Living with PTSD is an adjustment. People diagnosed with PTSD often put a lot of effort into identifying sights, sounds, smells, and other things that evoke or “trigger” flashbacks. That effort—and wondering if they’ll ever be different–can lead to a lot of stress, fatigue, feelings of depression, and social isolation. The best people to help prevent these negative side effects are loved ones and allies. Here are a few beneficial activities you may want to consider doing with someone diagnosed with PTSD to help them as they learn to re-regulate and calm jangled nerves and brains.
Go for a Hike
Walking in nature can be a great way to reduce stress and limit potentially negative stimuli—as well as begin to create positive stimuli. Exercise, in general, is hugely beneficial in combatting stress and is frequently used as part of therapy. Walking may not be very strenuous, but all exercise can have a positive effect on someone whose life has been affected by traumatic experiences. Recent studies show that exercise is as effective as medication in mild to moderate depression.
However, exercising in a crowded, loud, or otherwise overly stimulating environment can cause distress for people who are hypervigilant or wrestling with post-traumatic stress, including PTSD. Hiking with few people passing by and few sudden noises or movements is probably one of the safest ways to get moving.
Make sure the hike is in an area that feels safer for your hiking companions. Ask them about the “quiet level” and where they’d feel comfortable walking. Whether their PTSD is caused by non-combat or combat related events, they know where they feel frightened or unable to manage their interior lives. Listen to them.
Attend Meditation Classes
Learning how to meditate effectively has more positive benefits than we ever thought possible. The ability to quiet the mind, step away from negative thought cycles, and truly relax is something few other activities will allow you to do.
Attending a class on meditation can be very intimidating. By offering to learn alongside someone with PTSD,, you can make the experience less intimidating (and it will help you too!).
There are also neurofeedback tools like the Muse (www.choosemuse.com) neurosensing headband which guides people through meditation, helping them learn to calm their brain activity and giving feedback on the effort via smartphone. One headset is $249, and it can be used with multiple accounts.
Adopt a Dog
Dogs are possibly one of the most helpful additions to the lives of people with PTSD. Some of the major issues people with PTSD report include feeling unlovable, not being comfortable around others, and always being on guard, along with wondering if life is worth living. Owning a dog can help counter these.
The unconditional love and affection a dog provides will help lift spirits, while their need for exercise and play reduces the isolation people may choose to help them manage. Time at the local dog park where the dogs are the focus may open doors to more social contact on a controlled basis. Specially trained dogs can even be trained as psychological service dogs with unique commands to help make daily life easier. Here’s a link to an article that details the tasks service dogs can be trained to perform.