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The Ultimate Guide: How to Help Someone with PTSD

Supporting a loved one with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can make a meaningful difference in their lives. The key to providing effective help is understanding the condition and its complexities, as well as learning how to communicate effectively, navigate triggers, and support their recovery journey. In this guide on how to help someone with PTSD, we’ll explore the essential steps, from understanding the disorder to managing stress as a caregiver.

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Key Takeaways

  • Comprehending PTSD is essential to provide compassionate support.

  • Using an empathetic tone and actively listening can help build trust and healing for those with PTSD.

  • Self care is important for caregivers of people with PTSD in order to prevent burnout while providing the necessary support.

Understanding PTSD

A person with PTSD looking away from the camera, feeling overwhelmed

To provide the best possible support for a loved one, you need to grasp the complexities of PTSD. PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that can manifest after an individual has experienced a traumatic, frightening, or shocking event. As defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, around 6% of people experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with combat veterans, first responders, and victims or witnesses of crimes being particularly vulnerable due to their exposure to past trauma. Understanding mental disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder and post traumatic stress is crucial for offering the right support.

Gaining insight into the causes, symptoms, and impact of PTSD on a person’s life equips you to offer stronger support, helping your loved one regain trust and safety.

Causes of PTSD

The causes of PTSD can vary, ranging from traumatic events like:

  • natural disasters

  • accidents

  • abuse

  • witnessing or being a victim of crime or violence

It’s normal to experience a mix of emotions, such as anger, fear, guilt, shame, and sadness, after traumatic events. PTSD develops because the body’s stress response is triggered, releasing adrenaline and activating the ‘fight or flight’ response, which can cause changes in the brain and nervous system.

Comprehending the root cause of PTSD enables you to provide appropriate and empathetic support to your loved one.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can manifest in various ways, such as flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. Other symptoms include anger, irritability, depression, mistrust, and feeling constantly vulnerable or unsafe. Physical symptoms associated with PTSD may include pain, sweating, feeling sick, trembling, increased blood pressure, and fatigue.

PTSD, a form of mental illness, can also impact a person’s mood and emotions, causing mixed feelings such as:

  • intense fear

  • sadness

  • guilt

  • anger

  • grief

  • difficulty regulating emotions

Recognizing these symptoms can help you offer the necessary support when it’s most needed.

Impact on Life

A person providing emotional support to a PTSD survivor by listening and offering comfort, demonstrating how to help someone with PTSD

PTSD can significantly impact a person’s life, affecting relationships, work, and overall well-being. It can lead to job loss, creating a ripple effect that impacts the whole family, as well as affecting day-to-day life and relationships.

In some cases, anger resulting from PTSD can escalate to violent behavior or abuse. If you’re concerned for the safety of yourself or others, it’s crucial to seek help right away and ensure everyone’s safety.

Comprehending how PTSD affects a person’s life is beneficial in providing empathetic support and collaboratively navigating the challenges.

Effective Communication Strategies

A person with PTSD talking to a mental health professional, feeling supported

Communicating effectively is pivotal when supporting someone with PTSD. Creating a supportive environment for your loved one involves actively listening, empathizing, and sidestepping common communication pitfalls. This will help them feel heard and understood, which is vital to their healing process.

Active Listening

Active listening involves giving your full attention, asking open-ended questions, and reflecting on what the person is saying. By focusing on their words and feelings, you can help build trust, validate their experiences, reduce triggers, and increase empathy. Use nonverbal cues, such as nodding and maintaining eye contact, to further improve active listening with a PTSD sufferer.

Active listening can be a key part of their healing process, so be patient and supportive, even if they want to repeat themselves.

Empathy and Validation

Empathy and validation involve understanding the person’s feelings and experiences and acknowledging their emotions as valid and important. Demonstrating empathy creates a safe and supportive atmosphere, encouraging open communication and helping the person feel heard and understood. Empathy also helps build trust and rapport, which are essential for effective communication and providing the necessary support for someone with PTSD.

Validating the feelings of someone with PTSD effectively involves:

  • Listening carefully to what they tell you

  • Validating their feelings without blaming them for their symptoms

  • Not minimizing the severity of their trauma.

Avoiding Common Communication Pitfalls

Avoiding common communication pitfalls can help maintain a supportive and understanding environment. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid offering unsolicited advice

  • Avoid minimizing the person’s feelings

  • Be respectful and non-judgmental of their feelings and reactions

  • Avoid showing disapproval, horror, or judgment

By following these tips, you can create a safe space for open communication.

Instead, focus on providing support and understanding, and allow the person to seek guidance and support in their own way.

Supporting Recovery and Treatment

A person with PTSD talking to a family member, feeling understood

Supporting recovery and treatment involves encouraging professional help, exploring therapy options, and promoting healthy habits. Intentional action from the individual is key to overcoming trauma and achieving true healing.

Helping your loved one regain control over their life and work towards a better future involves supporting their recovery journey and fostering a healthy family life.

Encouraging Professional Help

For PTSD recovery, encouragement to seek help from a mental health professional is of utmost importance. Mental health professionals who specialize in helping people heal from trauma can provide invaluable support and guidance for those struggling with PTSD.

You can help your loved one by offering to accompany them to appointments, providing transportation, or helping them pick up their medication. Supporting their treatment journey and encouraging professional help can make a significant difference in their recovery process.

Supporting Therapy Options

Supporting therapy options, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can help the person find the most suitable treatment for their needs. EMDR therapy is a structured therapy that helps individuals heal from the symptoms and emotional distress of PTSD by focusing on traumatic memories while engaging in bilateral eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. CBT is another powerful tool in managing PTSD symptoms, as it can help change unhelpful thought and behavior patterns, improve social cognition, and reduce self-reported PTSD severity and associated anxiety.

Helping your loved one find the path to recovery that works best for them involves exploring different therapy options and providing support.

Promoting Healthy Habits

Promoting healthy habits, such as exercise, proper nutrition, and stress management, can contribute to overall well-being and recovery. Some examples of healthy habits that can help reduce symptoms and be an effective treatment option for PTSD include:

  • Aerobic exercises like running, cycling, or swimming

  • Yoga

  • Proper nutrition, including a balanced diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods, probiotics, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables

These habits can have a positive effect on PTSD recovery and help reduce symptoms.

Additionally, stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing, can help caregivers maintain their own well-being and provide effective support for their loved one with PTSD. Helping your loved one improve both their physical and mental health and make strides towards recovery involves promoting healthy habits.

Managing Triggers and Crises

A person with PTSD writing in a journal, feeling empowered

Managing triggers and crises is an essential aspect of supporting someone with PTSD. This involves identifying triggers, responding to flashbacks and panic attacks, and planning for crisis situations.

Understanding and managing triggers can prevent or minimize PTSD symptoms, creating a safer environment for your loved one.

Identifying Triggers

Identifying triggers can help prevent or minimize PTSD symptoms, ultimately creating a safer environment for the person. Common triggers for PTSD can include:

  • Reminders or memories of the traumatic event

  • Certain sounds or smells associated with the event

  • Stressful situations that resemble the original trauma

  • Anniversary dates of the event

  • Witnessing or hearing about similar traumatic events

Observing the person’s emotional responses to different parts of their environment and collaborating with a psychiatrist can aid in identifying and recognizing PTSD triggers. This can lead to a better understanding of the person’s needs and more effective support.

Responding to Flashbacks and Panic Attacks

Responding to flashbacks and panic attacks involves providing grounding techniques and reassurance to help the person regain control. Grounding techniques can include:

  • Looking around their surroundings and taking note

  • Practicing mindfulness

  • Taking slow, deep breaths

  • Stating the date and time

  • Focusing on sensory experiences

Additionally, here are some strategies to help someone experiencing a flashback:

  • Gently remind the person that they are having a flashback

  • Maintain a connection with the present moment

  • Provide support and understanding

  • Assist your loved one in regaining control and maintaining a sense of safety

Crisis Planning

Crisis planning includes discussing actions to take during a crisis and establishing a support network to ensure safety and appropriate care. Creating a plan ahead of time that includes coping strategies, support systems, and identifying triggers can help individuals with PTSD feel more empowered and in control during difficult times.

Additionally, crisis planning can help reduce the stress of the event, provide emotional support, and improve coping skills. Planning ahead and working together creates a strong foundation for managing triggers and crises, which ultimately supports your loved one’s recovery journey.

Building Trust and Safety

A person with PTSD talking to a friend, feeling connected

Building trust and safety is essential for individuals with PTSD, as trust and safety trauma can often damage their ability to trust themselves and others. By establishing routines, empowering choices, and adopting a holistic decluttering approach, you can help your loved one regain a sense of trust and safety in their lives.

Establishing Routines

Establishing routines can provide a sense of stability and predictability, which can help rebuild trust and safety. Creating structure and predictability can help restore a sense of stability and security, which is essential for building trust.

Having a regular routine and schedule can provide a safe and predictable environment, which can help individuals with PTSD feel more in control and reduce anxiety. Involving the person in the routine, such as getting them to help with household tasks or maintaining regular meal times, can foster a sense of purpose and empowerment.

Empowering Choices

Empowering choices involves giving the person control over their decisions and supporting their autonomy, which can contribute to their recovery. By creating routines, minimizing stress at home, speaking of the future, and making plans, keeping promises, and highlighting their strengths, you can help rebuild trust and safety for someone with PTSD.

Empowering choices can help to reinforce a sense of competence, which can be eroded by trauma and prolonged traumatic stress, ultimately leading to improved own mental health outcomes.

Holistic Decluttering

Holistic decluttering, a 4-step journey aimed at reducing stress and clearing mental fog, can help address both physical and emotional clutter, ultimately improving the person’s well-being. The holistic decluttering process addresses not only physical clutter but also mental and emotional clutter.

The philosophy of holistic decluttering maintains that physical surroundings mirror our internal emotional and mental state. Excessive clutter can lead to stress, anxiety, and hinder clear decision-making. Adopting a holistic decluttering approach can help identify and reduce both tangible and intangible clutter, leading to a clearer mind and a more organized environment.

Self-Care for Caregivers

A person with PTSD taking a break, feeling relaxed

To maintain personal well-being and prevent burnout while supporting someone with PTSD, self-care for caregivers is of utmost importance. By setting boundaries, seeking support, and managing stress, you can ensure your own well-being and provide the best possible care for your loved one.

Setting Boundaries

To maintain personal well-being and prevent burnout while supporting someone with PTSD, setting boundaries is extremely important. Establishing limits and expectations in relationships is important to protect your own well-being and ensure clear communication with your family member and others involved.

Recognizing your own needs when setting boundaries can help ensure that you are not taking on too much responsibility, which can help prevent burnout and maintain your own mental well-being.

Seeking Support

Seeking social support from friends, family, or support groups can help caregivers cope with the challenges of caring for someone with PTSD. Peer support can be incredibly beneficial for caregivers, as it provides a safe space to share their day-to-day struggles, learn from others with similar challenges, and receive emotional comfort.

There are several support groups available for caregivers of people with PTSD, including the VA Caregiver Support program, NAMI Family Support Group, and online support groups such as PTSD Survivors of America and After Silence.

Managing Stress

Maintaining a healthy balance and ensuring the caregiver’s well-being can be achieved through self-care practices such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies. Exercise, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing can help caregivers maintain their physical and mental health while providing support for their loved one with PTSD.

Engaging in hobbies such as gardening, drawing, painting, or taking regular walks can also provide stress relief and help maintain a sense of calm and balance.


Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the essential steps to helping someone with PTSD, from understanding the disorder to providing effective support. By actively listening, empathizing, and avoiding communication pitfalls, you can create a supportive environment for your loved one. Supporting their recovery journey through professional help, therapy options, and healthy habits can help them regain control and work towards a better future. Remember that self-care for caregivers is crucial to maintain personal well-being and provide the best possible care. With patience, understanding, and empathy, you can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those affected by PTSD.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are three unhealthy coping skills for PTSD?

Unhealthy coping mechanisms for PTSD include avoidance, substance abuse, and escapism. These methods can provide short-term relief but often lead to long-term harm and don't address the root of the problem.

What do you say to someone who is dealing with PTSD?

I'm here for you and I'm listening. It's okay to talk about your feelings and to not feel ashamed about them. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. You are not alone.

What are the 17 symptoms of PTSD?

The 17 symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing trauma, avoidance behaviors, negative thought patterns, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior, distorted sense of blame, and alterations in how a person thinks and feels. These can have a severe impact on a person's life and should be addressed with professional help.

What triggers PTSD episodes?

PTSD episodes can be triggered by sights, sounds, smells, or thoughts associated with the traumatic event. Such triggers can range from obvious ones like a news report of an assault to more subtle ones like seeing a sunny sky reminiscent of the attack.

What are some coping strategies for PTSD?

Some effective coping strategies for PTSD include joining a support group, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness techniques, self-monitoring, self-soothing activities, expressive writing, and talking to a doctor or counselor. Practicing these methods can help manage distressing flashbacks and feelings of anxiety associated with PTSD.