Your Love-Hate Relationship with your Anxiety

In past posts, I’ve talked about relaxation – how important it is; how and why to relax; when to do it. For some people, the basic information on when, how, and why is all they need to start a habit of healthy mental hygiene.

If you’re thinking, “good for those people”, then this post is for you.

When anxiety has been a big part of your life for a long time, you and your anxiety become so tangled up in each other that it gets hard to imagine yourself without it. You develop a love-hate relationship with your anxiety:

In many ways, you see your anxiety as a hindrance: it prevents you from being able to sleep; it turns your stomach inside out when you try to eat; it makes you clench your jaw and grind your teeth. You’re exhausted and in pain, and a part of you is so sick of your anxiety that you just want to get rid of it.

On the other hand, you might feel like there were times in your life when being on high alert saved your bacon (or times when you got hurt that you blame on not being alert enough). So, a part of you may feel like your anxiety is an asset that keeps you safe, and just the thought of letting it go might make you feel exposed and vulnerable to danger.

If this is you, then step #1 is to stop thinking of it as all-or-nothing. Start thinking of your anxiety on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being none and 10 being the worst possible anxiety. Where on this scale might you be on a typical day?

Try to imagine turning the dial back by just a smidge – maybe 1/4 of a point, or even less if that seems like too much. You’re still alert enough to react quickly when necessary, but you’re starting to very gently balance that, so you can work towards being able to sleep better and have less pain.

The idea is to very slowly dial back your anxiety, one tiny bit at a time, and help yourself learn to tolerate calm. Gradually, you will teach yourself that you don’t need to be wound so tight to stay alert and keep yourself safe.

Simple, right? Yeah, but simple and easy are two very different things… Be patient with yourself. And if you have trouble doing it all alone – please seek out a professional to help you.

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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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Mindfulness: Learning to Observe Without Judging

As I was saying a couple of posts ago – mindfulness is about learning to be fully present in the moment.

Tall order, I know. Hey – it’s a skill. You know how you develop skills? Through practice.

One of the things that often keeps us from being fully in the present is a tendency to constantly critique what we’re doing and how we’re doing it: chances are, whatever you do, there’s a little voice in the back of your head. Let’s call it The Critic. When you’re trying to do something, The Critic may offer up all sorts of unhelpful commentary:

“Seriously? What’s taking you so long? Do you realize how many other things you need to get done today? You’re already running late! You’ll never get it all finished at this rate – so you’ll have to do some of it tomorrow. You’re already late for tomorrow – you’ve just ruined the whole week!!!”

The Critic quickly fills up your head with unpleasant thoughts coming at you a mile a minute; when you’re drowning inside your own head, it’s hard to focus on what you’re actually trying to do. Your brain is spending a great deal of time and energy bullying you and slowing you down.

So – one important step toward mindfulness is learning to silence The Critic.

How do you do that?

You remind yourself that The Critic doesn’t help you get things done; it just fills your head up with negativity and worry, and slows you down and distracts you.

Start by just trying to notice The Critic when it starts coming at you. When you get good at doing this, you might be shocked at how it criticizes your every move.

Then, once you get good at noticing that it’s happening – start responding. Basically, every time you hear The Critic inside your head – tell it to go pound salt, and tell yourself to go back to paying attention to what you’re doing.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Yeah – well, simple and easy are two very different things – and this will take lots of practice.

Then, mindfulness is basically paying attention to what you’re doing as you’re doing it, without The Critic commenting on your every move.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

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 M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD and the science behind why you can’t just “get over it”

This question comes up a lot. If it’s something you ask yourself, please read this. If other people ask you why you aren’t over it yet – please share this with them, and maybe it will help them to understand.

Trauma memories aren’t like other memories – they don’t fade over time. Every time you think of them, they feel like they just happened yesterday (or worse – like they’re happening now).

Here’s why, in a nutshell:

Think of your brain as having two main parts:

Part 1 is your “Thinking Brain”. The thinking Brain is smart, rational and fact-based. We’re conscious of the thoughts it comes up with. It plans, organizes, and problem-solves.

When it stores a memory, it’s like a librarian – it organizes by theme and date. So, its memories of your senior year of high school might include the music you liked that year; the person you had a crush on; the part-time job you worked; and, oh dear, that goofy haircut you had that was so stylish back then. Remembering these memories feels like you’re looking through an old photo album – there’s a distinct sense of “me-now” remembering what happened to “me-then”.

Part 2 is your “Threat-Response Brain”. We’ve talked about this one before, here, here, and here; it’s not smart, it’s not rational, and you’re not consciously aware of what it thinks.

Your Threat-Response Brain stores memory very differently – and it does so on purpose.

Pretend you touched a hot stove once, as a small child; you burned your hand and cried.

To be good at predicting future threats, your Threat-Response Brain needs to know that “hot things hurt“. Time and context don’t matter: you don’t want a Threat Brain that thinks “Yeah, I hurt myself on a hot stove – but it was Grandma’s old gas stove, back when I was a kid, and she was cooking breakfast; I’m an adult now, in my house, making dinner, and my stove is electric, so let’s try touching it, because maybe it’ll feel good.”

Yeah – that really wouldn’t help much, now would it?

The way the Threat-Response Brain works is: “Every time I see/hear/smell something that reminds me of the time I got hurt, there might be danger.” The threat brain also generalizes to similar threats – so, if you hurt yourself by touching a hot stove, you don’t need to also touch a hot iron, and stick your hand in a campfire – your threat brain learns that hot = pain.

This is why memories of trauma stay fresh and vivid in your mind, even years or decades later: they are kept in a different part of your brain than other memories. The point of the Threat-Response Brain is to protect you – so it makes sure you remember danger as if it had just happened.

So – how do you cope with this stuff, when it gets triggered? You use grounding skills. Remind yourself that feeling triggered means that your Threat-Response Brain is reacting to a memory – it doesn’t mean that you’re in danger now. Tell yourself, “my threat-response brain is reacting right now because this looks/smells/sounds similar to my trauma – but that was years ago, and I’m here now, and that’s not happening anymore.” This helps you refocus on the here-and-now.

To fine-tune your Threat-Response Brain’s reactions, there are no quick and easy tricks I can teach you in a blog post – but, there are specific therapies out there (EMDR or cognitive processing for example) that can help with that.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

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 M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Military Training vs. Mindfulness

I’d like to start on a new topic today: mindfulness. It’s going to take a few posts to talk about it, because there’s a fair bit to say.

If you haven’t heard of it before, I think you’ll like it. Mindfulness is a way to let go of the self-criticism, shame and guilt that often contributes to keeping us stuck in misery.

Mindfuless is so awesome, I could almost say it’s nutritious and delicious, and I’d only be exaggerating a little.

Not only that, but mindfulness is… the exact opposite of everything you have learned in your entire military career, EVER.

So, wrapping your head around it is going to feel a bit like learning to live on an alien planet.

In the military, you learn to push yourself to your limits, and then to push yourself some more. If that doesn’t work, then the answer is to push yourself even harder – never yield, never, ever give up.

Now – I’m not pointing this out to in any way disrespect military culture – your perseverance is something that I respect and admire. I understand that, in your line of work, expecting yourself to succeed against impossible odds is necessary.

Here’s the thing, though: when dealing with your mental health, that dogged determination can contribute to grinding you deeper into your misery.

It’s like this: maybe you went through some stuff, and it rattled you, and you just can’t shake it. But, you might believe that failure is unacceptable, and you feel like a failure that you can’t shake it. You also might believe that the way to success is to push yourself harder (because that’s what life in the military taught you).

The thing is – when you’re depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out, not sleeping well, having nightmares and panic attacks – then pushing yourself harder, and expecting yourself to suck it up and soldier on doesn’t magically make your issues go away. In fact, it often does just the opposite – it might make you feel worse.

In your training and your work in the military, pushing yourself harder is often your best tool. In your mental health, it’s your worst enemy.

So – this is why we’re going to learn about mindfulness. Mindfulness is about noticing our own experience without judging it; no shame, no guilt, no self-criticism, just a “here’s where I’m at now”.

NO, it doesn’t magically solve all of your problems in an instant – but, it gives you a chance to stop being your own worst enemy. And once you stop putting all of your energy into beating up on yourself, well, then it actually becomes a lot easier 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 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 Larry M. Jaipaul, 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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“Why do I push people away when I need them the most?”

The title of this post is a question that was sent to me a little while ago; it comes up often enough, and seems to be something that a lot of people can relate to.

When we’re at our loneliest and most vulnerable – precisely when we need support the most – often seems to be exactly the time when we work the hardest to push people away. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, and we often kick ourselves for acting this way.

There’s actually some important reasons why we tend to act this way.

One is reflex: when we feel hurt and vulnerable, our defenses go up. When that happens, it’s harder to trust and let people in.

Two is history, especially childhood: When we’ve been hurt, our antennas go up and we find it a lot harder to trust; so the more lonely we feel, the more vulnerable we feel. When we feel vulnerable, our instinct is to not trust because we’re afraid of being hurt again. It’s a vicious cycle – we feel alone, so we feel vulnerable, so we push people away,  which makes us feel alone, which makes us feel vulnerable, which makes us push people away…

Three is culture, especially if you’re from a military background: you’re used to being tough and doing your best to act even tougher. Trying to let your guard down to let someone else actually look after you makes you feel… Vulnerable. You don’t want anyone to see you when you’re hurting, so even though you really need them to be there for you, you push them away.

The trick to breaking the pattern is:

One, understand that your reflex is making you feel less trusting – it’s colouring your outlook, and making you more crusty and prickly than you normally would be. So, know that the reason you’re pushing people away is because you really need them.

Two, realize that you got hurt back then, and this is now. It’s important to remind yourself that not everyone is like the person/people who hurt you; it will take work to slowly allow yourself to let people in.

UPDATE: Since it was published, this post has been one of the most read on this blog, and many readers have asked me to write more on the topic. Here’s a link to part 2 on this topic; here is part 3.

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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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PTSD Triggers: Crowds

So – while we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s talk about crowds. From what I gather, most of you are not big fans of crowds.

Like I keep saying, PTSD is basically your brain’s threat-alert system, kicked into high gear without an “off” button. So – you’re constantly trying to size up all possible threats.

Say you’re in a room with one door, one window, and one other person. That’s not bad; you can scan window-door-person, to look for possible threats.

Now say you’re in a bigger room, with ten people. Keeping track is much harder, and it’s easier to get overwhelmed.

It goes up to a whole new level if you’re in a grocery store, a mall, or a football stadium. Now, there’s just no way to keep track of it all. Just thinking about it, you might start to feel your heart rate speeding up a bit – that’s your reflex, getting ready to fight or flee.

Take a moment. Breathe. You’re not there right now.

See what just happened there? That feeling started, even though you were just thinking. Thinking is not dangerous – but your survival reflex is so strong, that just thinking about it makes the danger feel SO real.

When we start to feel like that, we interpret that feeling itself as a sign that there’s danger. If we can’t quickly scan our entire environment, we start thinking the danger must be real, only we can’t see it.

Feeling tense/nervous/uneasy does NOT mean that you’re in danger – it just means that your threat-detection system is reminded of danger.

…That little fact right there folks – that is the key to the universe.

When you’re dealing with PTSD, having that feeling that tells you, “Oh no, major danger is coming” does NOT actually mean that anything is coming.

It just means that your threat-response system was reminded of danger.

Remember Dave the Zebra, and his red flowers? Well – crowds are sort of like your red flowers.

So – how do you cope?

Remind yourself that, as soon as you start to think about crowds, your PTSD will start to act up. This is not because thinking is dangerous, or because crowds are dangerous; it’s because PTSD reacts to reminders of danger.

Heading into a crowd, you’re going to feel anxious/tense/wound up. You may even start imagining all kinds of horrible things that could go wrong, and all those things might feel very, very real. Feeling and thinking this way does not mean that you’re in danger, or that awful things will happen. This is a normal part of PTSD; it is to be expected. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous.

Repeat this information to yourself frequently; with consistent practice, it will get easier. (You’ll probably still not like being in crowds, but it will get easier to cope with 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 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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PTSD: Dissociative Symptoms

Holy feedback!

As soon as I put up the last blog post, there was a stampede of comments and emails saying, “Yes! Talk about this more!!!”

Okay.

So we left off talking about how the “freeze” response is part of the fight/flight/freeze reflex. It’s how we defend ourselves when we can’t fight or run away; it dulls the pain of whatever is happening.

Let’s put this together with some information we have from before, about how reflex learns: it learns that any reminder of the trauma is a sign of danger.

So – a reminder of your trauma might set off a “freeze” reaction.

Here’s what it feels like: you might feel like you’re not really in your body so it’s not really happening to you (this is called depersonalization); or you might feel like the whole thing is a dream, a movie, or happening in slow motion like it’s not real (this is called derealization). You might feel like you’re just losing chunks of time – ‘waking up’ and not knowing how you got to be wherever you are (this is called, WTF just happened to me?).

Here’s what it feels like to have PTSD do this to your life: it’s terrifying. You feel like you have no control over your mind or body. You want to do everything you can to grip onto reality, but you get sucked into this rabbit hole. You might feel angry at your mind for betraying you this way.  You might feel guilty, weak, and ashamed for not being “strong enough” to somehow hang on tighter and not let this happen to you. It can leave you feeling traumatized again and again, every time it happens, because being helpless to stop yourself from dissociating can remind you of being helpless to stop your trauma when it happened. You might feel depressed, useless, worthless.

…Boy, sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Lookit – I’m not gonna try and tell you that getting out of that hot mess is easy, quick, or painless. It’s none of those. If your PTSD includes this stuff, research suggests that, as far as PTSD goes, you won the bleeping jackpot.

What makes it worse is, every time it happens, you might feel disappointed in yourself, like you should be stronger. This just erodes whatever self-respect you have left. You’d never say stuff like that to a buddy to encourage them when they’re struggling…

You need to start by realizing that this happens to you because you don’t feel safe; so, how you start to fix it, is to work on increasing your sense of safety.

The ability to feel safe is like a muscle – and yours is, well… It’s not so strong. You strengthen it with exercises – stuff like relaxation. Grounding skills. These are your drills: practice this stuff. Be patient with yourself. What you’re trying to accomplish here is very hard work, so give it time.

Finally – you know that fine print I put at the end of every post? You know, the stuff that none of you ever read, because you don’t think there’s anything important under the pretty picture?

Yeah; it says that this blog is not a substitute for therapy. If you’re dealing with PTSD with dissociative symptoms and trying to fix it on your own, it’s a bit like trying to perform open heart surgery on yourself. I’m just sayin’ – there’s help out there. Go get some.

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~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? Thanks…

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (like, therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help 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: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, 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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Depression: Defending Yourself Against The Bully Inside Your Head

So – how ya doin’, folks?

Has your depression magically disappeared from the couple pearls of wisdom I shared last week?

No, of course not. I hope you didn’t expect it to. Because if you read last week’s post and thought, “That’s easy, I can do this overnight”, and then started beating up on yourself when it didn’t work out that way – folks, that’s just your depression messing with you again. Digging yourself out of depression takes a lot of practice and hard work.

See – depression would be hard enough to deal with on its own. To make things worse, it often travels with friends, like PTSD or chronic pain. Or, you might be dealing with the trifecta: depression, PTSD and chronic pain.

Depression often sets in after something bad has happened in your life: stuff like going through a trauma; suffering a serious injury that changes how you can live your life; losing your job; losing a loved one; losing your marriage. You know, all the stuff that they write country songs about…

Then – just to be mean – depression starts comparing the new, not-so-improved you to the old you. And then, it starts nagging on you about how new-you should be able to live up to all the stuff that old-you was able to do. It keeps telling you how it’s so simple, and what’s wrong with you, you should be able to just suck it up, pull yourself together, and get on with it. And if you can’t do it, then depression starts telling you that you’re worthless, useless, and you should feel guilt and shame.

Honestly – depression is feeding you a bunch of… um, fresh manure.

When you can’t do the stuff you used to do because you’re sick, it’s healthy to grieve that loss. If you love to swim and you missed a whole summer of swimming because your leg was in a cast, you might feel frustrated and disappointed. But there’s a difference between those feelings, and calling yourself stupid and lazy for not making your bone heal faster. There’s a big difference between disliking the circumstances, and unfairly blaming yourself for them.

Depression also doesn’t give you any credit for how hard it is to actually live with depression. Stop for a second and consider that there are days when you deserve a medal just for getting out of bed.

Imagine you’re watching speed skating on TV (why speed skating? It just popped into my head, and it’ll work with my example, so let’s just roll with it).

There’s a bunch of guys racing and they’re all ridiculously super fast. And then, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind them, there’s this one dude who’s going so slow, he’s barely putting one foot in front of the other.

Oh – except he’s carrying a backpack, filled with 500 pounds of rocks.

So – who do you respect more, the bunch of dudes at the front, or the one guy managing to stay on his feet with the giant bag full of rocks?

(Hint: Vote for the guy with the rocks, he’s pretty incredible.)

And if you vote for him – try to also realize that all the stuff you’re dealing with is a lot like carrying around a bag with 500 pounds of rocks. And try to respect  yourself a little more.)

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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 Benjamin Yost, 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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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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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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PTSD Triggers: Coping with Thunderstorms

Hi there!

How’s everyone doing? Didya make it through the fireworks okay?

Now that the fireworks are over, a lot of people’s first instinct is to forget about it until next year. If you have a really tough time with fireworks, I can certainly respect that…

But – before you do that, please take a few minutes, and make a mental summary of what strategies worked for you this year and what didn’t. Then, use that information to plan what you’ll do the same way next time, and what you might try differently. Learning to live with this beast called PTSD is sometimes a process of trial and error, and you can get better at managing it by adapting your strategy to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

And while we’re on the topic of coping with sudden loud noises that make you jump, let’s discuss thunderstorms. Chances are, thunderstorms are no longer your favourite thing. Particularly the kinds where a giant clap of thunder right outside your window makes you end up under the bed at 3 am.

Not fun.

Okay – here’s what we’re going to do about it:

– Make a habit of reading the weather forecast. If you know a thunderstorm is coming, then it can’t catch you by surprise. If the weather forecast calls for overnight thunderstorms, your plan is to go to bed reminding yourself, “I’m home. I’m safe. They’re calling for thunderstorms – so I may wake up to the sound of thunder, but I’m not in danger”. Having this little conversation with yourself won’t stop you from reacting, but it will make it easier to re-orient yourself more quickly.

– Invest in a nightlight. Get a couple of pictures of a favourite place, somewhere you go to relax. Put the pictures somewhere you’re likely to see them when you first wake up, like your nightstand. If they’re calling for thunderstorms, turn on the nightlight before you go to bed. Being able to see around the room quickly when you wake up, and seeing an image of a familiar and relaxing place, will help you to orient yourself quickly to the fact that you are home and you are safe.

– Shut the window. I know – it’s nice to sleep with some fresh air. But shutting the window will help you block out some of the noise. If you miss having a breeze in your room, get a fan – as an added bonus, the sound of the fan can help to muffle the noise of the thunderstorm.

These ideas will help you re-orient and calm yourself if you react to the sound of thunder.  However – these tips are not enough to help you stop reacting to the sound of thunder. The best way to do that is a strategy called prolonged exposure.

Disclaimer: If you’re getting treatment, I’d like you to talk to your therapist and get them to help you with this. If you’re not in treatment, and you’re really struggling, I’d like you to get some help from an actual therapist, aside from just reading this blog.

If you’re mostly doing okay, but thunderstorms get to you, then this might be an exercise you can try on your own.

– sit comfortably; stretch; relax.

– set the volume on your computer to where you can barely, barely hear it.

– cue up a clip of thunderstorms on YouTube. Here’s one that I use.

– remind yourself that you are home and you are safe, and this is a sound clip on the computer. Keep doing this through the next step.

– hit play. Keep reminding yourself that you’re safe and this is a clip playing from your computer.

(If it terrifies you, and a minute into listening to the clip at the lowest volume you are still not feeling any calmer, STOP. Get a professional to help you with this.)

– if it’s only mildly unpleasant, keep doing this until it feels boring and pointless, and you’re not reacting to it. The next day, turn up the volume slightly, and repeat again until you are no longer reacting. If you keep doing this, slowly and gently, you will retrain your fear reflex that the sound of a thunderstorm is not dangerous.

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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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