If you have a loved one who lives with PTSD, you’ve seen firsthand how incredibly difficult it can be to cope with its symptoms. The anxiety, apprehension, nightmares, social avoidance, insomnia, and more that they experience are not easy.
Naturally, your love for them makes it even harder to witness what they’re going through. While no one can wave a magic wand and whisk PTSD away, there are things you can do to support your family, partner, or friends as they navigate life with PTSD.
PTSD is a complex disorder that develops after a traumatic occurrence. Its causes are many: chronic illness, hospitalizations, war and combat, childhood abuse, sexual assault, natural disasters.
PTSD affects the body’s sympathetic nervous system, responsible for keeping the body “on alert” in the face of danger. The problem is that, for people with PTSD, this system stays on even when it’s no longer needed.
As you educate yourself about PTSD and how it works, you’ll gain more in-depth insight into why your loved one acts the way they do. This approach is an essential step to knowing how to support them.
Nurture a Healthy Relationship
Sometimes, the best way to start helping someone is merely to be there for them. You probably already know that giving people advice usually doesn’t go far. But kindness, compassion, and empathy are steps that can help.
As with any close friend or essential family member, nurture the relationship as best you can in light of their PTSD. That said, here are a few ideas:
- Do what they enjoy doing.
- Provide a listening ear.
- Spend time outdoors together.
- Exercise together.
- Keep activities relaxed and lighthearted.
- Don’t pressure them to talk.
- Don’t criticize or blame them for their symptoms.
- Encourage therapy.
Again, while you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do, try to encourage therapy for their PTSD. Guiding the sympathetic nervous system out of its state of high alert and back to “normal” is often best done with a therapist’s help.
PTSD therapy has evolved over the years, and many efficient approaches are available. Therapists have learned more about the brain, anxiety, trauma, and how they play off each other.
If your loved one doesn’t get therapy, consider finding a therapist for yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused about how to support your loved one. This can also help with your mental health and keep you grounded.
Realize It’s Not About You
Many people with PTSD suffer from frequent irritability and anger. When you first experience this reaction, you may think it’s because of something you’ve done. And even as it continues to occur, you may still believe you are the one causing the anger. Without having a strong awareness of the symptoms of PTSD, it can be hard to separate yourself from your loved one’s behavior.
However, it’s vital to be able to do this. Otherwise, you’ll start to feel guilty and take on personal responsibility for something that is not your problem.
Keep Yourself Healthy
When you love someone with PTSD, it’s possible to find your life becoming dominated and controlled by their symptoms and behavior. But this doesn’t help either of you.
Make your mental health and social life a priority. It would help if you spent time with others, pursue your interests and pastimes, and not be expected to be a permanent caretaker. While it is admirable and vital to make sacrifices for loved ones when called for, it’s also crucial to maintain your self-autonomy and emotional balance.
As a therapist, I’ve seen many individuals find healing from PTSD. Often, their friends and family members play active roles in this process. Continue to encourage your loved one, be there for them, and don’t give up on them. Also, seek help when you need it. That can make a big difference. Please contact my office or visit my Trauma and PTSD page to find out more about PTSD therapy.