7 Ways To Help Someone With PTSD

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

When a loved one has PTSD

PTSD can produce symptoms like irritability, moodiness, depression, and mistrust, which can be difficult to live with. What's important to remember is that it is never the person's fault.

PTSD puts people in a constant state of being alert. Their minds and bodies are on edge and ready to respond to a crisis. This is a response to trauma that they cannot simply switch off, so it is important to be sympathetic and patient with loved ones struggling with PTSD.

It is usual for people with PTSD to withdraw from friends and family and resist or avoid attempts at conversation about the trauma.

Tips for supporting a loved one living with PTSD

Let them come to you

Don’t force your loved one to talk about their traumatic experience or their struggles with PTSD. Often, any topic related to these subjects can trigger and cause unnecessary stress.

Talking about it can make people with PTSD¹ stressed and anxious. Instead, it can be helpful to simply say you’re willing to talk when or if they want to, and otherwise, you’re happy just to provide company. Your loved one should know there is no pressure to open up about the subject.

Help them feel normal again

Encourage your loved one to engage in normal activities, develop hobbies, and foster friendships that will help distract them from their stress.

Give them space 

Allow your loved one autonomy and space. It is important they feel in control of their own lives. Following their actions too carefully may come from a place of love, but it might make them feel trapped or stifled. Space to think and breathe is helpful for everyone.

Look after yourself

Keep yourself well and calm. To look after your loved one, you need to look after yourself. Taking time alone to breathe, reflect, eat and sleep well will make you better equipped to care for your loved one.

Have patience

Patience is key when looking after people with PTSD. The condition can be hard to predict and may appear at unexpected moments.

Know that anger and frustration are normal

Allow yourself to feel frustration and anger at the situation. Just know it isn’t your loved one's fault. PTSD can be unpredictable and make people seem, unlike their normal selves. With time and patience, symptoms of PTSD can be managed, reducing angry outbursts and general irritability.

Rebuild trust and safety

Show your loved one you are there for them with quiet support. Being a stable, solid go-to person is usually the best way to care for someone with PTSD. It is important to be aware of their welfare while letting them come to you in their own time.

If they do want to talk, listen calmly and without judgment. This will help build trust between you and your loved one.

What is a trigger?

A trigger can be anything that reminds your loved one of their traumatic experience. It can be something they saw, felt, tasted, smelt, or heard before or during the trauma. Many things can be potential triggers, usually linked to the sensory world. For example, if someone survived a car accident, hearing screeching brakes or seeing a car go too fast might be a trigger.

Triggers do not usually pose an actual threat, but they can make your loved one feel panicked and stressed, as the trigger brings up memories and feelings of the traumatic experience. It may cause them to act as if they are in danger, unsure of where the line exists between imagined danger and reality.

Awareness of the different triggers that can bring on these responses in your loved one is key to helping them with their condition. Anticipating places or people that might involve triggers and knowing what to do when you see your loved one react to a trigger is very important.

Common PTSD triggers

Here are some tips on recognizing triggers and responding to them:

People

If your loved one sees a person who has a connection to their traumatic experience, or a type of person such as a member of the police, this could provoke a reaction. People with certain features can also cause a trigger response, for example, someone with a particular haircut or similar clothing to a person involved in the traumatic experience.

Objects

Seeing an object involved in the traumatic event may induce a trigger response. This could be any kind of weapon or even a small detail like a watch.

Emotions and thoughts

People often have strong emotions during traumatic experiences. It is likely your loved one felt afraid, helpless, or desperate. Having these emotions at any point after the experience may remind them of how they felt at the time. This can be a major trigger, and it can be difficult to detect.

Try to limit stress and worry for you and your loved one while helping them recover from PTSD. A calm state of mind will help to limit the emotional triggers that stress may induce.

Scent

A person's sense of smell is closely linked to their memory. Smells can be major triggers and are often hard to avoid. For example, if someone survived a fire, the smell of smoke may be a trigger.

Places

Any place that has a strong resemblance to the place where the traumatic experience occurred, or the place itself, can induce a strong trigger reaction.

Media

Films, books, the news; many forms of media deal with major traumas. These can also be triggers for people with PTSD, especially if they are confronted with a scene that is similar to their own experience.

Check content warnings on films and limit time spent watching news reports immediately after the traumatic experience.

Physical sensations

Sometimes feeling pain can be a trigger. A touch can be a trigger for people who have survived a form of assault or attempted kidnapping.

Sound 

Sounds can also be triggering. Hearing screeching brakes, for example, may induce flashbacks for someone who survived a car crash.

Situational triggers

Sometimes being in a situation or scenario that reminds your loved one of a traumatic experience can be a trigger. For example, a survivor of a major earthquake will almost certainly remember their experience if they feel a slight tremor.

Anniversaries 

People with PTSD often remember dates vividly. Keep an eye on your loved one as the same date comes each year. It is a good idea to be extra sensitive and aware of additional triggers.

Talking to your loved one about PTSD triggers

While talking about their experience can be tricky for someone with PTSD, it’s important to discuss triggers when the time is right. Asking your loved one to help you understand what has worked in the past when they respond to a trigger can help you know how to react to them in the future.

Work together to make a plan for navigating the trigger response. This plan can make it easier to know what to do when your loved one has a distressing flashback or panic attack due to a trigger.

Often in these situations, your loved one will not be able to communicate well. This is where a pre-made plan is helpful, as you can step in knowing what will help and what won’t.

Be aware that you might not always be able to prevent a reaction to a trigger for your loved one, and that is ok. It will take time to learn what works and what doesn’t; it will be a learning process for you all.

How to help someone having a flashback or panic attack

Here are some tips about what to do if your loved one is having a flashback or a panic attack:

  • Remind them it’s a memory. It’s important to communicate to your loved one that what they are experiencing is not real.

  • Remind them of where they are. Describe the setting you are in, and prompt them to do the same. Diverting their attention to something like birdsong or other natural sounds can help them become rooted in the time and place.

  • Encourage them to focus on their breathing. Deep, slow breaths will help them calm down.

  • Stay calm and move slowly. Sudden movements may add to their panic.

  • Try to avoid suddenly touching them. You may want to hug your loved one to show that they are safe and loved, but a sudden touch or restricting embrace can add to their panic. Always ask first if it is ok to touch them.

The lowdown

People struggling with PTSD need kindness and patience. It’s a tricky condition that can rear its head at unexpected moments.

Many things can trigger PTSD, including internal and external reminders of the traumatic event. It is always good to be prepared to help your loved one through a flashback and have techniques for grounding them in reality.

Gentle reminders that the traumatic event is no longer happening can help the person stay calm when they react to a trigger.

Patience, space, and positivity can all help you support a loved one with PTSD.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Do you want to know if there are any Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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