5 Ways to Be Supportive of Loved Ones with PTSD



As someone who has lived with mental illness I often get asked by friends, family members, or significant others what they can do to help. I found when my PTSD was most severe that I could not answer that question. It’s really difficult to separate yourself to see what you need. Now that I am in a place where I have more control, and I have educated myself on PTSD and General Anxiety Disorder, I wish to share my knowledge. So here are a few tips on what you can do if you know someone with PTSD. 







1 ) Educate Yourself

   Learn what it means to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People who live with PTSD have had an actual change in our brain. It is not the same as an average brain any more. There is nothing we can do to change it back. The more you can know and understand about the mechanics of PTSD the better you will be able to support your loved ones. 

2 ) Be Respectful

   Sounds like a no brainer right? Not so much. I even struggle with this when helping friends with a more severe degree of mental illness than myself. You need to reframe how you think when you’re around a person suffering from mental illness. 

With your thoughts that you may be having such as:

“It’s so simple, they just need to do it.”
“They’ve done this a million times, why can’t they just do it now?”
“They’re just overreacting.”

With their boundaries, physical and emotional:

     Often people who have suffered trauma do not like to be touched, or have people too near to them. Especially when their emotions are escalating. Ask before touching or hugging. I use the bubble metaphor for my child. I will tell her how “big Mom’s bubble is” today so she can appreciate my space. 


3 ) Learn their triggers, not their trauma

    Be wary about asking what caused people’s trauma. You don’t want to trigger a flashback or panic attack. Ask more about their feelings in the moment. Leave out asking why, because more times than not they will not know why. 

    Instead, ask about their triggers. It could be something completely mundane to another person. For example, I am triggered by white work vans. While I have gotten to a point where I merely hold my breath and check to see who is driving now, I used to have an anxiety attack and literally run the other direction as fast as I could. 

    Knowing what triggers your loved one can help you de-escalate before a flashback or attack comes on in full force. It can also help you work with them around situations that could be difficult for them.

4 ) Be specific when offering help

    The generic “Is there anything I can do to help you?” is a wonderful sentiment. But as people with PTSD are trying to regain control in their lives, they aren’t sure what to reply with such an open ended question. Also people living with mental illness often do not want to feel like a burden to others, so they don’t want to have to ask for specific things.

    Something simple and specific such as “Can I come over and help by doing your laundry?” or “Would you like me to pick you up and take you to the gym with me?” is so much more helpful. It takes the weight off that makes us feel less like we’re putting you out by asking for help.

5 ) Learn de-escalating techniques 

    Find out what grounding techniques they use. They can help us when the anxiety starts to hit. Things such as 5x5 (Look for 5 items for each of the 5 senses) can quickly turn the emotional brain off and let the intellectual brain take over. This is key in stopping the flood of chemicals that creates anxiety and panic. 

 

   Learn a few breathing techniques. When an anxiety attack starts, our breathing changes to prepare us to flee. Which then creates a change in the chemicals in our brain which aid the anxiety. Having a couple of different breathing techniques in your pocket to help talk them through an attack will be a sure fire way to aid your loved ones. 







Do you live with PTSD? Do you have other things that you find are helpful that people can do for you? Let me know in the comments below! 

Stay wicked,

Galaxy 

1 comment

  1. Great post, very informative. These types of things are ones that many people don't think twice about until something goes wrong.

    There's probably more to be said about "Being Specific" when trying to help someone with PTSD. I'm thinking that the effectiveness of this may depend on how well you know the person, how they would react to these offers under the given circumstances, etc. It's great advice, but I would err on the side of caution when trying to use that to help someone you might not know so well.

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