Help for PTSD on Valentine's Day
Try these 5 tips for a less-stressful Valentine's Day with PTSD.
Posted Feb 12, 2019
Getting through a regular day with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be miserable. The intensity and romantic expectations of Valentine’s Day can make it all the more difficult. For some, their symptoms relate to sexual assault, and even if they don’t, intimacy with a partner can still be difficult. For single people there may different challenges or negative self-judgments. Here’s a guide to help you through this sometimes highly stressful day if you're also dealing with PTSD symptoms.
1. Make it a day about loving yourself
PTSD symptoms often include some level of self-judgment, shame and blame. This could be a great opportunity to begin healing negative thoughts, which is a key ingredient in PTSD recovery (Gentry, Baranowsky, & Rhoton, 2017). Self-compassion exercises are shown to increase optimism and decrease depression (Shapira & Mongrain, 2010), which is one of the symptoms of PTSD. To get started, make a list of the things that you appreciate about yourself, or put them on slips of paper or in small Valentine's cards and leave them on your mirror or other places to find later. If being kind to yourself is difficult, start small, with statements like, “I know I'm having a hard time, but I'm taking the time to do something nice for myself.” Pair this with your favorite music or treat during the day.
If you have continued to suffer from symptoms, it might also be a great time to focus on finding help that works for you. This could be the ultimate act of self-care. Here’s a post that includes tips about the best therapies and how to find effective treatment if that’s been difficult.
2. Practice self-soothing
PTSD causes our fight-or-flight system to misfire at times. If you are experience frequent anxiety or panic attacks, remember to self-soothe. Typically mindfulness, grounding, slow breathing or exercise can help. Here are some tips on these basic strategies.
3. Take the pressure off the day
If you’re with a significant other on Valentine's Day, talk to that person about planning for the day to be a bit more laid back if that would be easier for you. Neither of you have to find the perfect gift, say the perfect things or be a perfect self. Instead, pick an activity you know you both enjoy that doesn’t cause much stress for either of you. Some couples even choose to not celebrate this specific day at all to avoid the commercial aspects, and plan a different date night instead.
If you’re solo, then do the same. Find a favorite book, movie or activity and have fun, rather than comparing yourself to others. Or, find a friend and see if they want to make an evening of it together. While the world may make you feel otherwise (especially on Valentine’s Day!) you certainly aren’t alone. There are millions of single people in the world and many of them will be doing the same thing on February 14. There are also millions of others suffering through PTSD.
4. Talk about intimacy ahead of time
Many people with PTSD experience anxiety or other complications relating to sex. If you think it might help, consider talking to your partner about intimacy ahead of time. Share what you expect, would enjoy, and what would make you most comfortable or might even be fun. Sometimes that might mean you’d just as soon have an evening of snuggling on the couch in sweats watching Netflix, or even some alone time, rather than any added pressure of sexual intimacy.
5. Accept your experience
Most importantly, remember to be kind and gentle with yourself. Whatever you are feeling or not feeling on Valentine's Day is okay. Healing takes time and it’s perfectly normal to struggle or not to struggle on holidays. Find your own special ways to love and accept yourself today.
Eric Gentry, J & B. Baranowsky, Anna & Rhoton, Robert. (2017). Trauma Competency: An Active Ingredients Approach to Treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Counseling & Development. 95. 279-287. 10.1002/jcad.12142.
Leah B. Shapira & Myriam Mongrain (2010) The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5:5, 377-389, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2010.516763