Whether you believe it or not, your habits can make you or break you. You might be asking “What do habits have to do with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?” Let’s start by defining what a habit actually is. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a habit is “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior.” A more specific definition is “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.”
What habits do you think you have? Are they good habits? Bad habits? Until January of 2019, I had little awareness of the habits that were hindering my PTSD healing. I knew some of my habits were bad but not THAT bad. When I started a new PTSD recovery program all my habits were becoming more obvious- both good and bad ones.
I stayed up really late binge watching my favorite TV hows. I also scrolled through Facebook in a failed attempt to keep racing thoughts away during bedtime. I considered any screen time as an act of self-care because it simply entertained and pleased me. Wrong! According Salk Institute Professor Satchin Panda, “We are continuously exposed to artificial light, whether from screen time, spending the day indoors or staying awake late at night. This lifestyle causes disruptions to our circadian rhythms and has deleterious consequences on health.”
Being stuck to a cell phone does not support good health or PTSD recovery. Unhealthy screen time habits were destroying my chances of getting good sleep. Sleeping well is a vital part in PTSD recovery. Do I still look at my phone while in bed? I do. I’m not proud of it but I have made great improvements. I certainly don’t do this every night like I used to. Zoning out on screen time wasn’t my only bad habit though.
Ever hear the expression “Junk in and junk out”? It basically means if you’re putting trash into your mind,body and soul, you will end up with trash. Our bodies are constantly being exposed to inputs. What you listen to, watch, or read are all examples of inputs. I used to watch dark and violent movies when I was in a really bad head space at night. Hitler documentaries anyone? Bad idea. This habit reinforced the violent and evil nightmares or night terrors I had on a nightly basis.
Nightmares related to trauma are so damaging. They open up mental wounds causing one to feel the terror all over again. Horrific night terrors caused me to wake up soaked in sweat and in full blown panic. My sister could tell you how that sounded like because she was the first person I called to help calm myself down. It took me days to bounce back from consecutive night terrors. Watching violent and graphic content also affected how I was reacting to the world. Hypervigilance was stealing my joy of living in the moment . It cornered me into a worst case scenario mentality. Hypervigilance causes a person to be in a terrible fight mode – ready for something bad to happen at any moment. It’s pretty exhausting. Merriam Webster dictionary defines hypervigilance as “ extreme or excessive vigilance : the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat.”
My life also consists of good habits. I continue to practice gratitude. Setting time aside to pray every single day is really important to me. Deep breathing is a part of my daily life as well. Over time, I have completely replaced some of my bad habits by being more careful what I watch, listen to, and read.
By cutting out violent and dark movies or shows out of my life,I have significantly reduced the number of nightmares I have. The quality of my sleep is till improving. Nightmares used to ruin my sleep life but not anymore. I experience them now and than but that’s about it. What’s also amazing is I am able to enjoy playing with my son. Joyfully living in the moment is now my happy reality. No nightmares means not being stuck in a very dark head space. There is no doubt. My dedication to adopting healthier habits has had huge payoffs. PTSD no longer owns me. I own it. Changing habits has helped me heal from trauma and I know it could help you too.
Remember, habits are a series of small yet significant decisions that can have positive or detrimental effects on your Post Traumatic Stress recovery. If you struggle with a long list of bad habits, not all hope is lost. It does take hard work to become more aware of the habits that you subconsciously and consciously choose on a daily basis. Just because it’s hard work doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Working on one habit at a time will set you up for a successful lifestyle change. I am living proof that it is 100% possible through commitment, hard work, and a hopeful outlook.