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 PTSD 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 begin the healing process.
The Possible Causes of PTSD
What causes PTSD? Researchers believe that certain people 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 factor. Some people can cope with extreme levels of stress better than the average person.
Living through a life and death situation or seeing something horrible can cause PTSD to develop. Physical altercations like a sexual assault or violent crime can leave a lasting and unwanted memory.
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.
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 reactions for years.
How PTSD Affects a Person’s Life
Trying to blot out the unwanted memories 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, and depression, and/or suicidal thoughts.
If you are suffering from PTSD, your family life and your job could be in jeopardy. PTSD can cause mistrust as you question a loved one’s motives. You may still feel a sense of threat even amid a safe place. This can lead to confrontations and embarrassing behavior in front of your family or colleagues. Eventually, your family or employer may find it too difficult to continue a relationship with you.
Types of PTSD
Many people who experience trauma will eventually move on from the event after a time of healthy 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.
There are generally four types of PTSD present in sufferers. Some patients may only experience one type; however, others might be trying to cope with two or more.
- Intrusive memories
- Negative thoughts or severe mood changes
- Complete avoidance
- Uncontrolled physical and emotional reactions
Each type has its own challenges and combined can become almost debilitating for those with PTSD.
Signs of PTSD
The signs of PTSD can build on each other. If you or a loved one are demonstrating the following symptoms of PTSD, as your primary physician or a mental health professional to assess you for the condition 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) from the intrusive memories. 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.
- Consumed with flashbacks that seem as if they are happening now. The flashbacks may seem real to the point that you can no longer tell what is real as you relive the experience.
- 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 the person responsible for the trauma and any mention of that person.
- 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 numb emotionally and reserved in your relationships. The people who once held close, not 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 your minister or a faith-based counselor. This person can lead you to God’s grace, mercy, and love during this difficult time.
Finding PTSD therapy right away 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, you can also try Prolonged Exposure Therapy. This type of therapy will have you face the memory repeatedly, but each time you will walk away a little stronger. The memory and its effects should eventually lose its hold over you. The physician may also prescribe medications for you to take to reduce the anxiety you may feel or to help you sleep without the disruptive nightmares.
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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