After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected. But if the upset doesn’t fade and you feel stuck with a constant sense of danger and painful memories, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But by seeking treatment, reaching out for support, and developing new coping skills, you can overcome PTSD and move on with your life.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following any event that makes you fear for your safety. Most people associate PTSD with rape or battle-scarred soldiers—and military combat is the most common cause in men. But any event, or series of events, that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leaves you emotionally shattered, can trigger PTSD. This may happen especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.
I personally experienced a traumatic event, after myself and my partner were involved in a nasty car accident while holidaying in Texas. The traumatic experience of our red rental car flipping four complete cycles across the US-290 highway left me feeling helpless.
Below is the link of our accident caught by a car’s dashcam:
PTSD can affect people who personally experience the traumatic event, those who witness the event, or those who pick up the pieces afterwards, such as emergency workers and law enforcement officers.
What is the difference between a normal response to trauma vs PTSD?
After a traumatic event, majority of people will experience at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. When your sense of safety and trust are exhausted, it’s normal to feel disconnected, or numb. It’s common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened – these are normal reactions to abnormal events.
However, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for multiple days or even weeks, but they gradually lift. But those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms never decrease. You don’t feel better as each day passes, in fact, you may feel worse as each day passes.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD develops differently from person to person because everyone’s nervous system and tolerance for stress is a little different. While you’re most likely to develop symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days following a traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.
While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are four main types of symptoms.
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event – through intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, or intense mental or physical reactions when reminded of the trauma.
- Avoidance and numbing – such as avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, being unable to remember aspects of the ordeal, a loss of interest in activities and life in general, feeling emotionally numb and detached from others and a sense of a limited future.
- Hyperarousal – including sleep problems, irritability, hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”), feeling jumpy or easily startled, angry outbursts, and aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behaviour.
- Negative thought and mood changes – like feeling alienated and alone, difficulty concentrating or remembering, depression and hopelessness, feeling mistrust and betrayal, and feeling guilt, shame, or self-blame.
Types of Treatment for PTSD
Prolonged Exposure Therapy – People with PTSD may avoid memories related to the trauma they experienced, and this type of treatment aims to help them confront those memories in a safe and secure environment. The idea behind this treatment style is that individuals who face their fears related to their trauma will begin to feel better and have fewer symptoms. A therapist helps his or her clients through breathing techniques to reduce anxiety, talk therapy, and coping mechanisms designed to enable them to confront the trauma head-on.
Cognitive Processing Therapy – aims to help people with PTSD change the upsetting thoughts linked to the trauma, which can often change the way the individual looks at his or herself and others and can lead to avoidance or fear of social situations. The treatment encourages clients to look at these thoughts differently and aim to overcome them. Sessions usually involve discussing the trauma and associated feelings. The therapist may also suggest writing about the trauma, which can help with feelings of anger, sadness, and guilt.
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization – and reprocessing helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder make sense of what they have experienced. The treatment uses back and forth movements of a finger, light, or sound, which the client follows with his or her eyes as they picture their trauma in the mind. The goal is to, over time, reduce the pain and stress associated with the traumatic memories. In EMDR, clients think about their experiences rather than talk about them.
Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy – teaches clients relaxation techniques to reduce symptoms and enable discussion about the trauma. In this type of therapy, clients write letters about their experiences and say goodbye to the negative thoughts holding them back. The letter is meant to deal with feelings of anger associated with the event in question and aims to change negative thoughts and feelings.
Narrative Exposure Therapy – the person with PTSD is required to start at the beginning of his or her life and tell their story based on each stressful event that has occurred, as well as some positive experiences. Telling a life story is intended to help the client understand what he or she went through. Upon completion of narrative exposure therapy, the therapist presents the client with written documentation to remind him or her of their progress.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – helps people with PTSD overcome barriers and live happier lives. It can help change the way that person perceives certain situations, and make them less stressful. The therapist will provide skills to help the client identify how certain circumstances affect his or her emotions and strive to improve the way he or she feels by changing thinking processes around certain things.
Medications for PTSD – some instances, a doctor may choose to prescribe drugs to alleviate some of the symptoms of PTSD. Anti-depressants can affect how a patient feels by changing the chemical composition in the brain. A chemical imbalance can cause depression and anxiety. Antianxiety medications are also a useful treatment option for PTSD. They can help alleviate panic attacks and stress.
SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) have an online questionnaire that you can print and complete to see if you are potentially suffering with PTSD. CLick on the below link to test yourself: