Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is not uncommon in the military, with an estimated 11% of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20% of Iraqi war veterans returning with the disorder. The prevalence, however, makes it no less overwhelming to care for a loved one struggling with PTSD. While it may be confusing or frightening to help your loved one, your support can make a huge difference in their ability to recover. Below are 6 ways to care for a loved one with PTSD.

1. Educate Yourself about PTSD

PTSD is a complex mental health problem with various causes, triggers, and symptoms. The more you know about it, the better you will understand what your loved one is going through and the better equipped you will be to help them through it. The National Center for PTSD has a wealth of information on the disorder as well as resources for those who have been diagnosed with it and their friends and family. Attending doctor’s visits with your loved one can also keep you up to date on treatment plans for PTSD.

2. Provide Social Support

It’s common for people with PTSD to withdraw from friend and family, though trauma experts believe that face-to-face support from others is the most important factor in PTSD recovery. Doing “normal” things with your loved one that allows them to interact with others can help in their recovery process. Attending doctor appointments with your loved one can help the experience feel less overwhelming, plus you’ll be able to keep track of their medications and appointments. Setting up regular lunch dates with friends and family can also promote regular social time in a setting that feels familiar and safe. Exercising with your loved one can also be beneficial because, in addition to being social, exercise releases endorphins which will help improve your loved one’s mood.

3. Rebuild Safety and Trust

Trauma can alter your loved one’s worldview and cause it to seem dangerous and frightening. It can also make it difficult for them to trust others and themselves, so taking steps to rebuild your loved one’s sense of security will help contribute to their recovery. You can do this by staying connected to them and keeping your promises to re-establish trust. It can also be helpful to create routines and schedules that include regular errands and mealtimes to foster a sense of stability and reduce stress.

4. Anticipate Triggers

Triggers are people, places, things, and situations that can set off a PTSD symptom. Triggers can be internal and external as well as, such as loud noises that sound like gunfire, or obscure, such as a certain scent or object that was present at the time of the trauma. Ask your loved one about triggers and help them predict any that might come up when entering a new situation. Together, you can develop a plan for how to respond to triggers as well as what do to in the case of a nightmare, flashback, or panic attack.

5. Manage Anger

Those with PTSD can experience difficulties managing emotions and impulses, and this can lead to extreme irritability, moodiness, or outburst of rage. These reactions are a result of the constant state of physical and emotional stress PTSD causes and of physical exhaustion due to trouble sleeping. Anger can cover for feelings of helplessness or vulnerability and make those with PTSD feel powerful and in control. You can manage these outbursts by watching for signs of anger, such as your loved one clenching their first or talking louder, and taking steps to defuse the situation immediately. Remain calm, give your loved one space, and ask how you can help or suggest taking a break from the upsetting scenario.

6. Take Care of Yourself

It’s important to take care of yourself if you want to be able to support your loved one for the long haul. If you don’t pay attention to your own needs, the stress of caretaking can easily lead to burnout and take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you maintain balance in your life like ensuring you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and looking after your own health. Finding a support system of your own to share what you are going through can also help release any pressure you may be feeling, as well as making time for your own life and continuing to enjoy your own hobbies.

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