PTSD Awareness: 9 Expert Tips to Help You Cope While Moving
It’s gone by a wide variety of names over the years. They called it “shell shock” in World War I and “combat fatigue” in World War II. PTSD Awareness has had accounts going as far back to the wars of ancient Mesopotamia and Greece. Even Shakespeare, the Bard himself, knew about the ongoing anguish of those who have seen trauma and war:
“Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war,
And thus hath so bestirred thee in thy sleep,
That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow
Like bubbles in a late-disturbèd stream,
And in thy face strange motions have appeared,
Such as we see when men restrain their breath
On some great sudden hest.”
–Henry IV, Part I (Click to Tweet this)
Today, we call the mental condition that affects those who have dealt with the all too common illness, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. While common in the military, it’s sufferers include countless others who have been through war, abuse, accidents, disasters, and other life-threatening events. And while every day of the year is a day we should and must care about PTSD, whether you know a sufferer or not, June 27th is PTSD Awareness Day. It’s a day when, beyond any other, you should spare some thoughts and time for those who have been through the very worst. And while we should focus on our collective mental wellbeing far more than once a year, PTSD Awareness Day is a unique, annual opportunity to reflect on what really matters and refocus your priorities.
PTSD Awareness Day
In 2010, the United States Senate officially designated June 27th as National PTSD Awareness Day. The day was chosen because it’s the birthday of Staff Sergeant Joel Biel, who took his own life several years earlier due to the PTSD he suffered from after two tours in Iraq. Since then, the day is a stark reminder of the countless people, so many of whom are veterans, suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Organizations That Help With PTSD
For those of you who think you may have, or know you have, PTSD, please make this the time to seek out professional help if you have not done so. In addition to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, many service organizations and nonprofits are here to help veterans cope and recover from PTSD.
1. Wounded Warrior Project’s Program
Their Project Odyssey is an amazing series of outdoor rehabilitation retreats and mental health counseling for individual veterans and couples. You can call their Resource Center at either 1 (888) 997-2586 or 1 (904) 405-1213, 9 am – 7 pm (eastern), Monday through Friday.
Founded in 2012 to provide as many veterans as possible with free, confidential mental health counseling, Headstrong is dedicated to (as their slogan says) “healing the hidden wounds of war.” And they do so with their ever-expanding network with their one-on-one therapeutic counseling. Check out their website to see if they have clinicians near you and, if they do, apply for assistance here.
3. DoD-run Military OneSource
They offer confidential counseling for free, 24/7. Call them anytime from CONUS at 800-342-9647. For OCONUS personnel, you can reach them at 1 (800) 342-9647 or 1 (703) 253-7599.
What is PTSD?
The current edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM, with the newest version being DSM-5) defines PTSD as:
“A stress disorder that results from someone experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event firsthand, hearing about a traumatic event that occurred to someone close to them, or being repeatedly exposed to firsthand details of a traumatic event.” (Click to Tweet this)
As you can see, PTSD does not only affect those who directly suffered trauma. Even someone who does not, for example, suffer injuries in combat can still develop PTSD if their spouse, good friend, or other loved one does.
To read a more complete overview of what criteria define PTSD and what’s changed recently in how it’s defined, you can download the APA’s latest PTSD fact sheet.
There are a wide array of symptoms that can result from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health’s standard for diagnosing PTSD categorizes the symptoms into four categories:
1. Re-experiencing Symptoms
Flashbacks and recurring nightmares of the traumatic event in question are some of the most recognizable symptoms of PTSD. Recurring distressing thoughts and physical signs of stress are also included in this category.
2. Avoidance Symptoms
Going out of one’s way to avoid the site of the event or even sites that remind a person of it for one reason or another. People who refuse to even think or feel emotions about the event are also suffering from avoidance.
3. Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms
These are the indicators of the sort of “edginess” that PTSD sufferers exhibit. Someone who’s easily startled, easily irritated, or always “on guard.” Things like serious sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, or a tendency towards risky, dangerous behavior are also among these behaviors.
4. Cognition and Mood Symptoms
An inability to think positive thoughts and only focus on negative ones. Ongoing and/or distorted feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and/or fear. Feeling isolated in social situations and unable to enjoy previously beloved activities. Even trouble remembering key parts of the traumatic event itself.
9 Expert Tips to Help You Cope While Moving
Like any anxiety or trauma disorder, PTSD can be triggered in any sort of stressful situation. And a few things in a daily, average life are as stressful as a military move. And something as seemingly commonplace as a PCS move can be extra trying for those with PTSD. So we’ve put together 9 expert tips from Marine veteran Paul Mooney to help you navigate this stressful time.
1. Set Goals
Establish/recognize positive, attainable goals related to the move. Focus on finally getting the last box taped up or get psyched up for moving everything into your new den so it’s set up just the way you like. Having definitive things to look forward to, even little ones, can help people from getting too wrapped up in their stress in the present.
2. Have Patience With Yourself and Your Situation
Always, always be patient. If you have PTSD, give yourself grace. If a loved one has PTSD, be patient with them. Stay cool, stay calm, and give them all the time they need to be okay. Take the process as slow as necessary and take frequent breaks if needed.
Here’s a quick tip – Take a few minutes to meditate and help refocus your mood and energy. (Click to Tweet this)
3. Know Your Triggers
Whether it’s you or a loved one who suffers, knowing the specific sights, smells, sounds, etc that are most likely to trigger a PTSD related panic episode means you’re better prepared to react if/when they happen. During a move, there will likely be lots of banging about with boxes and furniture, and loud noises are known to be a very common PTSD trigger.
4. Seek Help If Needed
Moving is important, but make sure you or your loved one’s health always comes first. Don’t hesitate to drop everything if the stress becomes overwhelming to the point that it’s time to prioritize. Never be afraid to reach out for professional help.
5. Focus on Your Physical Health
Physical health plays a big part in mental health. So it’s very important, even during a move, to get enough sleep; stay hydrated; remember to eat because let’s face it, sometimes we get too wrapped up in packing boxes we forget to eat; avoid drugs and alcohol; and take time to do some stretching to help with sore muscles from all the packing.
6. Plan Ahead
Make sure to make a checklist and give yourself plenty of breathing room for when things inevitably go awry or get backed up. Feeling rushed is a stressor to pretty much every human being, so you can imagine that it’s no different, and often even worse, for those with PTSD. Knowing what goes where when and how much time you have to get it done can make things infinitely less haphazard.
More like this: Reduce the Stress of Moving through Preparation
7. Stay Busy
An occupied mind is one that’s less likely to get stuck ruminating on past trauma. Staying busy, mind, and body, with the mental and physical complexities of the move is a great way to stay positively distracted.
8. Understand What You Are Feeling Is Normal
Even with all the planning and precautions in the world, the stress of a move can still trigger a reaction. If that happens, don’t try to ignore it. Face it. Accept that you are having a reaction and that your feelings are valid. Remind yourself or your loved one that whether you are crying, scared, angry, or depressed, give yourself permission to express how you feel.
9. Moving Forward
Following these tips may not make your move easier. And it won’t guarantee that it won’t be extra tough time for someone with PTSD. But taking them all into account can help you prepare for and mitigate the chance that moving will exacerbate the stress.
We appreciate your service and sacrifice that you have made for your country. And we still work hard every day to provide you with answers and solutions when it comes to PCS-ing and navigating pre and post-moves with the military. All though we don’t have all the answers and solutions when it comes to PTSD, we encourage you to reach out to professional resources to help you on your journey to recovery. We can’t emphasize or repeat this enough: reach out for help even if you feel like you don’t need it – it may be the difference between suppression and recovery. We hope that the pointers we’ve offered here will help in some small way make your next move a little less hard on you and your loved ones.
More like this: A Veteran’s Advice for PTSD Awareness