After your diagnosis, you may ask, “I have PTSD. Now what?” Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that causes distressing symptoms after a traumatic event. People can develop PTSD from a single incident, such as physical assault, or repeated trauma that occurred for weeks, months or years. Anyone can suffer from PTSD regardless of age, background, personality or lifestyle.
Most people feel distressed after a scary event, but you may have PTSD if the symptoms don’t gradually disappear after a month. Common PTSD symptoms include:
- Trigger avoidance
- Memory loss
- Excessive risk-taking
- Negative beliefs about the world
- Feelings of guilt and shame
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 6% of Americans will have PTSD in their lifetimes. Signs of PTSD can suddenly manifest months or years after an incident occurs, especially if you experienced childhood trauma.
“I Have PTSD. Now What?”
Receiving a PTSD diagnosis kick-starts your recovery journey. PTSD can require more intensive care than other diagnoses, such as depression or insomnia (though these symptoms can often co-occur with PTSD). Once you have an accurate diagnosis, doctors can pinpoint specific treatments. Therapists may evaluate aspects of your trauma, how often it occurred and whether you were a direct victim or witness. They could also ask about the length and severity of your symptoms.
Other disorders can arise from PTSD, such as depression, anxiety and addiction. To promote a complete recovery, professionals may tackle your PTSD directly to provide relief from other mental issues. Additionally, people in your life could help you if you choose to disclose your diagnosis. For example, they could avoid creating sudden movements or loud noises, approach topics with more sensitivity and make work accommodations.
How Can You Improve Your Daily Life?
Setting goals can help you improve your day-to-day life after learning you have PTSD. These might include:
- Rebuilding relationships with friends and relatives
- Learning to face triggering situations
- Meditating without experiencing flashbacks
- Exercising and eating right again
- Processing suppressed emotions
- Remembering parts of the incident
What to Do After a PTSD Diagnosis
The treatments available for PTSD can provide a combination of temporary relief and permanent solutions. As you undergo treatment, you may experience fewer flashbacks, build your self-confidence and return to places that once frightened you. You’ll learn coping skills to use for the rest of your life. After your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend:
Talk therapy evaluates the trauma that led you to this point. You may discuss the past and how it affected your life in a safe, controlled environment. During each session, your therapist might suggest coping skills and ways to reframe your trauma. They’ll approach the issue carefully, so they don’t accidentally trigger flashbacks.
Your doctor might prescribe medication to ease your symptoms while you undergo therapy. Medication interacts with your brain chemistry to improve your mood, relieve anxiety, increase energy and relieve other symptoms, such as insomnia and psychosis.
Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Instead of discussing the past, CBT focuses on challenging toxic thoughts in the moment so you can change your thought patterns. You’ll ask yourself questions about each thought, such as “how probable is this?” or “am I looking at this situation objectively?” Once you’ve undergone CBT, you can stop taking negative thoughts as truth.
This therapy gradually exposes you to your triggers, so they lose their power. For example, if you have PTSD after a car accident, your doctor might recommend a series of steps where you enter a vehicle, turn it on and drive increasingly longer distances. Exposure therapy moves at your own pace to avoid traumatizing you again.
Holistic treatments, such as yoga, meditation and massage therapy, help your body relax so you’re not overly reliant on medication. You can turn to these therapies when you’re stressed. For example, if you feel overwhelmed at work, you could step outside and take a few breaths before continuing.
Inpatient programs provide 24-hour care for people who aren’t ready for independent living. You’ll stay in a secure environment in a comfortable room while you undergo group and individual therapy, spiritual workshops, fitness classes and neuro rehab. People with addictions undergo detox before they start the program.
Outpatient care allows you to seek treatment on your schedule. You receive medication management and attend day, evening and weekend therapy sessions and education classes. Partial-hospitalization programs include 30 hours of treatment per week, while outpatient therapy includes 15 hours. Other options include a sober living program that helps you transition back to independent living.
What Can You Expect from Medication Management?
Typically, doctors start by prescribing one or two medications. You’ll monitor the medication for side effects and thought pattern changes. Many prescriptions take a few weeks to show a noticeable difference. If the prescription works and has no, or manageable side effects, you’ll keep taking it.
Otherwise, your doctor will suggest a different medication. Everyone’s brain chemistry is different, so a treatment that helped a friend might not work for you. This doesn’t mean that your PTSD is untreatable–you just need a different option. Many people try several prescriptions before they find a regimen that addresses their symptoms.
Each medication has specific instructions. You might have to take one pill twice a day, take your pill with food or avoid other prescriptions or substances. To gain the full benefit from a medication, it’s important to take your prescription according to your doctor’s instructions.
When Should You Seek a Higher Level of Care?
Untreated PTSD can manifest in everyday life until you can’t ignore the signs anymore. You might lose concentration, show irritability, have persistent nightmares, experience sudden flashbacks and find it increasingly difficult to function. This makes it vital to seek care immediately if you suspect you may have PTSD.
If possible, contact a doctor shortly after a traumatic incident occurs. However, it’s never too late if you didn’t have that option. You can learn to cope with PTSD, even decades later. Treatment can help you make up for lost time by teaching you how to enjoy life again.
At Restore Mental Health, we offer personalized treatment options to address PTSD, including an inpatient program, outpatient care and neuro rehab. If you believe you’re experiencing PTSD, or you’ve received a diagnosis, contact our 24-hour team to discuss your situation and get the help you need.