More on Depression: The Bully Inside Your Head

Hi again!

So – last week, we talked a bit about depression.

(Well okay – I talked about depression; I seem to do most of the talking around here. You know I welcome your comments, right? Feel free to start a discussion…)

Anyhow – I was saying that your brain runs on juice, and that depression sucks out all the juice that makes your brain run.

Basically – depression is like a big bully inside your head. It sits there and calls you names. It tells you stuff like “you’re useless”, or “you’re worthless”, or “you’re not good enough”. It compares the person you are now to the “old you”. It tells you to feel guilty and ashamed of who you are now.

Depression is so good at messing with you because not only does it tell you all that stuff – it also makes you believe that nonsense.

Don’t get sucked in!!!

Unless this is the first post that you’ve read on this blog, then you probably realize by now that I repeat myself when I have something important to say. I said this last week, but I’m saying it again: Depression is an illness; it would be great if there was a “juice gauge” on the side of your head, like a gas gauge in your car, so you could actually see when your brain is running low on juice – then it would be easier to accept that depression is real.

Sadly, there’s no juice gauge. Instead, you’ll just have to trust me. (I’m some chick you met on the internet, so trusting me has got to be a good idea, right?)

Depression is an illness, not a choice. Here’s a couple of ways to fight back:

– “if it were a physical illness“: Ask yourself this: If you were physically ill and not able to get stuff done, would you be saying nasty stuff to yourself about it? No, of course not. You’d be annoyed and frustrated that you’re sick, but you wouldn’t blame yourself. Well, depression is a physical illness – it’s a juice deficiency, and that part is physical. You didn’t ask for this. So try to quit beating up on yourself about it.

– “if it were happening to a friend“: Ask yourself this: If one of your friends were struggling with this, would you be telling them that they’re useless and worthless? If you have peer support, you probably know some buddies who struggle with this stuff. When they do, you probably tell them you’ve been there too, to take it one day at a time, and to do their best and take it easy on themselves.

You say the nice stuff to your buddies because that’s supportive; you say that mean stuff to yourself because that’s depression.  Talking to yourself like you’re talking to a buddy is a way to cheat depression and offer yourself some support. If you can offer yourself some support, you might be able to put some juice back in your tank, so you feel up to doing more stuff, and slowly digging your way out of depression.

Sounds so simple, right? Yeah, well simple and easy are two different things, and this is going to be a LOT of work. For a lot of folks – too much to do on your own. If you’re struggling to get better on your own, don’t just sit there and tell yourself you should be able to do this alone – that’s your depression bullying you again. Most folks can’t do this on their own, and you don’t have to. Get some peer support, and then get yourself to therapy. It’ll help you get better.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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On the Importance of Peer Support

Hi again!

Last post, I was talking about depression; so, you might think with peer support, I’m sort of jumping all over the place. I’m not; peer support is actually an important part of coping with depression. Here’s why:

As soldiers, you’re used to being part of a unit, and working closely with a group of other people to whom you can relate. That’s one of the things that makes a psychological injury all the more difficult: it’s such a lonely, isolating experience. Often, you feel like you failed somehow, and like you’re the only one who ever felt this way. You might tell yourself that you’re supposed to be stronger than this. Beating up on yourself like this is the downward spiral of depression that we were just talking about in the last post.

Dealing with this stuff on your own is like trying to fight a war all by yourself, against an enemy you’ve never been trained to fight. As a psychologist, and even as a blogger, I can try to help you understand this new enemy, and help you learn to fight back. What I can’t do as effectively, as a civi who’s never been there, is convince you that your symptoms are not about weakness or failure, it’s about what happened to you. Don’t get me wrong – I try. I repeat that stuff all the time. And you know what happens? You roll your eyes at me. (Yeah, I saw you. It’s okay.)

As far as you’re concerned, my job is to make you feel better, so when I start saying all that nice fluffy that it’s not your fault, it’s sort of like your Momma telling you that you’re handsome – you figure it’s just my job to say nice stuff to make you feel better…

It’s easier to win a war if you have buddies fighting alongside you; and that’s what peer support does. Getting together with a bunch of other folks who have been there and gone through it accomplishes what I can’t: You meet others who have been through the same kind of stuff and have had the same kind of reactions.

Depression makes you blame yourself unfairly, but when you can be understanding to someone else who’s going through the same sort of stuff, it suddenly starts to get real that, hey – it you think their symptoms aren’t their fault, then maybe yours aren’t your fault, either. Psychological injury, whether depression, PTSD, or whatever else you’ve got on your plate – it happens when you go through the kind of stuff you went through, and it happens no matter who you are.

Peer support gives you a chance to let go of the feelings of shame and guilt. And it gives you a chance to fight back as a team, which is what you’re used to doing as a soldier.

If you’re in Canada, you can find a peer support community through http://www.osiss.ca/ They provide some great services and supports, and I hope you check them out.

Online, there’s a number of peer support communities on Facebook – if you’re interested, you can link to many of these through my Facebook profile.  Scroll down to “groups”, on the left-hand side.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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The Downward Spiral of Depression

We’re going to switch gears a little bit today.

So far, we’ve talked a lot about PTSD. But PTSD and depression often go together like peanut butter and jelly; so, we need to talk about depression.

Here’s how it works it a nutshell: your brain runs on juice. (Geeks might throw around big fancy words like dopamine and serotonin, but it’s juice, and it makes your brain run).

When you’re well, your brain has enough juice to make you feel like doing stuff. You might feel like going for a bike ride, having coffee with a friend, or picking up your guitar and strumming it. Hey – you might even feel like doing some chores around the house. (This last one doesn’t happen to me personally very often, but I’m just saying – it might happen to you). When you get stuff done, you feel proud or satisfied; those good feelings make more juice, so tomorrow and the next day, your brain has the juice to do it all over again.

When you have depression, this all comes to a screeching halt. Depression means your brain doesn’t have enough juice to feel like doing anything. So, it might be a gorgeous day out, but you just can’t bring yourself to go out for a ride. You stare at your guitar; it stares back at you. You just can’t get the “oomph” to pick it up and strum the darn thing.

But – while you sit there not having enough juice to actually do anything, your head keeps making lists of all the stuff you should be doing right now. So – instead of doing stuff and feeling good about it, you’re just sitting there, feeling like guilt and shame that you aren’t getting anything done.

These feelings of guilt and shame are part of depression, and they just suck more juice out of your brain. So tomorrow, you wake up having even less energy to do anything. And, you wake up kicking yourself over having wasted the whole day today not getting anything done. And it gets worse the next day, and the next day, and next. That, in a nutshell, is the downward spiral of depression.

Okay – so here’s how we begin to turn it around:

First, understand that it is a real illness; one of depression’s strongest weapons against you is that it convinces you that you there’s nothing wrong with you, and that you’re just being lazy. So – first off, please know that depression is not laziness.

How do I know? Simple – if you were lazy you wouldn’t care that you’re not getting stuff done, you’d be happy to leave it for someone else to do. If it’s eating you up that you can’t seem to get moving, then you’re not lazy.

Look – if you broke your leg and fell behind on getting stuff done, you’d get it that this is not your fault. Depression’s more tricky than a broken leg for two reasons: one, because you can’t see it; and two, because it makes you more self-critical, so you blame yourself unfairly. But you’re not lazy, you’re sick. Beating up on yourself about it doesn’t fix anything, it just makes you more sick.

Easier said than done, I know. But, understanding is the first step to fixing. So read through this post a couple of times, soak it in, and we’ll get started on standing up to your depression.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. It’s not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Strategies for Coping with Nightmares

Unfortunately, nightmares are part of PTSD for many people. They aren’t easy to get rid of. However, if you get nightmares, here is a list of things that you can do to try to make them a little easier on yourself:

– Did I mention that relaxation is really good for you? I did actually; so many times that you might be getting tired of hearing it. I even posted a relaxation exercise here. Some people felt triggered by that one (and I thank them for telling me), so I posted a different one here. I keep talking about relaxation because it’s good for you. Try to do some every night before you go to bed. It will make you less tense, and if you’re less tense you’re less likely to have nightmares.

– Anniversaries of your trauma events are likely to be particularly difficult. But, any days when you’ve been triggered, upset, stressed, or even excited (in a happy way), you’re more likely to have nightmares. Knowing this, you can work to compensate: on days like that, try to do more to relax before going to bed than you normally would. Then, as you lie in bed, take some time to look around the room, and remind yourself that you’re home, and that you’re not in danger. Putting this thought in your head right before you fall asleep will make it easier to bring yourself back into the here-and-now if you do wake up with a nightmare.

There’s a couple of things you can do to set up your bedroom to make it easier to cope with nightmares:

– Keep the room dark enough to sleep, but leave a small nightlight on to make it easier and quicker to orient yourself if you wake up from a nightmare.

– Keep the space uncluttered; have a couple of objects around the room that will help you to quickly and easily orient you to the here and now. Any object that you didn’t have at the time that the trauma happened can work; that way, if you do wake up with a nightmare, you can quickly scan the room to know where and when you are.

– Use your grounding skills: usually, waking up from a nightmare means waking up drenched in sweat. Lying in bed, drenched in sweat and shivering will do absolutely nothing to help you recover from your nightmare. So get up, run to the bathroom, and splash some water on your face. Get in the shower, and have a nice warm relaxing shower. Lavender-scented soap is also relaxing. Put on warm dry pajamas. Turn on soft, relaxing music. Fix yourself a cup of tea or warm milk (or another beverage that soothes you). The idea at this point is to soothe and comfort yourself, to help yourself recover as quickly as possible, rather than allowing the suffering to continue.

If you tend to have the same nightmare over and over again, there’s a type of therapy for that.

If your nightmare is overwhelming and terrifying to even think about, please don’t try this on your own – find a qualified mental health professional to help you.

The treatment involves writing out your nightmare in detail, with a different (positive) ending. You basically train yourself to re-imagine the nightmare with a positive ending, and then train yourself to take control of the nightmare. This takes a lot of work to do successfully, and it’s hard to do by yourself. So please reach out to get some help if you need it.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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What-to-do-when-you-can’t-Sleep Strategies for PTSD

Hi again!

So – the last post was about sleep strategies… And since I acknowledged that none of those strategies were quick fixes, I figured it would make sense to follow up with strategies about what on Earth to do with yourself when you can’t sleep. Because, even if you do everything I just suggested in the last post, chances are some of the time you’ll still be up, unable to sleep.

Or, chances are that you’ll get to sleep and then be woken up with nightmares. If that’s the case, check out this post.

If you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep – don’t just keep lying there tossing and turning. Get up. Go to a different room.

Turn on only soft, dim lights. Try NOT to turn on the TV, the computer, or your phone; your brain interprets the type of light emitted by those devices as daylight, so looking at them will only get you more alert and wired, and will make it harder to get back to sleep.

Instead, do things that feel either relaxing and/or a little boring to you – some examples might include playing soft music; flipping through a magazine; folding laundry; working on a jigsaw puzzle.

Do this until you feel sleepy (until you’re yawning and feeling like you could fall asleep). Then go back to bed.

There’s a reason behind this approach:

If you can’t sleep and you don’t get up, you end up spending night after night tossing and turning in bed. After a while, you don’t think of bed as “a relaxing place to go to get some rest”; instead, you think of bed as “that awful place where you toss and turn all night long every night”. If you’ve been doing that for a while, you’ll tense up a bit as soon as you think of bed. You might find it easier to fall asleep on the couch or in a big armchair – anywhere but bed.

So, getting up when you can’t sleep basically re-teaches your brain that bed is a comfortable place where you can sleep, and not an awful place where you toss and turn for hours on end.

And doing relaxing, boring, quiet stuff gives you another chance to lull yourself to sleep. Even if you don’t get back to sleep that night, doing quiet, relaxing stuff during the night helps to re-teach your brain that night-time is for sleeping, or at least for resting.

Again – no quick fixes here, folks. But this is important stuff to know, and if you try it, it might make a bit of a difference.

Good night, and I hope you’re able to get some rest.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Sleep Strategies for PTSD

Well – this is NOT going to be a “Get a great night’s sleep in five easy steps!” kind of post.

I wish there were easy solutions.

The reality is, PTSD wreaks havoc with your ability to get a good night’s rest, and there’s no quick fix.

But – I’d like you to try these strategies. They’re not a miracle fix, but they may help somewhat. These are ideas and suggestions, not marching orders; try the ones that you feel comfortable with.

– Try to set a regular bedtime routine. Do something relaxing, like having a warm shower; listening to some soothing music, or drinking a cup of chamomile tea.

– Keep the temperature in your bedroom a little on the cool side. Not cold, but a little cooler than you’d want for sitting around. (Our body temperature naturally drops a little to sleep, so being too warm will actually keep you awake).

– If sudden noises from outside make you jump awake, a fan can provide a gentle soothing noise to help you sleep; soft music can also be helpful.

–  Use a relaxation exercise before going to bed.

– Keep your feet and hands warm. Cold hands and feet are a signal of stress for your body – if necessary, wear socks and/or gloves to bed.

– Try to exercise regularly, but not just before bed: exercising right before bed can make you feel revved up, so it’s harder to go to sleep. There is good evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep, so it’s important to try to get some exercise each day. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before bed.

– Try not to do stimulating activities just before bed: This includes stuff like playing a competitive game, watching an exciting movie or TV show, or having an important discussion with a loved one. Looking at your computer screen or checking your cell phone shortly before bed may also interfere with sleep, because the kind of light given off by these devices registers in our brain as bright daylight, so it makes your brain think it’s time to wake up.

– Try not to have caffeine for at least six hours before bed. This includes coffee, many teas, chocolate, sodas, etc.

– Bed is for two things, both of which start with “s”. Don’t read, watch TV, or work in bed – that will make it harder to fall asleep.

– Try not to use alcohol to help you sleep. It might help you fall asleep, but it will make you more likely to wake up a couple of hours later and have trouble getting back to sleep.

– Try not to go to bed too hungry or too full: it’s hard to sleep well after a big meal – you’ll wake up with heartburn during the night. On the flip side, going to bed hungry makes it difficult to fall asleep. Have a light, well-balanced meal at least two hours before bed instead.

Like I was saying… None of this advice will magically fix your sleep problems. But, if you keep trying, it may help a bit.

Still having trouble sleeping? You can find some ideas on what to do here.

Waking up with nightmares? Here‘s some advice on how to cope.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD and Relaxation: When and Why

So – have you noticed that lately, I’m talking a lot about relaxation…?

Well – today I’d like to talk to you a bit why relaxation is important, and how to use it to manage your symptoms.

If  you’re like most of the patients that I work with, you might think of relaxation as something you do when you’re feeling really wound up to bring yourself back down.

If you use relaxation this way, that’s a great start. The next step is to get into a routine of doing some sort of relaxation every day, even when you aren’t feeling really wound up and you don’t think that you need it.

Think of doing relaxation the same way as you think of brushing your teeth: you don’t wait until you have a toothache to brush your teeth. You do it regularly because it helps to prevent a toothache. Same with relaxation: try an exercise like this every day. If you prefer to relax by imagining a hike in the woods, you can do this instead.

Here’s why: when you have PTSD,  even at your most calm, you are probably still pretty wound up and vulnerable to stress as compared to a person without PTSD. That increased vulnerability can be pretty stressful in itself – you might spend much of your time worrying about how you cope with unexpected stress, or feeling embarrassed about how you react to stressful events.

Put simply, doing relaxation exercises regularly can help to rebuild your resilience. It can help you feel calmer and more centred, so that you can handle stressful events with more confidence. It’s not a miracle; it’s a skill, and just like any other skill, it takes time and practice to get better at it. But it’s worth it – over time and with practice, relaxation can make a difference.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Guided imagery exercise #2: By the water

Everyone – this blog is meant to be your space. Expressing your needs and preferences is valued here.

Thank you for providing me with the feedback that not everyone here finds the view of the woods to be relaxing.

So, I’d like to walk you through the guided imagery exercise again, but with a different view, for those who prefer to look at water to relax.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned from your own experience with PTSD, it’s that your brain is pretty good at imagining (that you’re in danger). Well – guided imagery is basically taking the brain’s ability to imagine, and using it to help you relax rather than to rev you up.

First, a word about skills: they do not develop overnight. Tying your shoelaces is a skill; you can do it today because – as a little kid with clumsy fingers – you practiced.

This is no different – getting good at it will take practice. So, if your mind wanders the first time you try it, keep trying. You will get better at it with practice.

You can imagine any kind of restful place. Today we’re going to use a walk along the water.

If these images are not relaxing for you, you can imagine a different place that you find restful.

First, find a quiet place where you can sit for at least 20 minutes without being interrupted.

Imagine that you’re standing on a dock, overlooking the water:

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Guided imagery is about imagining the space as vividly as you can — everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel.

Feel the wooden dock under your feet.

Feel the breeze on your skin.

Hear the waves gently lapping at the shore.

Listen to the seagulls.

Look out on the water.

Smell the fresh, clean air.

Take in a slow, big, deep breath… and let it out slowly…

Slowly walk down toward the beach.

Feel the sand under your feet.

Walk along the beach. Take time to explore some driftwood that you come across:

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Feel the sand and let the water lap gently at your feet.

Feel the warm sunshine on your face.

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Take your time to slowly explore these pictures,  to imagine, as vividly as you can, being in that place. Include sights, sounds, smells, and your sense of touch.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are – that happens, and it’s all good.

You may also find that your arms or legs feel stiff or heavy; you might have small, involuntary muscle movements. You might cough or yawn. Don’t sweat it – that happens too.

When you’re ready, slowly bring yourself back into the present.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photos gracing today’s post were taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Finding Solid Ground When You’re Triggered

Hi!

Today, I want to tell you about grounding skills – the kind that you use when you’re being triggered, and you’re starting to feel sucked into an ugly old memory. Those of you who are getting help probably have a few of these already; for everyone else, these are your life jacket when you feel that you’re drowning. Learning to use these is an important investment in your well-being.

The key in this type of a situation is to use whatever tricks or strategies you can, in order to remind yourself that you are here in the present and the danger is over.

Some ideas for doing that include:

– look around the room; notice and name some of the things that you see. Becoming more aware of where you are now helps you fight off being sucked back into the past.

– rub the palms of your hands together. Pay attention to the sensation of warmth that this creates in your hands. Usually, our hands get cold and clammy when we’re nervous – so this little trick makes you feel calmer by changing how your hands feel.

– listen to music. You can pick either soothing, calming music to relax you, or you can pick something loud that you can sing along to, something that reminds you of a pleasant memory. (Singing out loud also makes you breathe deeper – and since we often hyperventilate when we’re triggered, this helps too).

– do any kind of physical activity that your pain and/or physical ability allows. Focus on how it makes your body feel. Your muscle tension will go down as you do this, and that will make you feel calmer.

– if you have a pet – touch your pet’s fur, talk to your pet, and/or hug your pet.

– carry something meaningful in your pocket, something that reminds you that you are here now, and that the danger is over. Touch it to re-orient yourself. If you didn’t have your current car or home when the trauma happened, your car or house keys will do: touch them to remind yourself that you are here now, and that event was in the past.

– remind yourself of today’s date. If you carry a cell phone, looking at your phone can be a good trick for this – look at today’s date, remind yourself of the date when the bad memory happened, and then firmly tell yourself, This is now, that was then; I am here now. Feeling scared is not the same as being in danger;  I may be reminded of back then, but I am here now and the danger is over.

(Of course, if the anniversary of the trauma is what’s triggering you – looking at the date is NOT the way to calm yourself. Here‘s some tips on how to get through it).

These are skills – so the more you practice, the better you get at using them…

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Let’s go for a walk in the woods! (Guided imagery relaxation exercise)

Hi!

If there’s one thing you’ve probably learned from your own experience with PTSD, it’s that your brain is pretty good at imagining (that you’re in danger).

Well – today we’re going to take your brain’s ability to imagine, and use it to help you relax rather than to rev you up.

This exercise is a type of guided imagery.

First, a word about skills: they do not develop overnight. Tying your shoelaces is a skill; you can do it today because, as a little kid with clumsy fingers, you practiced.

This is no different – getting good at it will take practice. So, if your mind wanders the first time you try it, keep trying. You will get better at it with practice.

You can imagine any kind of restful place. We’re going to use a walk in the woods, because juicy delicious pictures of the woods are what the photographer is serving today.

If the woods are not a relaxing image for you, you can imagine a different place that you find restful.

First, find a quiet place where you can sit for at least 20 minutes without being interrupted.

Imagine that you’re standing at the foot of a trail, going for a walk in the woods:

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Guided imagery is about imagining the space as vividly as you can — everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel.

If the first thing that jumps out at you is the trail marker – you’re not failing! You’re on the green trail; what else do you see? What can you imagine feeling, hearing, smelling if you put yourself in that place?

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Feel how rocky that trail feels under your feet.

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Look at how peaceful those trees look. Smell those pine trees…

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Are wild blueberries in season? Can you find some on these bushes?

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Listen to the sounds of that stream. Touch it – think of how cold it would feel on your fingers.

Can you hear birds chirping in the background?

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Take, a big, deep breath of that clean air. Fill your lungs with it.

Feel the warm sunshine on your face.

Take your time to slowly explore these pictures,  to imagine, as vividly as you can, being in that place. Include sights, sounds, smells, and your sense of touch.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are – that happens, and it’s all good.

You may also find that your arms or legs feel stiff or heavy; you might have small, involuntary muscle movements. You might cough or yawn. Don’t sweat it – that happens too.

When you’re ready, slowly bring yourself back into the present.

 

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Where PTSD comes from, Part 3: How Reflex Messes with Your Thinking

Hi there!

Today we’re going to round out our discussion of what survival reflex does, by going over how it impacts our thinking.

Keep in mind that survival reflex is designed to save our life under circumstances of immediate threat. In those conditions, every moment counts, and every ounce of your energy could make the difference.

We discussed here how your reflex works differently (and much faster) than your usual, everyday thinking; and more recently, here, we talked about how reflex is run by a different part of your brain than conscious thinking. We’ve also covered how, to save energy, the body will interrupt day-to-day functions like the digestive system and the immune system, so it can redirect all available energy toward immediate survival.

When survival mode kicks in, your reflex takes energy away from the part of your brain that’s responsible for complex thinking. It redirects this energy toward your big muscle groups, to make it easier for you to fight or run. So – in the case of Dave the Zebra beating the daylights out of that lion, his survival reflex interferes with his ability to do stuff like: analyze things, think things through, look at a situation from a number of different perspectives, prioritize, look at the big picture, and so on.  And reflex does this on purpose – because complex thinking takes up time and energy, neither of which can be spared in a life-threatening emergency situation.

What your survival reflex does instead is put you on high alert, on the lookout for danger. What that means is, Dave’s attention is constantly darting around looking at everything – paying attention to every sight, every sound, evaluating everything in front of him to see whether it’s a possible threat.

If you’re in danger, taking too much time to look/listen to one thing in specific could lead you to miss a potential threat somewhere else in your environment; so, in an effort to identify a threat and save your life, your survival reflex interferes with your ability to concentrate and sustain attention on any one thing for very long. Once a threat is identified, reflex makes you go into a sort of “tunnel vision”, where all of your energy goes toward just dealing with that lion, and nothing else. Often, in highly dangerous circumstances, you tend to flip back and forth between the tunnel vision and the darting around looking for other sources of danger.

This reflex is designed to work in brief bursts, and to maximize your chances of survival in life-threatening circumstances. Your military training strengthens the “fight” part of the fight/flight/freeze response, and builds on it to help you get through some nasty situations.

In PTSD, this reflex gets stuck in a constant loop, so it’s hard to shut it off.

In learning to control it, step #1 is getting a really good understanding of it.  Once you know how it works, it gets easier to work against it.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Finding Solid Ground (Part 2) : Photography

It’s been a bit since I last posted specifically about grounding skills, so, if you can’t even remember the previous post, here’s a handy link.

In a nutshell, grounding skills are things that we do to help ourselves stay in the present when an unpleasant memory tries to suck us back into the past. They are your first, most basic tool for managing your symptoms. Usually, grounding skills are activities that keep your mind focused on something in the here and now- so, when a bad memory pops up, your grounding skills keep you… grounded.

Let’s divvy up grounding skills into two basic categories: there’s what you do to cope in an emergency (like when you’re being triggered by things like fireworks or thunderstorms ) – those situations require a specific, immediate response to help you to re-orient that that was then, and you are here now, and you are not in danger.

But – aside from these “emergency grounding skills”, there’s what we’ll call the “everyday grounding skills”: when you feel wound up, your mind is racing, and you need something to do keep yourself from getting sucked in. Hobbies that keep your hands busy and your mind focused are a good way of “everyday grounding” yourself. Photography is a great example.

You don’t need to have a super fancy camera (although if you really get into photography, you may end up buying some fancy stuff).

It keeps your mind busy because you need to think: what do you want to photograph? Where are you going to go, to take the pictures that you want to take?

Once you find some sights that you want to photograph, you need to figure out how you want to capture those sights…

Do you want to focus on the tree in the foreground?

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…Or, would you rather use the tree to frame the scene, and focus on the bridge in the background?

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Which image do you like better?

It’s not a trick question, and there’s no right or wrong answer. But – if you can look at both pictures and have an opinion – then photography might be a hobby for you to consider. So grab a camera (or even your phone to start with), and go out for a hike. Find some stuff you want to take pictures of.

Have fun :-)

 

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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