. A therapist or a doctor will assist with guidance and support throughout the process. Numbing your pain and avoiding any triggering thoughts will only worsen the PTSD. Avoidance can increase stress and is exhausting because your relationships will be harmed, the ability to function will be much harder and your quality of life will take a dip.

Credentials and experience are important when looking for a PTSD therapist, but feeling safe and comfortable is equally as important. If a therapist doesn’t feel right, do not feel bad for having to find someone who understands you.

A PTSD attack is a medical emergency. Call an ambulance if you or someone else is having a fit, an attack or any other event caused by PTSD. iER’s managed call centre provides you with direct access to an emergency response support network consisting of highly trained personnel.

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