A lot has been written about post traumatic stress disorder symptoms. What was only a few short years ago almost unheard of, or was called by other names (melancholia after the Civil War, shell-shock after World War I, combat fatigue after the second World War, or Combat Stress Reaction, for example), has come into the lexicon and everyone is familiar with it. The early definitions implied that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was caused by war and its effects, which limited its definition to the military and returning veterans.
In fact, we know now that PTSD can affect anyone at any time. Trauma is defined as an event that feels life threatening, such as sexual assault, warfare, bullying and harassment, traffic accidents, or other threats on a person’s life. But the list is not limited to just these things. More and more, we recognize that anything can be potentially traumatic. For example, a trauma can occur when a person is unprepared for an event or when the event occurs suddenly and the person is unable to prevent it. It can also occur when traumatic events occur repeatedly, and particularly when the events occurred during childhood.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
We recognize that when a person has experienced a traumatic event, there are three main types of symptoms:
1. Physical symptoms that include flashbacks and nightmares, upsetting memories that cause feelings of distress and things like nausea, pounding hearts, sweating, feeling faint, shortness of breath, etc. Often these are called panic attacks, and cause the sufferer to feel as if they are dying.
2. Avoidance of any reminders of trauma, such as avoiding places or people that remind you of the traumatic event. For example, not being able to drive down a particular street where you were in an automobile accident. Sometimes this can result in numbing out to avoid feeling anything and a loss of interest in life and activities that once were enjoyable. This includes a general feeling of hopelessness.
3. Increased emotional arousal, including being easy to startle, feeling hypervigilant and on guard at all times, having difficulty concentrating, and feeling irritable or angry frequently and for no discernable reason.
Guilt and shame often accompany PTSD as well. The feeling that it’s somehow your fault – what happened to you – is not uncommon. In most cases, that is the lie we’ve been told or that we believe because it’s the only way to survive. For example, if you experienced childhood abuse that occurred over and over, you may come to believe that somehow it’s your fault – perhaps if you had “been better” or “tried harder” it would not have happened.
Eventually, the symptoms of trauma may subside over weeks or months. You learn to cope with it until an event happens that reminds you of the trauma. This may upset you and remind you of past abuse. If post traumatic stress is not treated or dealt with, it has the potential of ruining your life.
A note about this – trauma survivors often have feelings of grief, just as you would if you lost a loved one, for example. The trauma has taken something from you and you will need to process this.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Solutions
Here are a few ideas for recovery from trauma:
- Find a good therapist with experience in dealing with trauma. EMDR therapy is wonderful for treating trauma and healing the inner person.
- Exercise – it may seem counterintuitive to do this when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and make the world go away. Your body has been through a lot, because when we are faced with a traumatic event, we experience hyperarousal and fear, and you may remain that way. Exercise and movement will help release you.
- Connect with others – don’t isolate yourself. You will need the company of other people, preferably face to face, even when your natural tendency may be to hide yourself away. It’s not necessary to talk about the trauma, but just having emotional support from others will help. You can find this in a variety of ways – through social activities, friends, volunteering, or a group that supports trauma survivors.
- Be sure to take care of yourself – don’t neglect your health. Eat good foods and get adequate rest. If you are being troubled by nightmares, medications may help. Best of all, finding a trauma therapist will help with any disturbing aspects.
- If you find yourself having panic attacks, learn to practice calming techniques such as mindful breathing. Learning to concentrate on your breath is helpful because it requires your full attention. Meditation may also be helpful. Other things that work to quiet the dragon of trauma are music, pets, and progressive relaxation exercises.
Because everyone processes trauma differently, some of these things will work better than others for you. For example, if you don’t like animals, then getting a pet is not the solution for you.
Getting professional help is the best solution of all. Studies show that people who have a combination of medications and help from a trained professional who understands trauma go a long way to health and healing.
“Trees,” courtesy of Peter Corbett, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0;