PTSD recovery - Get moving
If you have PTSD you should know immediately: You are not alone.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder can occur following a life-threatening event like military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. Every day first responders encounter stressful and potentially traumatic events such as shootings, fires, accidents, disasters, and death. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people have stress reactions that don't go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD.
People who suffer from PTSD look like everyone else, but often suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and feeling emotionally numb. These symptoms can significantly impair a person's daily life.
PTSD is when your nervous system gets “stuck.”
Your nervous system has two automatic or reflexive ways of responding to stressful events:
- Mobilization, or fight-or-flight, occurs when you need to defend yourself or survive the danger of a combat situation. Your heart pounds faster, your blood pressure rises, and your muscles tighten, increasing your strength and reaction speed. Once the danger has passed, your nervous system calms your body, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and winding back down to its normal balance.
- Immobilization occurs when you’ve experienced too much stress in a situation and even though the danger has passed, you find yourself “stuck.” Your nervous system is unable to return to its normal state of balance and you’re unable to move on from the event. This is PTSD.
Recovering from PTSD involves transitioning out of the mental and emotional trauma zone you’re still living in and helping your nervous system become "unstuck."
As well as helping to burn off adrenaline, exercise can release endorphins and improve your mood. By really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can even help your nervous system become “unstuck.”
Exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs—such as running, swimming, basketball, or even dancing—works well if, instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts as you move, you focus on how your body feels.
Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more each day—or if it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise are just as good. Notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin.
Capt. Ronnelle Armstrong, a chaplain of 1st Special Operations Wing. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. John Bainter)
The benefits of the great outdoors
Josh Wharton on Hearts & Arrows 5.12b, The Diamond. Photo by Andrew Burr
Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts can make it easier to focus on your body movements—after all, if you don’t, you could get injured.
Pursuing outdoor activities in nature like hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing can help challenge your sense of vulnerability and help you transition back into civilian life.
Suicide prevention in veterans with PTSD
It’s common for veterans with PTSD to experience suicidal thoughts. Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it doesn't mean that you are crazy, weak, or flawed.
If you are thinking about taking your own life, seek help immediately. Please read Suicide Help, talk to someone you trust, or call a suicide helpline:
In the U.S., call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
In the UK, call 08457 90 90 90.
In Australia, call 13 11 14.
Or visit IASP to find a helpline in your country.