Tips for PTSD Survivors to Cope With Upsetting Memories

People with PTSD should learn how to cope with upsetting thoughts and memories, as they often have flashbacks about traumatic events. Fortunately, a number of coping strategies can help such individuals better manage their thoughts and feelings. Review these strategies below.

Using Self-Monitoring to Identify Your Thoughts

pensive man looking into mirror
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Using self-monitoring for PTSD can be an important skill. 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 cannot really address uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without first being aware of what situations bring up these thoughts and feelings. Self-monitoring is a simple way of increasing this awareness. Check out this article to learn more about this simple, yet important, skill.

Catching and Addressing Negative Thoughts

How we evaluate and think about ourselves, other people and events can have a major impact on our mood. If you are feeling anxious and scared, you are more likely to have thoughts that are consistent with that mood. Given this, it is very important to pay attention to your thoughts and how they may be influencing your mood, as well as how to address them before they influence your behavior. This article describes a number of errors in thinking that increase the likelihood of a negative mood. It also describes ways you can begin addressing these thoughts.

How to Be More Mindful of Your Thoughts

Mindfulness can be a wonderful skill to practice when it comes to coping with your PTSD symptoms; however, it can be difficult to be mindful of thoughts, especially those that usually accompany a PTSD diagnosis. People with PTSD may struggle with unpleasant thoughts and memories of their traumatic event. These thoughts can take control ​of a person's life. Mindfulness can be used to take a step back from your thoughts and reduce their ability to affect your life. Read on to learn a simple exercise about how to be mindful of your thoughts.

Improve Your Self-Esteem With Self-Supportive Statements

Many people with PTSD may suffer from low self-esteem; therefore, if you have PTSD, it is important to learn how to boost your confidence. The symptoms of PTSD can be very difficult to cope with. In addition, many people with PTSD also experience other difficulties, such as depression. Due to these difficulties, people with PTSD may experience negative thoughts about themselves, resulting in low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. Therefore, it is very important to learn how to catch these thoughts and combat them with positive thoughts. This will enable you to serve as your own source of social support.

Coping With Flashbacks

Many people with PTSD struggle in coping with flashbacks, one of the recurring symptoms of PTSD. In a flashback, a person may feel or act as though a traumatic event is happening again. A flashback may be temporary and some connection with the present moment may be maintained, or a person may lose all awareness of what is going on around him, being taken completely back to a traumatic event. Flashbacks may occur as a result of encountering triggers, or a reminder of a traumatic event. To the extent that people are not aware of their triggers, flashbacks can be incredibly disruptive. You can, however, take steps to better manage and prevent flashbacks. They are described here.

Coping With Thoughts of Suicide

Nearly 31,000 people commit suicide each year, and people who have experienced a traumatic event or have PTSD may be more likely to attempt suicide. Given this, it is important for traumatized people to be on the lookout for suicidal thoughts and develop ways of coping with them. Catching and addressing these thoughts early on can prevent them from worsening, ultimately helping you to avoid a suicide attempt. When you notice that you are having an increasing number of these thoughts, immediately try some of these coping strategies. These thoughts may also be a signal to seek professional help (if you have not) or work with your therapist on assessing and managing your safety.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.