Managing Emotions When You Have PTSD

If you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chances are you sometimes have problems with managing emotions, which may sometimes feel very strong and hard to keep under control.

What can you do?

First, it's helpful to know you aren't alone. Many people with PTSD feel emotionally out of control at times. You should also know that people with PTSD tend to have:

Fortunately, there a number of ways of managing emotions in PTSD. Use the techniques listed below to find those that may work for you.

Identifying Your Emotions

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Managing emotions is hard when you don't know what you're feeling except that you feel out of control and can't be sure what will happen next. This lack of emotional awareness sometimes leads to unhealthy ways of feeling better, such as:

Fortunately, there are healthy ways of managing emotions. They start with identifying what you're feeling.

Using Distraction to Cope With Strong Emotions

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Strong emotions can be very hard to control in-the-moment. Distraction is one way of managing emotions In this situation. It works by helping you focus your attention away from how you're feeling.

Anything you can do to distract yourself briefly allows time for your emotions to scale down so they're less intense and easier for you to manage. This article presents a number of easy-to-learn distraction techniques that you can "switch on" quickly when strong emotions start to feel out of control.

Increasing Positive Emotions Through Positive Activities

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Let's face it, PTSD can get you down and make you feel your life lacks meaning. You may even feel too depressed to take part in activities you normally enjoy.

One way of managing emotions that are uncomfortable and distressing is by increasing the number of positive, pleasurable experiences in your life. There are a number of ways to do this, including scheduling positive activities into every day.

Using Self-Soothing Ways of Managing Emotions

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 "Self-soothing" or self-care ways of managing emotions involve using one or more of your five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. These techniques can be especially effective when uncomfortable or stressful emotions arise unexpectedly.

 Learn helpful self-soothing techniques involving your five senses.

Managing Your Anger

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People with PTSD can experience high levels of anger and irritability. In fact, irritability is considered a symptom of PTSD.

Anger can be a very hard emotion to control. But there are healthy ways of managing this intense emotion. Here's an article that describes one such technique: taking a personal timeout to give your anger time to subside.

Writing to Express Your Emotions

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If you have PTSD, you may often feel strong, uncomfortable emotions. Sometimes you may try to "push down" or suppress them. This "emotional avoidance" may be effective for a short while and even bring some temporary relief.

If you have PTSD, the emotions you're trying to avoid may actually grow stronger and become even harder to manage.

Healthy ways of expressing your emotions include a technique called "expressive writing," which means writing about your feelings. Managing emotions through writing about them can give you a safe and private way to release your deepest feelings.

Monitoring Your Emotions

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It's good to know a number of effective ways of managing emotions. But they don't all work for all emotional situations. So how do you know if a technique you've considering will work?

One way to judge the effectiveness of any technique for managing emotions is to monitor them with the goal of increasing your emotional awareness. Follow the steps in this article to create your own emotion-monitoring worksheet.

Managing Anxiety Through Deep Breathing

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Deep breathing? Yes! It may sound silly, but many people do not breathe properly. If you have PTSD, learning deep-breathing techniques can help you prevent anxiety and stress.

Natural breathing involves your diaphragm, a large muscle in your abdomen. When you breathe in, your belly should push out. When you breathe out, your belly should pull in. Many people don't breathe this way and instead use their chest and shoulders, causing short and shallow breaths that can increase stress and anxiety.

Even if you didn't know about deep breathing until now, it's not too late to start. Practice this simple exercise to improve your breathing.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety With Progressive Muscle Relaxation

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Using relaxation exercises can be a very effective way of reducing your stress and anxiety. For one such exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, you first tense and then relax different muscle groups throughout your body.

This article takes you through a progressive muscle relaxation exercise that is easy and effective for people with PTSD.

Seeking Out Social Support

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Getting support for managing emotions can be a major factor in helping you deal with the negative effects of PTSD. Talking with people who offer support in social settings has two helpful results: It lets you express your emotions and receive feedback validating them.

However, talking with just anyone may not be helpful. How can you identify those around you who can provide the support you need? One way is to learn the important qualities of a strong supportive relationship and seek out people who have them.

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