Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, is a mental health condition that affects millions of Americans. You may have heard of the disorder associated with veterans who returned from combat severely traumatized from the events, however, civilians can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well.
If you’ve suffered a traumatic event, it may haunt you for months or years. You may find that the residual effects of the event are causing turmoil in all areas of your life. Finding the right type of PTSD help is critical to overcoming the power of the memory and begining the healing process.
The Possible Causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Researchers believe that some people may have a higher risk of PTSD than others. You may be more prone to anxiety and depression or have a family history of mental health conditions. The way our bodies respond to stress is also a key factor. Some people can cope with more extreme levels of stress and have no side effects, while others feel stress manifest itself in their bodies.
Living through a life and death situation, believing your life was or is in danger, or witnessing a horrible event can cause PTSD to develop. Physical altercations like a sexual assault or violent crime can leave lasting and unwanted memories.
Sometimes simply the stress from a job can bring up PTSD symptoms. Military members engaged in combat during a war can develop PTSD from the stress of living under fire and the constant threat of an attack.
Adults who’ve suffered childhood abuse may develop PTSD later in life even if they’re not sure of the root cause. On a subconscious level, their brains bring back the memories, sometimes in the form of severe nightmares, or even an underlying distrust of people.
Life-threatening accidents can cause PTSD symptoms in adults and children. Traffic accidents, plane crashes, and other accidents, either as a participant or as an observer, can lead to painful memories and somatic responses for years.
How PTSD Affects Someone’s Life
Trying to avoid unwanted memories, reminders, and feelings may lead sufferers to engage in risky behavior. These behaviors can include alcohol or substance abuse, extramarital affairs, sexually dangerous behaviors with a variety of partners, eating disorders, uncontrolled rage, anxiety, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts.
If you are suffering from symptoms related to PTSD, your family life and your job could be in jeopardy. PTSD can cause mistrust as you question a loved one’s motives, as you may still feel an overlying sense of being unsafe even while in a safe place.
This can lead to confrontations, an inability to engage in relationships how you would want, and even embarrassing behavior in front of others. Eventually, your family or employer may find it too difficult to continue a relationship with you.
The Types of PTSD
Many people who have experienced a traumatic event will eventually move on from the event without developing symptoms of PTSD, and find their own healing. Those with PTSD cannot move forward due to the types of PTSD present.
Their mind and physical body react in such a way that the sufferer has no control. PTSD is often experienced in the bodily feelings of an individual, and while our brains know that we are safe and not in harm’s way there is a disconnect between what you logically know and what you feel.
There are generally four ways in which PTSD can present in sufferers. Some patients may only experience one symptom; however, others might be trying to cope with two or more.
- Intrusive memories
- Negative thoughts or severe mood changes
- Complete avoidance of anything that reminds you of the event or situation
- Uncontrolled physical and emotional reactions
Each symptom has its own challenges and combined can become almost debilitating for those with PTSD.
The Signs of PTSD
The signs of PTSD can build on each other and become unavoidable. If you or a loved one are experiencing the following symptoms of PTSD, ask your primary physician or a mental health professional to assess you for this diagnosis right away.
- Unwanted memories that usually appear when you least expect them. These intrusive memories can make it difficult to stay on task and may leave you feeling anxious or drained.
- Nightmares and recurring dreams about the event. These dreams are upsetting and not easy to forget. You may not realize your spouse or partner is in the bed during these dreams.
- Physical reactions when you think about the event. You may become physically sick to your stomach or develop severe headaches (migraines). The stress your body feels during this time can also cause other physical ailments such as rapid pulse, shortness of breath, and higher blood pressure.
- Flashbacks of the event or experience that seem as if they are happening now. The flashbacks may seem real to the point that you can no longer tell the difference between your current reality and the memory.
- Staying away from people or places that remind you of the trauma. Avoiding a family member or a city to keep from remembering the event. It may seem easier to completely avoid anything that could remind you of the traumatic event, including people who may be directly responsible for the trauma, or places in which it took place.
- Avoiding the topic. You may completely refuse to talk about the event and become irate (or quiet) when others try to get you to open up.
- Feeling emotionally numb and reserved in your relationships. The people who once held close, now seem far away to you. You feel a sense of detachment to your relationships.
- Trouble finding the good in situations. Negative thoughts constantly invade your mind.
- Having trouble setting goals or viewing the future with hopefulness. You can no longer visualize a happy future. Setting goals may seem daunting.
- Forgetting things. Not only forgetting tasks or items, but you may forget specific details about the trauma.
- No longer interested in the things you once loved. Your hobbies and dreams are not a priority for you anymore. It may appear senseless to you to resume social activities or activities you once enjoyed after living through a traumatic event.
- Feeling guilt or shame. You may feel responsible for the trauma or feel guilt for surviving if others died.
- Uncontrolled rage and outbursts. Your emotions are heightened to the point that you may not be able to control your anger. This can cause you to behave in a way you wouldn’t under normal circumstances.
- Feelings of overwhelming fear when triggered. Something as harmless as lights or sounds can trigger an emotional fear response. You may find yourself suddenly confrontational or needing to escape the area or situation.
- Displaying self-destructive behavior. You may imbibe in alcohol or drugs to cope with the overwhelming sensations and intrusive thoughts.
- Children may reenact the trauma during playtime, either alone or with others. A professional may ask to quietly observe the child’s playtime to see if the child brings any memories of the event into play. Children may also demonstrate frightening dreams or begin wetting the bed after a traumatic experience.
If you are having suicidal thoughts stemming from PTSD, seek emergency help right away.
Finding Help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The traumatic event might have changed your life as you knew it, however, you are not that trauma. You are worthy and loved. If you think you may have PTSD, seek out a faith-based counselor, who can help lead you to God’s grace, mercy, and love during this difficult time.
Getting professional help for PTSD is crucial as the condition rarely gets better on its own without some type of intervention. Psychotherapy comes in a variety of forms. You will speak to the mental health care professional in either one-on-one sessions or group therapy, although many times your treatment may be a combination of the two. They may also suggest couples or family therapy.
Besides talk therapy, there is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). EMDR is a specific form of therapy that specializes in treating trauma and PTSD. You may have heard of therapy using a light bar or buzzers before. How EMDR works is different then other forms of therapy because it truly is your brain healing itself and reprocessing the traumatic experience.
Some of the many benefits of EMDR therapy is that this form of psychotherapy does not require talking in detail about the specific event and there is no homework between sessions. While there is no magic wand to erase a traumatic event from your memory, EMDR does resolve the fight, flight, or freeze response that your brain has related to the traumatic event.
Cognitive Processing Therapy is another way you can learn to reframe your negative thoughts. As you confront and write down these negatives, your mental health care team will help you to view them with a different perspective. The goal is to one day be able to remember the event without the negative thoughts and feelings associated with it.
Work with your mental health care team to find the right help for your PTSD symptoms. It’s time to heal and move forward with your life.
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