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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When we experience something ‘traumatic’, it is normal to experience upsetting, distressing and confusing thoughts and emotions for some time afterwards. It’s also common to experience physical symptoms and behavioural changes as a result of what we have been through for some time afterwards, this is the body’s way of healing from what has happened.

However for some people this normal period of adjustment does not resolve after a month or so, and we end up feeling “stuck” in time as if we cannot move on and the incident/s happened only yesterday. This happens because something is getting in the way of your brains ability to heal itself, and this is when we might consider a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Trauma

A trauma is a situation which is out of the ordinary where intense horror, fear, helpless or pain is experienced. It could involve an accident, an assault, a death or serious injury or a near miss where, if only for a split second, one believes the worst may happen. As this is so unexpected and distressing the brain struggles to process this and take it in properly – resulting in it remaining ‘stuck’ in the short term memory areas of the brain.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma memory (could be images, smells or physical symptoms) on a frequent basis, either whilst awake or as nightmares. This is different to distressing memories, as the sense of “nowness” is very strong and it can feel like you are actually back at the time and you may even find yourself acting as if you are back in the moment
  • Avoiding things related to the trauma (such as places, people, activities smells, colours or objects). If these things are confronted, intense negative emotions may be experienced and it may provoke re-experiencing
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression including reduction in activity, avoidance, poor sleep, tearfulness, irritability and feeling more alert than usual
  • Strong emotions – often:
    • Guilt
    • Anger
    • Shame
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Hopelessness
  • Alternatively some people feel completely numb like it hasn’t happened or wasn’t real.

As with other anxiety disorders, PTSD is actually very treatable. Significant amount of research has shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy are both highly successful in helping people heal from their traumatic experiences.