PTSD and Depression: Coping Strategies for Trauma Survivors
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder that occurs after an individual experiences, witnesses, or is exposed to details of a traumatic event, including war, a car crash, a natural disaster, or rape. Those with PTSD may experience distressing memories, dreams, or flashbacks related to the traumatic event, begin avoiding situations related to the causal event, and experience negative changes in mood or thinking. While PTSD and depression are unique mental illnesses, they often occur together.
PTSD And Depression: What Is Trauma?
When an adverse event causes harmful effects in our day-to-day lives, it is called trauma. In some instances, trauma can result from being abandoned by a loved one, experiencing emotional abuse, witnessing casualties during war, and being involved in a car accident.
It is important to note that an individual’s response to the event, rather than the event itself, determines if something is considered trauma. If an event causes the physical and mental symptoms associated with trauma, it is a traumatic event.
While trauma can seem all-encompassing to those who are living with it, it is possible to learn how to manage the symptoms of trauma.
The Connection Between PTSD And Depression
While PTSD and depression are two separate mental illnesses, they often coincide with each other. Approximately half of individuals who are living with PTSD are also experiencing major depressive disorder (MDD).
One explanation of this comorbidity is the symptom overlap between PTSD and MDD.
Another explanation is the connection between trauma and both PTSD and MDD. While trauma is not always a precursor to depression, research suggests that traumatic events like childhood sexual assault increased the risk that an individual would develop major depression later in life.
Managing PTSD And Depression
Although PTSD and depression don’t always occur together, there are steps individuals can take that may help manage the symptoms of both. Sometimes, one treatment approach may have positive effects on both PTSD and depression. However, it is still important to recognize that these are two distinct mental illnesses, and often need to be treated as such.
Although both depression and PTSD can result in low energy, engaging in aerobic exercise can provide numerous benefits. Aerobic exercise consists of planned activities that elevate heart rate, including jogging, cycling, and swimming.
A review of related literature suggests that aerobic exercise may offer numerous benefits to those living with PTSD. Vigorous exercise may help with symptoms of hyperarousal and avoidance.
While not all of the reviewed studies showed a link between exercise and decreased PTSD symptoms, the varying methodologies may explain this. Studies that included more details about the type of exercise showed correlations between high-intensity exercise and the reduction of symptoms, but no correlation between low-intensity exercise and symptoms. Since studies that did not show a reduction in symptoms after exercise did not include details about the type of exercise, it is possible these participants took part in gentle exercises.
Additional research suggests that exercise may help reduce symptoms of depression
Let Yourself Feel
After experiencing a traumatic event, you may notice a myriad of unexpected emotional, physical, and mental reactions. These can include feelings of being alone or like no one understands how or what you're feeling. You could also experience bouts of confusion or anger. You may not understand why you're feeling this way, and also be tempted to ignore or distract yourself from these feelings.
In these moments, it can be helpful to practice self-compassion. By doing so, you recognize that experiencing these emotions can be difficult and you deserve to show yourself patience and kindness.
Find A Support System
If you’re living with PTSD and depression or are experiencing mental health struggles, it can be helpful to find a support system. Having people to talk to can help you feel less alone and also support you as you begin to seek professional help.
Additionally, having others around you can be helpful if you need support to complete daily activities like eating and scheduling appointments.
Show Yourself Kindness
Even with treatment, symptoms of PTSD and depression can vary from day to day. When you know that it’s natural for symptoms to change over time, you can better understand that a difficult period doesn’t mean things will continue to be just as challenging. With that said, showing yourself extra care during these tough days may help you manage your symptoms.
Try to be gentle with yourself as you are going through this sometimes up-and-down process. Aim to speak positively to yourself, and realize that it is okay to lessen your responsibilities in tough moments.
Even if your symptoms have greatly diminished, realize that the effects of trauma may come back in waves. You may go a few days or weeks without many symptoms, only to have intense feelings of dread or anger return after you experience a trigger. Try to show yourself grace in these moments and accept how you are feeling.
It can take time to find the right way to manage your PTSD and depression. The same treatment approach and/or medications don’t work for everyone, so it could take weeks or months to find what helps you.
Realize that you may also experience setbacks along the way. It is important to recognize that experiencing a few days of intense fatigue, a lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy, or a distressing dream, doesn’t necessarily mean your treatment isn’t working. If you do have concerns about how you are managing your mental illness, it can be helpful to seek the guidance of medical professionals.
You Can Seek Help
No matter where you are on your journey with PTSD and/or depression, it’s never too late to seek help. Both of these mental illnesses can be challenging to live with, but help is available. A licensed professional may be able to support you as you find ways to manage the symptoms that are part of living with PTSD and/or depression. Additionally, this person can serve as someone you can turn to with questions and concerns.
Both PTSD and depression can sometimes make it difficult to find the energy or drive to leave the comforts of home. Online therapy provides a way for you to connect with a licensed counselor from the comfort of your own home. In-person therapy is also an option, if that would be more comfortable for you.
Research suggests that individuals with PTSD may experience a reduction in symptoms after partaking in internet-based treatment. One study showed that those involved in an online treatment program showed “clinically significant reductions in PTSD severity and symptomatology.” Online therapy can also be helpful for those living with depression.
PTSD and depression are two separate mental illnesses that sometimes occur together. While they can both present serious challenges, those who are living with either of these illnesses can learn how to manage their symptoms.
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