It’s to be expected to feel anxious and disconnected from life if you have experienced something traumatic. If you are struggling with symptoms and have been for more than a month it is possible that you are suffering with Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I’m guessing that if you are reading this, you are wondering if PTSD applies to you. You may have heard that it usually applies to war veterans. it does, but not exclusively.
PTSD is defined by DSM IV as “a person that experienced or confronted an event that involved a real or perceived threat to life or safety for themselves or someone close. Also their response would involve intense fear, helplessness or horror.” It can also be defined as any experience that leaves you overwhelmed and effects your ability to cope, even if it does not involve physical harm.
Events that might lead to PTSD
- A natural disaster
- Abuse in childhood
- A serious accident
- Rape or sexual assault
- An event in which you feared for you life
- Physical assault
- Events of war/ terrorist attack
Other less apparent causes of PTSD can include abuse, childhood neglect, bullying, unexpected death of a family member or friend, complicated childbirth, and long-term illness. Not everyone develops PTSD.
However, it is likely that many people will experience symptoms in the short term. These contains some similarities and patterns which tend to fall into the following three categories.
Re-experiencing the event
Reliving the event through flashbacks, memories, or dreams
Unable to stop thinking about what happened
Strong physical reactions to thinking about the event including a racing heart, sweating, and feeling nauseous.
Avoidance and Numbing
- Memory loss and blackout around the trauma
- Trying to avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma including people, places, and activities
- Unable to connect with those you used to be close to
- Feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, depression and helplessness
- Reduced interest in social contact
- Self medicating with alcohol, drugs, or overeating
- Feeling numb and distant
- Negative views of the future such as wondering if life will be normal again
- Unexplained pains and/or illnesses.
Anxiety and Hyperarousal
Being in an anxious and distressed state most of the time
Restlessness and an inability to concentrate
Sleep problems including not being able to get to sleep, not being able to stay asleep, and/or having nightmares
Feeling ‘on edge’ and vigilant including being easy to startle
Outbursts of anger and irritability.
Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms like those described above in the days following an the event. These are normal reactions to abnormal situations. For a person with PTSD, however symptoms can last for more than a month and often persist for months and sometimes years. Many individuals that experience PTSD can develop symptoms after three months, but can appear later. If you feel that you identify with some of these symptoms and have done so for over a month and/or feel unable to regain control of your life and restore balance, do consider seeking professional support.
If you have experienced trauma prior to your current trauma, this may increase your vulnerability to developing PTSD after the traumatic event, old memories can potentially be triggered, exacerbating the effects of your current experience and therefore increase the severity of your symptoms. Different types of trauma can impact differently. If you experienced trauma at an young age or if you were exposed to it for a long time you may have Complex PTSD which would require more intensive work. I shall write more on this.
Ways you can help yourself
Firstly and most importantly visit you GP and share your symptoms, its likely that you will be supported by ‘watchful waiting’ to monitor your symptoms.
CBT helps a client to understand their current thought patterns. With the intention of identifying thoughts that are unhelpful. It is a process that supports you by coming to terms with what has happened and gain a sense of control over your fears. Learning how to navigate and manage triggers offers you a way to regain your confidence and restore balance.
(eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) is effective. It uses your own rapid, rhythmic eye movement to reprocess how trauma is stored in your brain. I recommend Paul Grixti.
Yoga and martial arts
These are incredible for releasing trauma that we hold in our bodies. There has been considerable research carried out to support this. For further reading please look as Dr Bessel van der Kolk.
Mindlefulness can be considered a complimentary support for PTSD. It has been shown to help people increase their distress tolerance, which can then help them “stay with” feel and process memories and symptoms during therapy.
Exercise and healthy eating,
obvious but true.
Aim to improve sleep quality, which I know is really difficult because when our bodies are overstimulated because of a traumatic event. Our brain is flooded with neurochemicals which interrupt our sleep pattern. Nightmares are often present with PTSD symptoms so returning to sleep can be met with understandable resistance. Please refer to my tips with sleeping article.