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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

If you have suffered from a traumatic experience yourself you may experience PTSD. traumatic incident can be anything that is out of the ordinary range of daily events and is deeply distressing to someone. Many things can have this impact. It could be a fire, an accident, a robbery or burglary, an attack, being a witness to a traumatic event such as a death. It can be large scale such as a major disaster involving many people or a personal event involving yourself, friends or family members.

There are many reasons why trauma leaves such a strong impact on us emotionally. Firstly, it often shatters the basic beliefs we have about life: that life is fairly safe and secure, that life for us has a particular form, meaning and purpose. It may be that the image that we have of ourselves is shattered, we may have responded differently in the crisis from how we expected or wanted to behave.

Secondly, trauma usually occurs suddenly and without warning. We have no time to adjust to this new experience. It will usually be outside our normal range of experience and we are faced with not knowing what to do or how to behave. You may have felt you were going to die, people around you may have died, you are shocked. In the face of this danger your mind holds on to the memory of the trauma very strongly, probably as a natural form of self protection to ensure you never get into that situation again. The result of this is that you are left with PTSD symptoms which, in some cases, can be quite debilitating.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD can affect people differently but common symptoms include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma in your mind.
  • Avoiding things to do with or related to the trauma.
  • Feeling more tense, irritable or over-alert than usual.
  • Feeling depressed, crying.

It may help you to check these more closely as follows to see if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:

Re-experiencing the trauma in your mind:

  • Having unwanted pictures or images of the trauma (often called flashbacks) coming into your mind.
  • Having upsetting dreams about the trauma or dreams about other things that frighten you.
  • Feeling that the trauma is happening again – strong sensations of reliving the trauma.
  • Feeling very distressed at coming across situations or feelings that remind you of the trauma.
  • Experiencing distressing physical reactions, e.g. heart beating faster, dizziness etc. when you are faced with
    memories of the trauma or situations that remind you of it.

Avoiding things related to the trauma and numbing:

  • Trying to avoid thoughts, feelings and conversations about the trauma.
  • Avoiding activities, places or people that remind you of the trauma.
  • Being unable to remember things about the trauma.
  • Losing interest in life, feeling detached from others or not having your usual feelings.
  • Not feeling you will have a normal future – you may feel as though you are ‘living on borrowed time’.

Feeling more tense and irritable than usual:

  • Feeling angry or irritable.
  • Not being able to concentrate.
  • Finding it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Feeling over-alert all the time and easily startled.

Post-traumatic stress reactions can affect you in at least four different ways:

  • How you feel.
  • The way you think.
  • The way your body works.
  • The way you behave.

Looking at these in more detail:

PTSD can make you feel:

  • Anxious, nervous, worried, frightened.
  • Feeling something dreadful is going to happen.
  • Tense, uptight, on edge, unsettled.
  • Unreal, strange, woozy, detached.
  • Depressed, low, at a loss.
  • Feel angry

PTSD can affect how you feel physically:

  • Heart races and pounds.
  • Chest feels tight.
  • Muscles are tense/stiff.
  • Feel tired/exhausted.
  • Body aching.
  • Feel dizzy, light headed.
  • Feel panicky.

PTSD can affect your thinking:

  • Worrying constantly.
  • Can’t concentrate.
  • Experience flashbacks – pictures of the trauma coming into your mind.
  • Blame yourself for all or part of the trauma.
  • Unable to make a decision.
  • Feel regret, shame or bitterness.
  • Thoughts racing.
  • Feel jumpy or restless.
  • Have sleep problems/nightmares.
  • Easily startled.

Common thoughts include:

“It was my fault”.
“I’m cracking up”.
“I’m going to have a heart attack”.
“It’s controlling me”.
“I can’t cope”.
“I should have died”.
“Why did it have to happen?”
“I can’t see the point anymore”.

PTSD can affect what you do:

  • Pace up and down.
  • Avoid things that remind you of the trauma.
  • Can’t sit and relax.
  • Avoid people.
  • Avoid being alone.
  • Are snappy and irritable.
  • Spoil relationship.
  • Drink/smoke more.
  • Depend on others too much.

Overcoming PTSD

It is important to understand that the reactions you are experiencing are very common following trauma, they are not a sign of ‘weakness’ or ‘cracking up’. The following suggestions may help you begin to cope with the post-traumatic reactions.
Certain things to aim towards in overcoming PTSD include:

  • Making sense of the trauma
  • Dealing with flashbacks and nightmares
  • Overcoming tension, irritability and anger
  • Overcoming avoidance
  • Overcoming low mood

If you feel that you are making little progress in overcoming PTSD, then it is best to seek help to overcome this issue, particularly if your work performance
or relationships are being badly affected, you feel you are no longer coping, or you have had any thoughts of harming yourself, or are using maladaptive coping strategies such as excessive alcohol and recreational drugs. It is also worth considering seeking further help if your feelings are not improving after some months.

Medication can give short term relief. For a longer term, more effective way of overcoming PTSD, NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) guidelines recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).