Have you ever gone through a difficult situation in the past and have felt the need to get over it? But even after trying hard to “let it go”, you have found yourself struggling and the thoughts keep coming back to you; it’s almost impossible to shake this feeling. This means you might be suffering from the effects of a severely stressful situation. Psychologists often term this as PTSD, which stands for, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is defined as a condition that is triggered after a traumatic event or experience.
When an event or situation we face is especially difficult, significant and difficult to cope with, we feel “traumatized”. It affects the mind as well as the body. Such situations are not always easy to get over with. Everyone takes their own time and has their own process of dealing with severely stressful situations.
What Causes PTSD?
PTSD was initially known as shell shock because war veterans were seen as ‘shocked’ and undergoing a range of difficulties after returning from war. It was observed that witnessing violence or engaging with violence could be traumatic and have a deep-seated impact on individuals involved.
Trauma could be caused due to directly experiencing, or witnessing the stressful situation of someone else in person. This could happen when that person is near a traumatic event or if they have suffered from it. PTSD can also be caused by listening and engaging with repeated and prolonged exposure to aversive details of traumatic event/(s).
According to the DSM 5, there are more women who go through PTSD, than men. This is due to cultural and gender differences, and greater risk of interpersonal violence, to women.
Common causes of PTSD
- Witnessing conflict
- Sexual or physical abuse
- Natural calamities (Earthquakes, floods)
- Losing a loved one in an accident, or sudden calamity.
- Exposure to long term emotional neglect or emotional abuse (Complex PTSD)
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
Though it is nearly impossible to list down all the symptoms of PTSD, there are some which we can be aware of:
- PTSD flashbacks which make an individual feel that the traumatic event is recurring in the present.
- Dissociative symptoms- Additionally, there might be an internal experience of an uncanny mind-body split, wherein it might feel like you are watching yourself from the outside, or you might feel distant from your thoughts, and your internal feelings.
- Panic attacks, also causing hyper-vigilance of surroundings.
- Feeling heightened irritation or disturbance at certain surroundings that are not predictable, like unwarranted mess or crowds.
We might feel that only adults suffer from PTSD. However, sometimes in unfortunate circumstances, children are exposed to trauma. For example, a child who has experienced abuse or loss. Children may experience PTSD symptoms differently. They may have nightmares but without recognizable content. They may reenact the traumatic event in play. Older playmates, teachers, and caregivers play a big role in recognizing these symptoms in children and providing help.
No two human beings are the same. We all measure differently on sensitivity, hope, and resilience. We also feel pain differently, we react differently to threats and trauma. Thus we are wired in our unique ways that make up for our mental health and our psycho-social lives. Not everyone who has gone through traumatic events would develop PTSD. Given this difference, we have to think about how to diagnose PTSD.
Generally, mental health practitioners would be able to give a diagnosis, after listening deeply to symptoms, a timeline of the symptoms, what caused them, and what was the immediate reaction. Sometimes therapists might use a questionnaire to see whether there has been an exposure to a traumatic event, and how the reaction has been to the same. Talking about your experience, and processing them under care is the beginning of recovery from PTSD.
Coping Strategies for PTSD
Healing from trauma is difficult, but it is not impossible. It requires time, self-care, and love. If you feel you are suffering from PTSD, here are a few things that can help with PTSD.
PTSD can be a condition that may be overwhelming to handle on your own. It is needed and in some cases imperative that you reach out to a professional to seek help. There are many therapeutic frameworks that you can choose from. A CBT therapist, a psychodynamic therapist or a person-centered therapist, among others, may be able to help you. Your therapist may help you conceptualize the traumatic event, and work through some of the memories when you feel ready. Therapists at Wysa are highly trained and have helped many patients suffering from PTSD, you can choose to talk to them.
Using the Body
Yoga and body movement focused therapies might help as well, with PTSD issues, in helping reduce anxiety and ground yourself at the moment. It will help reduce unease related to the body. Please feel free to explore the self-help library of scientifically proven resources to help PTSD for free on our wysa app.
These activities or talk therapy might also be available for groups, where you feel you can resonate with others’ experiences as well. Look for PTSD support groups in your area. This may help feel a sense of community with others who are suffering.
With some people, medication might work well with a combination of psychotherapy, or alternative healing approaches, like yoga and meditation. It is important that you only take medication after a prescription from a psychiatrist, and you follow up regularly on your medication dosage and schedule. Remember to consult your doctor, if you feel the need to stop or restart the medication after a gap.
Professional help is one way of handling PTSD. However, there are some things you can do on your own as well.
Self help for PTSD
- Pursue outdoor activities- go for a jog, walk or run.
- Read books that are reassuring
- Try to have conversations with friends and family and tell them what you are going through, depending on your comfort level
- Follow a routine- become consistent with your sleeping pattern and eating pattern.
- Listen to soothing music
- Spend time in nature, go for long walks
If not processed, PTSD can last a long time. The characteristic feature of intrusive thoughts is that if you try to push them away, they push back. Thus, if PTSD is ignored, or denied, it can stay and cause distress from time to time, or have a prolonged continuous nature of disturbance to the individual.
PTSD is a challenge you face in our lives due to the experience that you have had. There is a lot of scope of recovering from the trauma, and the suffering and pain associated with the difficult memories can be reduced. However, it must be kept in mind that no healing is absolute or linear. Sometimes, old wounds can resurface, but that does not mean healing has not taken place. Once you trust your own potential to recover, you can recognize that you can eventually get through this.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is recognized and included in the DSM 5. Therefore, it is considered a mental illness by nomenclature. It is a condition that causes distress and suffering to many people. Paying attention to it, with understanding and care can go a long way in the journey to recovery.
Sometimes, PTSD does not occur alone as a diagnostic category. There might be symptoms of depression, substance use or bipolar disorder. It is also possible that you might be hearing voices that are not there during PTSD. This is triggered by the traumatic event, with the combination of how you personally react to the trauma. However, there are many treatments and medications available for these conditions, and it is advisable to seek help for the same.
People with PTSD may have hyper-arousal, as they are hyper-vigilant. However, they might not be able to tell you easily what they are going through, they might not be able to reach out. They may not feel the same, as they used to. Be sure to take some time and observe their behavior. You can try to be there for your loved one going through this difficult time by spending time with them, doing activities with them that they consent to. Try not to tell them what to do, if they are not receptive to advise. Listen to them first. They may go over the event again and again with you, but be patient. They are trying to work through it, with the help of your presence.
Complex PTSD is usually caused over time by contact with multiple stressors. These stressors can consist of prolonged exposure to neglect, sexual or emotional abuse. An individual experiencing this may struggle to hold an optimistic perspective of the world, experience difficulty in regulating emotions, and often feel misunderstood. This is not an official diagnostic category within the DSM-V but is used to cluster together with the impact of a pervasive experience of trauma.