Balancing a household as a parent with PTSD is a tremendous challenge, but one that many fellow survivors share. Common stressors in busy households such as school activities, packed calendars and to-do lists, bills and homework, etc. make a huge impact on how well we deal with our PTSD triggers. When we're stressed, we're more susceptible to heightened PTSD symptoms. Stress management is key for both self-care and family / child-care.
- Breathe. This is the one you always hear first. I've been skeptical of breathing exercises... I don't have time for that, I breathe all day already, etc. etc. Excuses. The reality is, it works. To be effective for me, I just do a little at a time, 5-10 deep breaths whenever I feel the tension setting in. I focus on extending my outward breath - this is the breath that stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for activities that occur when our body is at REST.
- Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Again, another over-used phrase that seems hard to implement. Here's how I make it work. When something distressing happens, I assess my reaction (or over-reaction) based upon this question: "Do I have room for this in my bag?" My "bag" is my bag of the serious things that matter, my trauma history, my recovery, love for my family, my triggers that await, the unknown, the things I can't control... I surprise myself with how many things I let slide now, stress free, by simply saying "Heck no, I don't have room for that [broken toy, spilled milk, late payment charge, rude driver] in my bag."
- I Remember I'm a Different Animal. I use the term "animal" with some humor, but in all reality, we humans are just another species. Trauma re-wires our bodies, our brains, our nervous systems, with far-reaching differences from our non-traumatized fellow humans. If a conflict is about to erupt within my family, I'll remind myself internally, "I'm a different animal..." A special animal with equal value to any other human being, but one that is wired to process intense emotions differently.
- Have a deadline or a place to be? Get started early. This is one of the biggest stress-starters in our household... we are always running late. Always. Like many with PTSD, I sleep terribly, so mornings are the hardest. And the unexpected should almost be expected, because it pops up so frequently. So plan ahead, allocate extra time, and if you don't need it, you'll have a few extra minutes to breathe instead.
- Remembering that this, too, shall pass. My triggers are intense. I get sudden onset, out of nowhere, triggers that are a full body roar pretty regularly. As my fellow PTSD'ers understand, this can't be controlled. The rage will pop internally beyond my control, because it begins at the sub-conscious level. During a trigger, I truly believe my anger or pain at the specific trigger will never pass. It feels larger than my life. However, I've survived every trigger that preceded it, and most of them fade away rather quickly, although the underlying trauma they bring up doesn't. Triggers affect our current moments, our daily lives. Triggers pass. Triggers fade. I just have to survive the hurricane until it passes, protect my family, and know that it's temporary.
- Thoughts will pass. You will remain. You BELONG. This was a quote I got from someone on a support message board. It was huge to me. PTSD survivors have distorted thoughts. The images we see and thoughts that pass can be horrifying or shameful, and we have no control when they pop up. Like #4 above, I use this quote as a mantra. My thoughts will pass. But I WILL REMAIN. And most importantly, I BELONG. We all belong. No matter what you've been through, you belong, and you matter.