Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (ptsd)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Many people in our lives will experience something which has a huge impact on us and the way we feel. These experiences can range from the loss of a loved one, having an accident, being the victim of an assault or seeing an accident, with many other experiences having a big impact on a person. Most people, in time, move on and get over the experience, however, some people suffer for months or years due to the effect of the experience, this is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd).
PTSD can start straight the way after the experience, but can often start up to six months after the event.
What people with PTSD may experience:
- Flashbacks & nightmares
Some people re-live the event, again and again. This can happen both as a ‘flashback’ in the day and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again. You see it in your mind, but may also feel the emotions and physical sensations of what happened – fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain.
- Avoidance and numbing
It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. Therefore, some people keep themselves distracted. Distraction is keeping your mind busy by losing yourself in a hobby, working very hard, or spending your time doing things like crosswords or puzzles. People often avoid mixing with people or places linked to the trauma and avoid anything that might remind you of the trauma. You may deal with the pain of your feelings by trying to feel nothing at all – by becoming emotionally numb.
- Being on guard
Some people stay “alert” at all times, as if you are looking out for danger or waiting for more traumatic experiences. These people find it very difficult to relax; this is called ‘hypervigilance’. You may feel anxious and find it hard to sleep. Other people will notice that you are jumpy and irritable.
- Other physical symptoms
Heart palpitations, Headches, Nausea,
Diarrhoea, Muscle pains, Muslce weakness,
Excessive drinking, Abdominal pains, Tiredness.
Do we all suffer from PTSD after a traumatic event?
No. But nearly everyone will have the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the first month or so. This is because they can help to keep you going, and help you to understand the experience you have been through. This is an ‘acute stress reaction’. Over a few weeks, most people slowly come to terms with what has happened, and their stress symptoms start to disappear. However, not everyone comes to terms with the traumatic experience. About 1 in 3 people will find that their symptoms just carry on and that they can’t come to terms with what has happened. It is as though the process has got stuck. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress, although normal in themselves, become a problem – or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – when they go on for too long.
Why does PTSD happen?
- When we are frightened, we remember things very clearly. Although it can be distressing to remember these things, it can help us to understand what happened and, in the long run, help us to survive.
- The flashbacks can be seen as replays of what happened. They force us to think about what has happened so we might be better-prepared if it were to happen again.
- It is tiring and distressing to remember a trauma. Avoidance and numbing keep the number of replays down to a manageable level.
- Being ‘on guard’ means that we can react quickly if another crisis happens. People often think it will happen again or they will experience another traumatic event, therefore, being on guard means they are ready to “put up a fight”.
- Adrenaline is a hormone in the body which is produced when we are under stress. It ‘pumps up’ the body to prepare it for action. When the stress disappears, the level of adrenaline should go back to normal. In PTSD, it may be that the vivid memories of the trauma keep the levels of adrenaline high. This will make a person tense, irritable, and unable to relax or sleep well.
- The hippocampus is a part of the brain that processes memories. High levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, can stop it from working properly – like ‘blowing a fuse’. This means that flashbacks and nightmares continue because the memories of the trauma can’t be processed. If the stress goes away, and the adrenaline levels get back to normal, the brain is able to repair the damage itself, like other natural healing processes in the body. The disturbing memories can then be processed and the flashbacks and nightmares will slowly disappear.
What can we do to help after a traumatic event?
Anyone in our lives can and probably will go through some form of traumatic even, the most common being bereavement. It is well known that people do not like to talk about the event in the hope that they can block it out and move on. However, let me tell you…… from my own experience having nearly lost my life in an accident that TALKING is the way forward! It can be very usefull to talk to others who may have been through something similar. This can be an extremely important step in moving away from isolation and towards regaining control of your life. You may find it especially useful to contact an organisation specialising in your particular type of experience; for example, soldiers who have seen combat, victims of violent crime or sexual assault, and people who have been tortured or who are refugees. Others also find it useful to talk to people completely away from the “circle” who has nothing to do with the experience or who is not a family member or friend, I know I found this useful as I felt more comfortable in letting my feelings out to someone I didn’t know, I guess it’s a fear of being judged. Although, I now know I should have not felt like I would be judged and people are just there to help.
What help is available for PTSD?
Different types of traumatic events have a different impact on people. If you have been suffering for over a month after a traumatic event you should contact your general practitioner. There are several different people your gp can refer you onto including psychologist, ptsd groups and many more. The help is out there!!!! It is felt that if people have been suffering from ptsd that a series of sessions talking to a psychologist can help you come to terms with your ptsd.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT is where you change your way of thinking, therefore, changing negative thought into positive ones. A traumatic event can cause people to think negatively, people may think that if they talk about the event then they will have negative feelings, you may expect that certain triggers will also bring unwanted feelings. CBT helps you to recognise these expectations and feelings and to think differently about them, and react and behave differently to them. CBT helps people cope with flash backs and help people who avoid certain situations linked with the trauma.
- Rewind thecnique
The therapist helps you move to a state of deep relaxation and then asks you to imagine you are watching yourself watching a film of the traumatic event. You then rewind and replay it as many times as you need to. The fact that you watch yourself watching the film distances you from the memory. The replaying aspect means that the memory gets stored in ‘back memory’, rather than in your conscious memory where it intrudes on your everyday life. One advantage of the rewind technique is that, if the details of the event are too painful to talk about, you need not say anything while you do it. The therapist can help you deal with the memories without having to hear them.
Many people with PTSD also experience depression. Taking antidepressants may help relieve some of the symptoms and help people to get the best from the psychological treatments. You may also be offered antidepressants if you are not ready to talk about your experience with a therapist. Sertraline and paroxetine are two common medications used for treating PTSD. Since antidepressants can be difficult to come off, they should be used with caution and with full knowledge of their possible side effects.
Friends and family
Friends and family are there to help…… They might also be feeling the way you do, so why not try and take some positive steps and talk to the people around you who love you J
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