Much has been written about post-traumatic stress and its accompanying disorder. What was only a few short years ago almost unheard of or was called by other names (melancholia after the Civil War, shell-shock after World War I, combat fatigue after the 2nd World War, or Combat Stress Reaction, for example), has come into the lexicon and everyone is familiar with it.
Early definitions implied that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was caused by war and its effects, which limited its definition to the military and returning veterans.
In fact, we know now that PTSD can affect anyone at any time. When your sense of safety and security is damaged, it’s almost impossible not to feel some traumatic effects.
When your brain becomes stuck, it isn’t able to process the information, and you remain in traumatic shock. Trauma is defined as an event that feels life threatening such as sexual assault, warfare, bullying and harassment, traffic accidents, or other threats on a person’s life.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
We recognize that when a person has experienced a traumatic event, there are three main types of symptoms:
1. Physical symptoms that include flashbacks and nightmares, upsetting memories that cause feelings of distress and things like nausea, pounding hearts, sweating, feeling faint, shortness of breath, etc. Often these are called panic attacks, and cause the sufferer to feel as if they are dying.
2. Avoidance of any reminders of trauma such as avoiding places or people that remind you of the traumatic event. For example, not being able to drive down a particular street where you were in an auto accident. Sometimes this can result in numbing out to avoid feeling anything and a loss of interest in life and activities that once were enjoyable. This includes a general feeling of hopelessness.
3. Increased emotional arousal including being easy to startle, feeling hypervigilant and on guard at all times, having difficulty concentrating, and irritable or angry frequently and for no discernable reason.
Guilt and shame often accompany PTSD. The feeling that what happened to you is somehow your fault is not uncommon. Persistent negative beliefs are almost always associated with post-traumatic stress. Thoughts like “I am bad,” I did a bad thing,” “I’m not worthy,” “I can’t trust anybody,” “the world is a dangerous place” are commonplace with PTSD.
Women who have been sexually abused often have the feeling (irrational as it may be) that they did something to have caused it. For example, wearing short skirts, making eye contact with someone, having too much to drink, inviting someone to their home (even someone they have known for a long time) are all examples of the self-talk abused women have.
Often the person with post-traumatic stress will become irritable irrationally. They may participate in self-destructive behaviors, and often become hypervigilant to things going on around them. They may experience an inability to concentrate, and become easily startled. Sleep often eludes people with post-traumatic stress. They may become reclusive and unable to participate in activities they normally enjoyed.
If you have experienced a traumatic event, it’s best to seek treatment as soon as possible. Sometimes this isn’t possible, as might be the case for someone returning from battle. But the sooner it’s treated the better because the effects of trauma affect everyone from the survivor to friends and family.
Your quality of life has been impacted, making it difficult to interact socially with others the way you used to. And because of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms listed above, you may become difficult to live with, thus affecting your support group.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solutions
There are a number of therapies and treatments that work well in healing PTSD.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves changing irrational and distorted thoughts to healthier and rational ones.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy works to release and unfreeze the images and beliefs held in the brain after trauma, and creates new and more positive messages through the use of eye movements. It’s thought that this therapy is a little like REM sleep, during which your mind processes the day past and prepares for the day ahead. EMDR is a very healing therapy with very good results.
Medications can help as well to reduce the symptoms resulting from anxiety and depression.
The bottom line is that there is no reason to suffer. If you think you have PTSD, please don’t hesitate to call for an appointment. EMDR therapy has a proven track record of success in healing trauma. I’m happy to help. Please give me a call or contact me online for an appointment.
“Serenity,” courtesy of Jojo Nicdao, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License; “Calm,” courtesy of Andrew Malone, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License; “Bloom,” courtesy of Ahmed Saffu, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Gateway,” courtesy of Trevor Cole, unsplash.com, CC0 License