Self-Monitoring Treatment for PTSD

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Self-monitoring is a way to help manage your post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by bringing awareness to your thoughts and feelings. Consider it one more tool in your PTSD toolkit.

Self-monitoring can be an important skill for people with PTSD. Here's why: We are all creatures of habit. We often go about our day without thinking, being unaware of much that goes on around us. This may be useful in some situations, but other times, this lack of awareness may make us feel as though our thoughts and emotions are completely unpredictable and unmanageable.

We can't really address uncomfortable thoughts and feelings—an important component of dealing with a trauma—without first being aware of what situations bring up these thoughts and feelings.

Self-monitoring is a simple way of increasing this awareness of situations that bring up traumatic feelings.

Read on to learn about this simple, yet important, skill.

How to Self-Monitor for PTSD

Follow these steps to create a worksheet that will help you track how you feel during different situations.

  1. Type or write up a self-monitoring form and make enough copies for at least a week. At the top of the page, make five columns labeled: date and time; situation; thoughts; emotions; physical sensations.
  2. Keep this form with you throughout the day. Whenever you experience an unpleasant or uncomfortable thought or feeling, take out the form and fill it out.
  3. First, write down the date and time.
  4. Next, write down the situation you are in. For example, when did these unpleasant thoughts and feelings come up. Were you involved in a conversation? Were you thinking about something from your past? Briefly describe this situation.
  5. After you describe the situation, write down the thoughts you are having.
  6. Then, write down the emotions you are feeling. Words you may use to describe your emotions may be: mad, sad, upset, anger, down, anxious, fear, guilt, shame, embarrassment, jealous, etc.
  7. Now, write down the physical sensations that you are experiencing. For example, did your heart rate speed up? Are you experiencing muscle tension? Do you feel queasy or is your stomach upset?
  8. It may be useful to also rate how intense or upsetting these thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations are by rating each on a scale from 1 (no distress/not intense) to 10 (very distressing/intense).

Try self-monitoring for at least a week and see if you can increase your awareness of what situations bring about certain thoughts and feelings for you.

Useful Advice for Self-Monitoring for PTSD

As you fill out your self-monitoring worksheets, the following advice may be useful to you:

  • Sometimes bringing awareness to certain thoughts and feelings can make them feel more intense and/or distressing. For this reason, it may be useful to pair self-monitoring with other stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness or deep breathing.
  • Hold on to the sheets of paper that you use to monitor your thoughts and feelings. At the end of week, see if you can identify patterns. That is, are you more prone to anxiety at the end of the day? Do you tend to feel more depressed near the end of the week? All of this is important information.
  • It may be hard initially to separate your experience into thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Try your best. The more you can separate these experiences from one another, the better you will be able to identify them when they occur.
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