Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves the mental and emotional stress a person experiences after going through some sort of trauma. Trauma can occur in one major event (like war or sexual assault) or events over the course of time (like chronic abuse). For many people, the trauma experienced leaves them struggling to manage high anxiety, some feelings of depression, and memories of the traumatic event itself. Many people dealing with PTSD find themselves being triggered whether it is expected or unexpected. Even when people are aware of certain triggers, it can be difficult to always avoid them. Along with other symptoms, managing triggers can be especially difficult for someone facing PTSD. If you know someone who is hurting from a trauma they endured, it can be difficult to know how to support them. Witnessing someone love experiencing the pain of trauma can leave you feeling helpless. However, they likely want and even need your support. Here are 5 ways to support someone with PTSD:
- Show them you are a safe support system. Trauma can leave people feeling unsafe and struggling to trust others. It is important for you to illustrate you are a safe relationship for them to lean on. Show them you are dependable and reliable. Providing love, support, and stability can create an environment where they feel safe and build trust.
- Help them anticipate and manage triggers. It is impossible to avoid and know all triggers. However, over time, people dealing with PTSD can become more aware of the triggers. You can help by managing and anticipating potential triggers. If you know a person’s triggers, you can help them think ahead or work through the emotions they experience after being triggered.
- Do not pressure them. Some people might think you need to push past the trigger and anxiety. Some people also might think you need to push them to talk about everything. However, pushing people before they are ready can potentially re-traumatize them. Re-traumatizing is the emotional and mental distress that comes reliving the traumatic event.
- Manage the up and down emotions. When working through trauma, there is a wide variety of emotions individuals experience. Those emotions can swing rapidly from one moment to the next especially if the person has been triggered. It can be difficult, but it is important to provide support in those times and help people manage the roller coaster emotional experiences.
- Understand it takes time to work through trauma. Trauma is not one of those things that can be dealt with overnight. It often takes people a long time to work through and heal from traumatic experiences. Even if the person talks about their feelings less, it does not mean they feel better. Sometimes people dealing with PTSD want to talk about it and sometimes they do not want to talk about it. It is important for you to know it takes time. You can provide support by listening and encouraging them throughout their journey.
These 5 suggestions can help you support someone with PTSD. At the end of the day, you can ask them what they need from you and just show them you care. If you find yourself uncertain for how to help, simply being present and showing your support can go a long way.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.