PTSD And Depression: Coping Strategies For Trauma Survivors

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated August 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
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Trauma And Its Impacts Can Be Challenging To Manage

Trauma survivors may experience symptoms and challenges related to both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. While PTSD and depression are unique mental illnesses, they often occur together. Just like there may be an overlap in symptoms, there can also be an overlap in treatments.

There are many coping strategies that can help those experiencing PTSD and depression, including engaging in regular exercise and talking to a licensed counselor.

Defining PTSD And Depression

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. They may begin avoiding situations related to the causal event, and experience negative changes in mood or thinking. 

Depression is a serious but treatable mental illness associated with prolonged feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, fatigue, and changes in appetite. While PTSD and depression are unique mental illnesses, they often occur together.

Defining 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, or 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. Numbing and dysphoria are common to both disorders. 

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. Here are 5 suggestions for helping you cope with the effects of PTSD and depression. 

Regular Exercise

Although both depression and PTSD can result in low energy, engaging in aerobic exercise can counteract this tendency. 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 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 or 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 they can help if you need support with daily activities, like eating or scheduling appointments. One way to find a support system is to seek out professional help. A trusted therapist can be one more supportive connection. 

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 indefinitely. 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, it can be helpful to remember 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.

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Trauma And Its Impacts Can Be Challenging To Manage

Practice Patience

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.

It’s important to realize that you may also experience setbacks along the way. 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, you can always seek help. 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 desire to leave your house or drive a long distance. Online therapy provides a way for you to connect with a licensed counselor without leaving home. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that will pair you with a professional, licensed, and vetted therapist. 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 significant reductions in the severity and symptoms associated with PTSD. 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, actions like finding a support system and practicing patience in the face of setbacks can help those who are living with PTSD or depression manage their symptoms.

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