Therapies & activities to ease PTSD symptoms
In the UK, there are 2 main psychological treatments recommended for treating PTSD & C-PTSD: Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (based on NICE guidance updated in 2018).
There are however, many other therapies and activities which can be used to ease PTSD & C-PTSD symptoms whilst you’re waiting for these treatments, or to work alongside treatments. Some have short, and some have long term effects, but when offered as part of a carefully formulated programme of therapy and coping techniques for PTSD, they can offer people a welcome source of relief. You can find details about many of these below.
It is always risky to assume any of the ways to ease PTSD symptoms are ‘quick fixes’, including ones that show promise in redirecting negative emotional responses. However, it is all about having realistic expectations, and finding what works for you.
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
Regular yoga has been shown to reduce physiological arousal in those with PTSD, helping the autonomic nervous system to adapt better to triggers and stimuli. In other words, yoga helps minimise the risk of the body experiencing intrusive memories and other physical symptoms of PTSD. Find out more about yoga and PTSD here.
Meditation is simply a series of steps to create heightened awareness, focus and calmness which makes it a valuable psychotherapeutic technique to help people cope with PTSD. It can give individuals better control of their minds and emotions. Find out more about the science of meditation and its application.
This psychosensory therapy is used to address deep rooted anxiety, rumination, and severe, instinctive negative responses – it puts your emotional responses into a safe space – a haven. It can provide a way to break a cycle of negative emotional responses. Read more about The Havening Technique here.
Accelerated resolution therapy
Although there have only been a handful of studies on ART and PTSD so far, the results have been encouraging, and more therapists are starting to offer it. Read more about what ART is, and if it might be suitable for you here.
Music therapy can stimulate the release of positive hormones such as oxytocin, counteract hormones linked to increased stress and provides sensory input that makes us instinctively ease muscle tension. These are all so important to people with PTSD! Find out more about music therapy for PTSD here.
Martial arts allow you to understand and develop a good relationship with power, helps you express emotions, helps to practice self-care, helps set and maintain boundaries, can help you relax, and can also help with disassociation by reconnecting the body and mind with repetitive movements. Find out more about how it helps with PTSD symptoms.
Equine (horse) Therapy
Research studies have shown that therapeutic horseback riding can lead to a significant statistical decrease in PTSD symptoms, such as insomnia, flashbacks or panic attacks, after just three weeks. Find out more about how horse therapy can help people with PTSD here.
Surfing & Ocean Therapy
Time with the ocean, or the ‘blue gym’ as it’s also known, has long been celebrated as a way to calm the mind and rejuvenate the body, and several US based foundations and charities specifically promote this method of healing for PTSD sufferers, “we believe we can heal each other one wave at a time”. Find out more about surfing can help with PTSD here.
It’s not routine practice for people experiencing PTSD to be prescribed medication, but you may be offered it if you are experiencing insomnia, have other mental health conditions like depression, or are either unable or unwilling to have therapies such as EMDR or CBT. Find out more about medication for PTSD here.
Many research studies have shown acupuncture to be effective for treating PTSD symptoms. It can act on parts of the brain known for reducing sensitivity to stress and help promote relaxation as well as combatting other issues such as sore joints, painful muscles, lack of energy, and disrupted sleep. Find out more about acupuncture and PTSD here.
The reduction in PTSD symptoms from running is thought to be down to a boost in levels of a brain protein called ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’. This BDN protein is generally low in people with PTSD, and plays a role in fear extinction by helping the brain establish context, and therefore a sense of safety. You can read more about how running can help PTSD here.
Rapid Stress Management Technique (RSMT)
It has been shown that PTSD can be soothed by using a device like a fidget spinner or stress ball that is reassuring, close at hand and creates a soothing pattern or repeated action. If someone is suffering from flashbacks, a panic attack or a ‘loop’ of negative thoughts, they can focus on the patterns created with a fidget spinner instead. Find out more about this here.
Producing art can work to change neural pathways in the brain, which can help to change how we think and feel. Art therapy has been shown to bring together a mind-body connectedness, bi-lateral stimulation, conscious and unconscious mental activity, communication between the limbic system and cerebral cortex functioning, and allow the brain to use mental and visual imagery. Find out more about how art therapy can help people with PTSD here.
For many years, water has been seen to have healing properties – not only does it help in cleaning and healing physical wounds, but it can also have a hugely positive effect on mental health too. With hydrotherapy, water is used to help relieve any discomfort and promote a better sense of well-being. Find out more about the methods and science of hydrotherapy to ease PTSD symptoms here.
Narrative Exposure Therapy
(NET) can be used to help individuals who have faced multiple or complex traumas (sometimes referred to as C-PTSD), and also children who have experienced severe trauma. It links to trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy, however, they do differ. Particularly as Narrative Exposure Therapy works along a lifeline, exploring experiences in chronological order. Find out more about NET here.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapies aim to tackle avoidance, and instead encourages the individual to change their learned behaviours and manage emotional responses. They are designed to explore traumatic events and experiences, as well as their reaction to them. Find out more about Exposure Therapy here.
Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises
Writing & Journalling
Talking therapies and counselling
Talking therapies are a way of building more self-awareness and self-management techniques. For many people, talking therapies also allow them to get into a ‘better place’ to allow them to make sense of their trauma and their PTSD to allow them to begin treatments. Find out more here.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Play therapy for children with PTSD
Playing is fun, and a way for all ages to explore the world around them, test themselves and learn new skills. It’s also a wonderful source of tension and anxiety release and a distraction. This is why play therapy is used in a multitude of situations, by a wide range of professionals who deal with development and mental health issues in the young. Find out more about play therapy here.
Ice baths & cold plunges
Emotional Freedom Techniques (Tapping)
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) or ‘tapping’ is a scientifically proven technique which can release any ‘blockages’ in this energy, which can be the source of emotional intensity and discomfort, and has shown to be incredibly effective at treating PTSD and C-PTSD. Find out more about EFT and tapping here.
Compassion Focused Therapy
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.