• Riding the Dragon: PTSD and Releasing Anxiety

    dragon-riding

    A good friend of mine with post-traumatic stress disorder finds it stressful to ride in the back seat of a car. She stresses about the dangers that exist and envisions fatalistic scenes. Before treatment, worry could paralyze her.

    People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder often suffer from debilitating worry–not because they enjoy worrying about things, but because trauma has programmed their brains to think in certain ways. It can be difficult for them to see the world the same way people who have not experienced trauma see the world. Telling someone with PTSD to simply change the way they see the world is a lot like telling a deaf person to “listen up.”

    Living with the anxiety that comes with PTSD is much like living with a fire-breathing dragon that has taken control of your life. Effective treatment does not teach those with PTSD how to slay the dragon, but rather how to ride it.

    Trauma treatment that addresses the trauma that becomes “stuck” in one side of the brain is a critical first step in releasing anxiety. Before treatment, my friend would often dissociate at the sight of a spider. Today she can kill them herself. A few years ago, she might also dissociate in order to ride in the back seat of a car down the interstate. Today she controls her anxiety.

    But how can people with PTSD take steps beyond treatment to release anxiety? Dr. Robert J. Wicks offers suggestions in his book Riding the Dragon: 40 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times. 

    • Acknowledge that we live small lives that pass quickly. Seek treatment for PTSD and anxiety. 
    • Understand that we typically live much of our lives alternating between guilt for what we have or have not done and feeling unnecessarily judgmental of others. We fill the middle with anxiety.
    • Recognize that one of the greatest things we can share with those we love is a sense of our own peace. Seek it.
    • Understand that our culture encourages us to worry and reinforces our anxiety. Somehow worry is the “right” thing to do and shows that we care. Learn to let go.
    • Acknowledge the truth that anxiety and worry offer no solutions, no benefit, and drain us of resources.
    • Exchange worry for concern. 
    • Concern takes action.
    • Concern moves us toward mercy and compassion–for others and for ourselves.
    • Concern moves us toward a solution, rather than trapping us within the problem.

    If you’re facing the dragon of anxiety, think and pray about how you can exchange your worry for concern and ride the dragon in a positive direction.

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