PTSD Coping The Importance of Understanding Your PTSD Emotions By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 23, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Understanding Your Feelings Aspects of an Emotion Identifying Your Emotions Coping Strategies If you have PTSD, you may experience very strong feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, or shame, to name only a few. When you feel several of these PTSD emotions in quick succession, it can be very hard to know what you're feeling at any given moment. If it often happens that you don't know what you're feeling, you may be headed for problems such as: Being unable to manage your emotions and stay in control Choosing unhealthy coping skills, such as avoidance or self-medication with illegal drugs or alcohol Feeling out of control and anxious about what emotions are coming up next In extremely upsetting situations, some people may use dissociation ("blanking out," or feeling that your emotions are disconnected from you) to distance themselves from all aspects of an emotion. Understanding Your Feelings When you know exactly what you're feeling, you have the right information to figure out how to make yourself feel better. You can choose the way to cope with your PTSD emotions that are most likely to be effective. But, you may wonder, aren't treatment methods effective? Yes, but not every healthy coping strategy works the same for every emotional experience. For example, expressive writing might work better for sadness than for anger, whereas taking a "time-out" would probably be more effective for escalating feelings of hostility. How can you identify exactly what you're feeling? First, you need to know the different forms emotions can take. Aspects of an Emotion Every emotion has three parts: Behavior: The action you feel like taking when you're feeling an emotionSensations: The physical changes in your body (for example, increased heart rate, or nausea) when you're feeling an emotionThoughts: Ideas or images that pop into your head when you're feeling an emotion If you're like most people, with or without PTSD, you probably haven't been aware of the three parts of your emotions or the different ways those parts may affect how you feel. For example, sometimes one part, such as uncomfortable thoughts, can "come on" so strongly that it's difficult to get in touch with the others. If you were to experience this, you might simply try to push away or suppress your uncomfortable thoughts, which, of course, would keep you from identifying them and choosing an appropriate coping strategy that would make you feel better. Identifying Your Emotions Listed below are some forms that the three parts of commonly-felt PTSD emotions may take. Fear Behaviors: Getting away from a situation, "freezing," cryingSensations: Racing heart, "tunnel vision," shortness of breathThoughts: "I'm in danger. Something terrible is going to happen." Sadness Behaviors: Isolating yourself, cryingSensations: Low energy, slower heart rate, nauseaThoughts: "My situation is never going to change. I'm all alone in this." Anger Behaviors: Yelling, picking a fight, slamming doorsSensations: Racing heart, muscle tension, jaw clenchingThoughts: "Life is unfair. Everyone's out to get me." Next time you experience an emotion, try to identify all three parts of it. (If you can't, knowing even one or two can be helpful.) Then match them up against this list to see if you're feeling one of these three common PTSD emotions. If you don't get a match, use the three parts you've identified to further investigate what you're feeling. 6 Types of Basic Emotions Coping Strategies to Match Your Emotion Once you've identified at least one or two thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviors connected to an emotion you're feeling, you can start thinking about the type of coping strategy that might be best for managing it. For example, if you're experiencing an emotion that causes increased heart rate and muscle tension, you may want to try a coping strategy to bring those physical sensations down, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing. Now that you've learned how to identify your PTSD emotions, hopefully you're feeling better about managing them. Fortunately you can choose from a number of healthy coping strategies. The Benefits of PTSD Group Therapy 1 Source Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Trauma Reminders: Triggers. By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.