PTSD & Exercise: How CrossFit Is a Perfect Coping Mechanism
Written by Invictus Member Rachel Ragosa

Over the last few years, the stigma surrounding mental health has eased up quite a bit. More people are talking about their mental struggles and seeking help and support, which is incredible progress.

I always try to be open with my own challenges. After losing my husband to cancer and my daughter to a rare disease less than a year apart, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Every person’s experience with PTSD is different, but for me, it manifests as anxiety, flashbacks, loss of mental focus, and some very disturbed sleep.

While traditional treatment is helpful, exercise has been my primary coping mechanism. Research shows that exercise can have a tremendous impact on PTSD symptoms. With many suffering in silence, I wanted to provide just a bit of information on how physical activity can help and what you can do if you are struggling with PTSD symptoms.

Exploring the Research
There have been countless studies regarding PTSD symptoms and exercise as treatment. The vast majority of studies showed a regular exercise program could lower symptoms associated with PTSD including anxiety and depression. Further, those who suffer from PTSD also tend to have lower brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is associated with long-term memory and learning. Lower levels can impact a person’s ability to focus, remember, and learn. However, after moderate-intensity exercise, participants showed improvement in learning and memory. A regular exercise program can also help those with disturbed sleep get some better rest. CrossFit is an excellent choice of physical activity, as it provides a great mix of resistance, mobility, and cardiovascular exercise.

Social Exercise Is Key
When you are feeling anxious or depressed, the last thing you want to do is be in a crowd of people. For many, social interactions can cause even more anxiety or feelings of being an “outsider.” However, when you are focused on exercise rather than the societal pressure of acting “normal,” emotions can be much easier to handle.

As someone who works from home quite a bit, CrossFit is often my only social interaction for the day. Creating friendships at the gym has been a life-saver for me. After trauma, getting back into a routine is immensely difficult. Creating a social support system is a fantastic first step to integrating back into society and setting up healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Not to mention, it has kept me showing up consistently. I know that if I don’t show up to class, I will get a few texts checking in.

How to Get Help
If you are suffering from PTSD, it is crucial that you get treatment as soon as possible. Here is a list of multiple organizations that assist veterans and non-veterans with trauma-related disorders. There are several options in the treatment of PTSD including cognitive exposure therapy, EMDR, and medications that can alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD.

If you aren’t sure where to get help, ask a general medical practitioner who can provide you with a referral to the right professional. Keep moving forward and make positive, healthy changes and things will get better. They may not ever be the way they were before, but they do get better.

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