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How to cope with change when you have PTSD

How to cope with change when you have PTSD

When you have PTSD, even small changes can sometimes feel overwhelming. Here's how to learn to adapt to change and live in the present.

Reviewed by:
Tracey Griffin, LMHC
|
View bio
October 17, 2022
Original source:

Key takeaways

When you think about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), flashbacks, nightmares, and other hallmark symptoms might come to mind. One less talked-about effect of PTSD is a strong fear of change, even when it’s an expected and positive change like a new job, a graduation, or a vacation.

Of course, change can feel uncomfortable for anyone, but for people living with PTSD, that feeling can be so intense that it keeps you from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Here’s how to manage your condition so you can be present in your life no matter what happens.

How do I know if I have PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. You might think of shell-shocked combat veterans when you hear “PTSD,” but any experience that triggers your body’s survival response can be traumatic. That includes not only one-time events like car accidents, but also prolonged situations like abusive relationships and unstable childhoods.

Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD, but for those who do, the condition can get in the way of the most meaningful parts of life. Symptoms like anxiety, intrusive thoughts, mood swings, and insomnia can interfere with work, relationships, and so much more.

Why is change so hard for people with PTSD?

After you experience trauma, you might find it difficult to remember specific details about what happened. Your body, on the other hand, memorizes every aspect of its response (like making your heart race, or rushing you to the safety of solitude). That’s because its top priority is protecting your life, even when the threat it’s responding to is abstract, like a stressful situation.

If you develop PTSD, your body becomes overly reliant on that threat response, ringing the alarm bells for situations that aren’t obviously threatening. Eventually, you’ll come to interpret change as inherently dangerous and react to it with fight-or-flight (or freeze, or fawn) responses.

You might wonder if something is wrong with you if you feel scared or enraged at any unexpected change in your schedule or environment. The truth is that your brain is doing what it does best—keeping you safe. It’s just doing it a little too well, prioritizing comfort and predictability over experimentation, learning, and growth. Here’s how to break that pattern and open yourself up to new experiences.

How can I stay in the present when coping with PTSD?

Some people hope that if they simply wait until enough time has passed, they’ll forget about their trauma and stop feeling anxious, scared, angry, or isolated. Unfortunately, you can’t wait out PTSD. Instead, you’ll want to practice active coping, which entails accepting the impact your trauma has had on you and taking steps to improve your situation.

Here are a few forms active coping can take:

  • Learn how to ground yourself: Grounding techniques are practices that help you center yourself in the present moment. Tuning into your senses, taking deep breaths, and paying close attention to your surroundings can all be quick ways to ground yourself in your present reality and put a halt to anxious thoughts.
  • Reach out for support: Leaning on friends, family, or support groups can help you feel less alone and pick up tips for managing your symptoms. Not everyone has PTSD, but nearly everyone has had to struggle with a difficult adjustment.
  • Get regular exercise: Studies show that exercise can help relieve anxiety, depressive thoughts, and other PTSD symptoms. Keep in mind you don’t have to do a punishing workout to get those benefits—even a 20-minute walk outdoors can make an impact on how you feel.
  • Try journaling: Researchers have found that journaling about stressful or traumatic events can help change the way you feel about them. If you’re not much of a writer, you can try dictating your thoughts to a voice note app on your phone or computer.

What other options do I have for treating PTSD?

Coping with PTSD by yourself can be really challenging, and you don’t have to go it alone. Here’s what expert support for PTSD can look like.

Psychiatry

Medication can help discourage your body’s unhealthy responses, so you have an easier time controlling your symptoms. Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are most effective at treating PTSD. If you have nightmares, medication can also help with that.

Talking to a psychiatrist is the best way to find out which medication (if any) is right for you, and if you’d also benefit from therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

On its own or in addition to psychiatry, therapy can help you understand what your triggers are and why you react to them the way you do. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly useful for recognizing and changing unhelpful patterns in your thoughts and behaviors.

That’s because CBT focuses on identifying and adjusting unhealthy ways of thinking and responding to change, stress, and other triggers. Once you can spot the types of thoughts and actions that are causing problems for you, like believing that you can’t handle new situations and therefore avoiding them, you’re in a much better position to start seeing new solutions.

Keep in mind you don’t have to choose between active coping, therapy, and psychiatry—the best treatment for you might be a combination of the three. That’s why Talkiatry matches you with the right psychiatrist and therapist for you. Those experts then collaborate on your care to ensure you’re getting all the support you need.

When you’re living with PTSD, even a positive change can feel like a life-or-death threat, including getting the help you need. Just remember there’s no growth without change, and you deserve to grow to your fullest potential.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Frequently asked questions

Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

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Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

About
Tracey Griffin, LMHC

Tracey Griffin is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who is dedicated to helping people align with their most authentic selves over the last 11 years. This includes addressing the struggles of mental health in an open, empathetic, and non-judgmental, therapeutic relationship. She is dedicated to establishing a collaborative working relationship with individuals to help achieve their goals while living a fulfilled and balanced life. Tracey received her Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Pace University following her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology from the same institution. She has been trained in performing biopsychosocial assessments and is also a Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor.

Tracey’s treatment approach is person-centered in conjunction with evidence-based practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing while remaining culturally sensitive and inclusive. She is well versed in harm reduction as well as abstinence-based approaches to addiction treatment and roots her practice to focus on treating the whole self which can include exploration of spirituality and purpose. Tracey has experience working with individuals who experience co-occurring disorders, anxiety, depression, codependency, addiction, personality disorders, LGBTQ, men’s issues, and trauma.

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