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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Care Instructions

Overview

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can result from being in or seeing a traumatic or terrifying event. These events can include combat, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a serious car crash, a medical emergency, an assault, or a sexual assault. If you have PTSD, you may often relive the experience in nightmares or flashbacks. These are clear and frightening memories of the event. You may also have trouble sleeping.

PTSD affects people in very different ways. It can interfere with daily activities such as work or school, and it can make you withdraw from friends or loved ones.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as they are prescribed. If you are taking an antidepressant, you may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have questions or concerns about your medicines, or if you don't notice any improvement after 3 weeks, talk to your doctor.
  • Go to your counselling sessions and follow-up appointments.
  • Recognize and accept your anxiety. Then, when you are in a situation that makes you anxious, say to yourself, "This is not an emergency. I feel uncomfortable, but I am not in danger. I can keep going even if I feel anxious."
  • Be kind to your body:
    • Get enough rest.
    • Get at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
    • Limit alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, cannabis, and other drugs. They can make your symptoms worse.
    • Learn and do relaxation techniques. See below for more about these techniques.
  • Keep a record of your symptoms. Discuss your fears with a good friend or family member, or join a support group for people with similar problems. Talking to others sometimes relieves stress.
  • Connect with others. Get involved in social groups, or volunteer to help others. Or get out and do something you enjoy. Watch a movie, or take a walk or hike with a friend.
  • Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on or near your phone. Go to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention web page at http://suicideprevention.ca/need-help to find a suicide crisis prevention centre in your area. If you or someone you know talks about suicide or feeling hopeless, get help right away.

Relaxation techniques

Do relaxation exercises 10 to 20 minutes a day. You can play soothing, relaxing music while you do them, if you wish.

  • Tell others in your house that you are going to do your relaxation exercises. Ask them not to disturb you.
  • Find a comfortable place, away from all distractions and noise.
  • Lie down on your back, or sit with your back straight.
  • Focus on your breathing. Make it slow and steady.
  • Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through either your nose or mouth.
  • Breathe deeply, filling up the area between your navel and your rib cage. Breathe so that your belly goes up and down.
  • Do not hold your breath.
  • Breathe like this for 5 to 10 minutes. Notice the feeling of calmness throughout your whole body.

As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, relax by doing the following for another 5 to 10 minutes:

  • Tighten and relax each muscle group in your body. You can begin at your toes and work your way up to your head.
  • Imagine your muscle groups relaxing and becoming heavy.
  • Empty your mind of all thoughts.
  • Let yourself relax more and more deeply.
  • Become aware of the state of calmness that surrounds you.
  • When your relaxation time is over, you can bring yourself back to alertness by moving your fingers and toes and then your hands and feet and then stretching and moving your entire body. Sometimes people fall asleep during relaxation, but they usually wake up shortly afterward.
  • Always give yourself time to return to full alertness before you drive a car or do anything that might cause a car crash if you are not fully alert. Never play a relaxation tape while you drive a car.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.

Go to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention webpage at http://suicideprevention.ca/need-help to find a suicide crisis prevention centre in your area if you or someone you know is:

  • Feeling hopeless or thinking of hurting or killing themselves.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your PTSD symptoms are getting worse.
  • You have new or worse symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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