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How to Cope with PTSD in the Classroom


If you are a veteran or someone who has experienced a life-threatening trauma, going back to school can trigger concerns. Along with worrying about which courses to take and books to buy, you might also be worried about managing the symptoms of PTSD in the classroom.

People can experience many different forms of trauma and some people may develop PTSD as a result. Whether you are a soldier returning from battle, the survivor of sexual assault, childhood abuse, or a car crash, you too, can have a rewarding college experience.

Continue reading to learn more about how you can better manage PTSD symptoms in the classroom.

What is PTSD?

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after a person has gone through an especially dangerous, violent, or shocking event. When the human body is exposed to danger, the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight-flight-freeze,” response kicks in. This response allows individuals to be on high alert, have faster reaction times, and increases their chances of survival when there is an immediate threat.

PTSD in the Classroom

If you have PTSD, however, your "fight-flight-freeze" response stays in high gear, even when no danger is present.

Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event in the form of intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and/or nightmares.
  • Avoiding the memory or reminders of the event, which leads to social withdrawal, emotional numbness and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Experiencing heightened anxiety and emotional arousal: periods of derealization, disassociation, sleep disruption, trouble concentrating, being jumpy, and being irritable or easily angered.
  • Changes in mood, behavior, and negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world.

Individuals with PTSD may also feel intense guilt or shame about surviving the traumatic event when others did not. In addition, you may develop a substance abuse problem or struggle with depression. Fortunately, there is hope if you suffer from PTSD.


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How to Manage PTSD Symptoms

If you suspect you have PTSD, there are many strategies you can follow. However, your best bet for fully recovering from PTSD is by seeking out professional help. A psychologist or counselor can help you work through your emotions regarding the traumatic event and learn how to better cope. A doctor or psychiatrist may also prescribe medications to deal with any depression or anxiety caused by PTSD.

Self-help strategies for PTSD include:

    • Develop a stress-management toolbox with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, massage and meditation.
  • Try grounding, which is a technique that helps you re-orient yourself back to the present moment when upsetting memories occur. Splash some cold water over your face. Describe your environment (e.g. I am standing in a room with blue walls…). Count down from 100.
  • Get plenty of sleep. A lack of sleep can worsen your mood and increase irritability. Try to get seven to nine hours each night. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed. Do something relaxing like taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or reading a book.
  • Eat a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. Taking better care of your physical health can help improve your emotional and mental well-being. Remove salty, sugary and fattening processed foods from your diet as they may exacerbate mood problems.
  • Avoid numbing with alcohol and drugs. Though this may decrease symptoms for a short time, they will return and may even worsen as a result of the substance use.
  • Continue your treatment regimen of psychotherapy and medications. Stay in regular contact with your doctor or therapist.

Resources for Students

Some schools also offer a variety of PTSD resources to increase your chances of success. Reach out to your academic advisor to set up a realistic schedule that doesn’t overload you. Talk to the college disabilities office to find out if you can get any accommodations for re-taking tests or catching up on assignments when your PTSD symptoms worsen. You might also research on-campus counseling services or local support groups where you can meet with other students who are recovering from traumatic experiences.

Dealing with PTSD can be challenging, but it is possible to effectively treat your symptoms and achieve your academic and career goals.

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