Posttraumatic Stress or PTSD can be experienced by anyone who has been involved in, or witnessed situations where they were very afraid, horrified, helpless, or felt their life was in danger. It can be triggered by a single event or a series of events – taking place over many months or even years – for example: a car accident; traumatic childbirth; rape; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; violent crime; active service; bullying etc.
After a while (or even years) sufferers can re-experience the event in the form of distressing memories, nightmares, flashbacks or hallucinations, or notice anxiety or panic when experiencing situations related to their trauma (eg driving, walking in town, uncomfortable relationships, raised voices, bereavement, children becoming the age that you were when the traumatic event happened etc). In order to cope, sufferers may develop ways hide from or manage their pain while others develop less useful strategies which create additional problems (eg substance abuse, self harm, promiscuity, uncontrolled anger, avoiding relationships or situations).
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
The mind is capable of submerging dreadful memories of trauma and not everyone who has experienced trauma is consciously aware of it and therefore it doesn’t affect their everyday lives. Others experience elements in the environment that remind them of the traumatic experience (eg bright lights, sudden noises, or an intimate touch) by activating regions of the brain that store intense emotions and cause them to ‘overreact’ and they may not know why these things trigger a reaction. People with PTSD can find it hard to describe experiences in words; their recall of details may be affected; they may disassociate from activities or people and find it hard to be ‘present’. Traumatised people may lose their way in the world and without treatment find their lives negatively changed forever; with treatment they can heal from the effects of trauma, learn to tolerate feelings and sensations, and move on.
Statistically people who experience natural disasters (landslides, flooding, eathquakes), work in high risk industries (rescue services, armed forces, security), and/or victims or witnesses of violent situations (rape, terrorism, torture), are most likely to suffer from enduring PTSD. It is estimated that post traumatic stress affects 1 in 12 adults, with symptoms failing to fully remit in one-third of sufferers. This is especially true for those who: live or work in a stressful environment; have no respite; feel hurried and overloaded; experience ongoing physical and/or verbal abuse; suffer organisational bullying; etc. Around half the people caught up in traumatic events experience symptoms and recover within three months; whereas other people have delayed onset and show no signs of trauma for a very long time after the event happened. Evidence suggests recovery is fastest in the year following onset of symptoms and gradually slows to a halt during the next six years, a process that can be accelerated when survivors engage with effective support.
Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress
Re-experiencing the event or events (eg intrusive images, memories, nightmares, flashbacks or hallucinations)
Being easily startled
Having super-aware of things and people around me
Becoming extremely distressed when something triggers a memory of the event
Avoiding any thoughts of the terrible event
Avoiding people, activities or places that can trigger memories of the event
Unable to remember significant aspects of the event
A loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
Feeling detached from people, including family and friends
No hope of a happy or pleasant future
Disturbed or interrupted asleep
Feeling irritable which can result in rage
If you (or someone close to you) have several of the above symptoms then it’s worth asking for help. Forget the ‘stiff upper-lip’ thing – it’s overrated! Does it really make sense to suffer needlessly? Everyone deserves to feel at ease.
What Can I Do To Help Myself?
Know you are a survivor and notice which of the strengths you have today have developed out of hardships you endured earlier on. Write down those strengths and congratulate yourself for coping so well.
Keep yourself safe by not taking unacceptable risks; practice safe sex; leave uncomfortable situations before it gets worse; take care of your physical and mental health.
Practice setting boundaries; learn to say no, stop people coercing you into doing things you don’t want to do, never allow others to be verbally, mentally, physically or sexually abusive towards you. Setting boundaries today will be harder to achieve with people who invaded your boundaries in the past, but persevere. Trust your intuition it will know when someone is overstepping your boundaries.
Write in detail about your feelings as they surface – grief, sadness, loss, anger, fear etc and allow yourself time and space to feel them or express them thought art, sculpture, creative writing. Do not try to avoid or cover them up by making yourself busy, using harmful substances, shopping, over-eating or any other avoidance mechanism.
Seeking Professional Help
Don’t allow your avoidance, guilt or shame stop you from seeking treatment, sometimes it’s less painful to call in an impartial expert to help, you deserve to be happier. If this seems like you don’t have to suffer a moment longer, you can access help by calling me, Dawn Haworth, on 07818 840 841 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Sort of Issues have People Brought To Therapy?
Diagnosis of a life threatening illness
Experience of serious accidents and incidents
Life changing illness or injury
Separation or divorce
Sexual, verbal or physical abuse or assault
Suicide of a friend, relative or colleague