Distraction Techniques: Tools for Intrusive Trauma Symptoms

Navigating the symptoms of PTSD through daily life can be challenging. Approximately 44.7 million people are struggling with PTSD in the United States alone. Recognized as a psychobiological mental disorder, those with PTSD have the highest rates of healthcare service use. While effective treatment plans vary from patient to patient, some at-home techniques can help when symptoms occur. 

What is an intentional distraction, and how can you integrate it into your daily life? Let’s discuss! Although distraction is typically regarded as harming people, purposeful distraction techniques can be beneficial in coping with PTSD. This article will explore the benefits of distraction techniques and provide helpful tools for intrusive trauma symptoms. 

An Overview of PTSD

The American Psychological Association defines post-traumatic stress disorder as an anxiety disorder that stems from a traumatic experience. When individuals experience a traumatic event, the impact can be so damaging that they experience physical and psychological symptoms years later. Some patients avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma, while others relive the events through intrusive memories and flashbacks

For many patients, intrusive trauma symptoms significantly impact their daily lives. People with PTSD experience a range of emotions from fear and anger to sadness and shame. Many individuals turn to unhealthy coping strategies to get through daily life. Drug and alcohol use is often a temporary fix to control intense feelings. Still, these coping strategies actually heighten symptoms over time. 

Many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are caused by:

  • Stressful experiences, such as witnessing a tragic death, chronic illness, and motor vehicle accidents
  • Inherited mental health risk, including a family history of anxiety and depression
  • Inherited personality or temperament
  • Chemical and hormone regulations from your brain in response to stress
  • Exposure to long-lasting trauma, such as childhood abuse or sexual violence
  • Working a job that exposes you to traumatic events, such as military personnel or first responders

The primary symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive trauma symptoms, such as:
    • Recurrent, unwanted memories of the traumatic event
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Severe emotional or physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance symptoms, such as:
    • Not talking about the traumatic event
    • Trying not to think about the traumatic event
    • Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Thinking and mood symptoms, including:
    • Negative thoughts
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Memory issues
    • Difficulty maintaining relationships
    • Feeling detached from loved ones
    • Lack of interest in life’s pleasures
    • Difficulty with positive emotions
    • Feeling numb
  • Physical and emotional symptoms, such as:
    • Being easily frightened
    • Feeling on guard constantly
    • Self-destructive behavior
    • Insomnia
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Irritability
    • Aggressive behavior
    • Overwhelming guilt or shame

Although it seems like a tough battle, several treatment options minimize symptoms and help you live a pleasurable life. The intensity of symptoms varies from patient to patient. Additionally, you may have more PTSD symptoms when you feel stress in general. 

What Are Distraction Techniques? 

As the name suggests, distraction techniques divert your attention away from the intense emotions to focus on something else. Most times, focusing on the feelings you’re experiencing only intensifies the episode. By temporarily distracting your brain from these emotions, you can reduce the intensity and make symptoms easier to manage. 

Distraction techniques are incredibly effective in treating intrusive trauma symptoms. However, it’s important to remember that these are temporary fixes. They are not meant to help you escape or avoid a feeling. Instead, you’ll need to include additional skills to manage your emotions long-term. 

Examples of Effective Distractions for Intrusive Trauma Symptoms

There are many ways you can distract yourself when difficult emotions arise. The most effective distraction techniques are based on your likes and preferences. Still, here are some examples of various distractions that can temporarily reduce your intrusive trauma symptoms:

  • Place your hands in water
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Take a walk
  • Hold a piece of ice
  • Focus on your surroundings
  • Eat or drink something
  • Play a game
  • Count backward from a large number 
  • Recite something
  • Make yourself laugh
  • Sing
  • Practice self-care
  • Sit with your pet
  • Visualize your favorite place
  • Plan an activity
  • Write a list of positive affirmations
  • Listen to music
  • Call or write a letter to a friend or family member
  • Do chores such as cleaning, doing laundry, or washing the dishes
  • Draw a picture or do something creative
  • Exercise
  • Go shopping
  • Read a book or watch a movie

The more distractions you come up with, the more flexible you can be during the challenging moments. The best way to use distraction techniques to your benefit is to create a list that you can turn to when strong emotions kick in. Although this technique may seem strange at first, sticking with it will undoubtedly make a difference in your life. 

You should also find the right coping skills to support these techniques. Let’s discuss some essential coping skills to use daily. 

Helpful PTSD Coping Skills to Reduce Symptoms

If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, you should know that coping with the condition is typically a constant struggle. The most effective treatment option depends on your case, the type of trauma you’ve experienced, the length of exposure, and the intensity. Most patients do well with a combination of medications, at-home techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Having the right coping skills to supplement your treatment can be helpful in times of need. Here are some valuable coping skills to practice when you have PTSD:

1. Learn Your Triggers

When you’ve been exposed to trauma, various aspects of everyday life will remind you of the incident. For example, a war veteran may experience flashbacks when hearing a loud noise. A sexual abuse victim may relive events when smelling a particular scent. Anything that induces negative emotions can be a trigger for your PTSD. It may take some time to identify your triggers. Identify the people, places, and things that trigger you so you can limit your exposure. 

By exposing yourself to triggers strategically, you can desensitize yourself to your triggers. Don’t attempt this therapy without the guidance of a trained medical professional. For those working with a mental health professional, discuss your options for prolonged exposure therapy. 

2. Ground Yourself

Grounding is a practical skill that can help reduce the symptoms of PTSD. You should introduce grounding to your daily routine since it is most effective when you are calm. To practice the technique of grounding, focus on the present moment. Carefully and thoughtfully observe your surroundings. Take in the sounds, smells, and sights around you. The point of grounding is to look around and recognize the various parts of life you easily overlook. 

3. Improve Your Physical Well-Being

Most cases of PTSD are accompanied by physical health problems such as chronic pain, digestive issues, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Avoid these issues by taking good care of yourself. This will help prevent health concerns. It will also keep your mental health in top health. Eat well. Follow a nutrient-rich diet and remain hydrated. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is also a great way to distract yourself from strong emotions. 

4. Join a Support Group

Although many people are initially hesitant to join a support group, group therapy lets people with PTSD understand they aren’t alone. You’ll be paired with other individuals who have experienced similar traumatic events. Depending on what works best for you, you can participate weekly or monthly. Support groups are a safe and judgment-free space where you can open up. You can even find online and social media groups if you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person. 

5. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation

One of the most common physical symptoms of PTSD is hyperventilating when panic sets in. Practicing relaxation techniques regularly can help you prepare for intrusive trauma symptoms. Many resources help you find a mindfulness and relaxation routine that works for you. Download an app, purchase a book, try streaming videos, or download a meditation. These are all great ways to calm the nervous system and help you better manage your stress. 

Combining coping skills, medication, therapy, and distraction techniques can help you combat your PTSD symptoms and take back your life. While millions of patients experience PTSD in the United States, the appropriate treatment option depends on your specific needs. 

Find a therapist you trust to help create the right balance to overcome your struggles. For more information on overcoming intrusive trauma symptoms, visit our trauma therapy services and treatment programs page. It’s time to overcome your PTSD symptoms and take back your life. Contact us today to schedule your appointment. 

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