By Jennifer Woolwine

How To Cope in Crowds With Anxiety and Ptsd

Military Veterans

baghdad to barnyard

January 27, 2022

I’ve shared my history with complex PTSD and anxiety before. Whenever I discuss mental health on Instagram, I receive many messages from others struggling with mental health issues. Even though mental health is discussed more openly now, it’s still difficult for people to discuss. Therefore, I’m hoping that digging deeper and sharing more of my PTSD journey will help someone else that is going through a tough time because you don’t have to battle mental health problems alone.

 I was directly involved in multiple traumatic events while serving in the military, which caused my brain to rewire due to spending a lot of time in flight-or-flight mode. It means I perceive threats more intensely than someone without PTSD, even when there is no present danger. During my deployment, I was on constant guard for 14 months. I experienced roadside bombs, ambushes, small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar attacks and witnessed multiple injuries and deaths. Shortly after coming home from my deployment, I received a Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because I was exposed to numerous traumatic events.

PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF PTSD

Over time my anxiety and PTSD manifested into physical symptoms. I would break out in hives; my ears would ring, my hands shake, I would start sweating, experience increased heart rate, lose consciousness, and have seizure-like episodes. After four years of testing, including multiple psychiatric facilities, I was diagnosed with Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES).

PNES

PNES is a type of nonepileptic seizure that results from psychological conditions rather than changes in brain function. It does not involve changes in electrical impulses in the brain as found in epilepsy. However, the symptoms can be remarkably similar, and the condition is often misdiagnosed. PNES tends to affect people with a mental health disorder or who have experienced trauma. It’s important to note a person experiencing a PNES episode is unaware of what is happening and is not consciously pretending to have a seizure.

My PNES was my body’s way of expressing and dealing with what my mind could not. I could be standing in line at the grocery store, having dinner in a restaurant, shopping at the mall, or driving, losing consciousness and not having any memory of the episode. I’d wake up and find myself lying on the floor surrounded by strangers or EMTs because witnesses called an ambulance. It was embarrassing to explain that the episode was related to my PTSD and not due to epilepsy. It made others uncomfortable because it’s not something people understand or are familiar with. Unfortunately, PNES is a condition that is frequently talked about behind closed doors.

ANXIETY, PTSD & PNES

Every PNES episode I experienced had one common denominator, STRESS! Being in heavy traffic, surrounded by people in a store or at a crowded restaurant, caused debilitating anxiety, and it was how my body reacted to stressful situations. At twenty-seven, I received disability retirement from my government job because of my PTSD and PNES. Shortly after, I fell into a deep depression. It wasn’t until we purchased the farm a few years later that I had a noticeable shift in my mood. Moving from the city to the country, embracing a simpler lifestyle, and running a farm, gave me purpose again and made a massive difference in my anxiety and PTSD.

Today, my PNES episodes aren’t as frequent as they used to be. I still have episodes several times a year, which is a huge reason I don’t go public often. The farm is my sanctuary, and being around nature and surrounded by the unconditional love of my animals quiets my mind and soothes my soul.

I am receiving psychiatric treatment for my anxiety, depression and PTSD and taking medication for  insomnia, but my quality of life has improved since I moved to the countryside. Having a farm to run and animals to care for gives me purpose and drive and provides a routine. Our bodies and minds function better when eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns are set to a regular schedule.

ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE

I get up at the same time every morning, feed, and water all the animals on the farm, muck out stalls and coops, work on current projects, check emails, and fill my small business orders. It’s usually time to head back to the barn to feed and water everyone again and to put all the animals up for the night. Then after evening chores, we enjoy a nice dinner, watch some television and then go to bed to do it again the following day. Living on a farm is not easy work, but it is the most rewarding and fulfilling lifestyle, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.


equine therapy for ptsd and anxiety

There are several ways to deal with social anxiety disorder. Try these five tips to help you get through a stressful day in public settings:

1. Control Your Breathing:

  • Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest and breath in slowly through your nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 2 seconds and slowly let the air out through your mouth for 6 seconds. Focus on keeping a slow and steady breathing pattern of 4-in, 2-hold, and 6-out. Repeat this several times until you feel relaxed.

2. Exercise for at least 30 mins a day

  • jogging

  • yoga

  • take a daily walk

3. Challenge negative thoughts

  • Keep a journal to track your negative thoughts.

  • Practicing mindfulness to maintain awareness of your thinking

  • Use positive affirmations to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones

 4. Face your fears

  • start with a situation you can manage and gradually work your way up to more tricky situations. By starting small, you can build your confidence and learn coping skills as you move on to other challenges.

5. Join a Support Group

Recovery from PTSD and anxiety takes time; for people like me, it’s a lifelong challenge. However, with therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes, people can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Speak to your doctor about treatment options and see what lifestyle changes would benefit your mental health. Maybe it’s a career change, setting boundaries with toxic family members, or seeking professional help with a mental health disorder; whatever it is, you and your doctor can do over a game plan and help you get on the right track to improving your quality of life.

If you would like to learn more about PTSD, PNES, social anxiety, and coping strategies, you can check out the following articles to learn about the signs, symptoms, treatment options, and coping strategies

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) | JED (jedfoundation.org)

Psychogenic Non-epileptic Seizures (PNES) | Epilepsy Foundation

Social Anxiety Disorder | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA

Disclaimer: The information shared in this post is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

xo, Jen


coping strategies for PTSD

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  1. Alicia Walker says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. My husband got sick in 2001, was diagnosed with chronic panic disorder. He has physical symptoms of shaking and twitching, eyes get tunnel vision, ear ring, and losses hearing, arms go numb, and sweating profusely just to name a few. After 20 years of doctors, specialists, different medications, and therapies he still suffers daily. He has now been homebound for 9 years. I care for him 24/7 so I am homebound as well. I just started learning about regenerative farming, what reals foods are best for our bodies, and learning about gardening, growing our own food. I have switched to Raw Honey, grass-fed organic butter, and trying to find raw milk as well. So we have been lowering the stress by taking a step back from going to the ER, doctors appointments, and just think positive and hanging in there. Shaun is the strongest man I know, he fights everyday to put on a face for me, and make it through the day. Thank you so much for sharing. I pray for the day Shaun is on board with getting a tiny home and a little bit of land (2 bed 1 bath, under 1,000 sq ft home) maybe (1/4, acre land) He likes to rent so we don’t have the stress of things breaking. But I wish to own our own home and be one with nature again…. right now we are in loud, unsafe high rise one bedroom apartment. He is scared of heights as well so we at least got the first floor. I feel like I am rambling now. Anyways thank you for sharing. Welcome Home and Thank you for your service

    Much Love from Cleveland Ohio

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Alicia,
      I am so sorry to hear your husband has chronic pain. It is a tough battle and I will keep him in my thoughts and prayers. I know how exhausting ER visits and multiple doctor appointments can be, especially dealing with chronic pain. Some doctors believe you, some don’t, some overprescribe, and some don’t help at all… it’s a tough road for sure, and I’ve been there! While you may not have your own land yet, there are so many ways you can still incorporate nature into your daily life. Grow an herb garden on your balcony, visit local parks, or garden nurseries, hang bird feeders, add indoor plants, or simply create a reading nook near a sunny window. Feel free to reach out anytime, if you need someone to talk to!
      xo, Jen

Jen Woolwine       Author

Jen is a veteran, wife, farm mama, homesteader, blogger,  and mental health advocate. You can follow her and daily homestead life on Instagram, FB, Pinterest & TikTok @baghdadtobarnyard

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