I’m delighted to host a guest blog on PTSD from Sarah Rees, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and EMDR practitioner. PTSD is one of Sarah’s areas of expertise, and I know first-hand how effective her therapy is.
Post Traumatic Stress or PTSD, is a term we commonly associate with soldiers who have been to war. It is far more widespread and common than this. It is reported that 50% of people experience a trauma at some point in their lives, I would argue that everybody experiences some form of traumatic event at some point in their life and from these experiences it is estimated that about 1 in 3 people will go on to develop PTSD.
How we respond to trauma depends on our interpretation of the event at the time and just after the event, it also depends on our previous experiences of trauma, our support networks, current life stressors and the things we do to cope.
I often see people in clinic who are unaware that they have PTSD but know that they are struggling.
Post traumatic stress is classed as an anxiety disorder, which develops after experiencing a traumatic and stressful event where a person may have feared for their life or the life of a loved one. Or had an overwhelming sense of something bad happening.
Here is a list of common traumatic events
- Road traffic accidents
- Verbal, physical or sexual abuse
- Falls, accidents or injury
- Terrorist attacks
- Witnessing the death of a loved one
- Military combat
- Natural disasters
- Being stuck in lifts or confined spaces
- Dog bites or attacks
- Robbery or muggings
In the few weeks following a traumatic event it is common to experience a number of symptoms, which are consistent with PTSD but over 4-6 weeks these will naturally reduce for many people, this period of time is called watchful waiting where it’s important to look after yourself, keep an eye on your symptoms but you may not need any treatment. If symptoms continue following this time, then you would benefit from psychological or pharmalogical treatment to help you process your experience and move forward.
The main symptoms can be clustered into 3 main areas:
Avoidance, Intrusive, Arousal symptoms
Intrusive symptoms – Having flashbacks of the event/ nightmares/ intrusive images, thoughts or memories. Reliving the event over and over in your mind.
Avoidant symptoms – Where the event feels unreal, you can feel in a dream state, have blunted emotions, feel shut down, low in mood, you don’t want to talk about it or can’t. You are avoiding any reminders of the event. Loss of interest in things. Loss of enjoyment.
Arousal symptoms – Experiencing high levels of anxiety, palpitations, feeling on high alert, heightened sensitivity to noise, light. Having and increased startle response to noise. Feeling angry and irritable scared, expecting something bad to happen at any moment, not feeling safe. Poor sleep, reduced concentration, poor short-term memory, difficulty eating.
These responses are a normal part of recovery and are the mind’s mechanisms of trying to make sense and come to terms with what happened. They should subside over time.
It’s important to note that these symptoms are normal and common following experiencing a traumatic event. They are a normal part of recovery as your mind readjusts to what it has experienced. They should subside over a period of time, usually 4-6 weeks and things can be significantly improved.
Advice to manage your symptoms
- Mindfulness – to settle your mind and relax your body
- Being connected with friends and family as much as possible
- Safe place imagery / relaxation
- Maintaining a good routine and daily structure
- Exercise – this reduces the adrenaline in your body making it easier to relax
- Try not to avoid reminders of the event, unless it will overwhelm you.
- Create a narrative of the event – write down what happened with a start middle and end. Our brain likes things in order and often traumatised memories can be disorganised.
- Remind yourself it’s over – you’re safe now.
- Be self compassionate care for yourself in the same way you would a friend
- Good diet/ keep hydrated.
- Rest as much as possible
- Try to reduce rumination put your attention to other things where possible
- Avoid alcohol or drugs which can delay recovery
- Share your experiences with others
The most important thing to remember with PTSD is that it is treatable, we can’t erase difficult traumatic memories from our minds but we can hold them in our minds in a way that doesn’t impact our lives and relationships and cause us ongoing trauma.
If you found this post about PTSD useful then why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here – and if you, or someone you know, is affected by PTSD then I would wholeheartedly recommend that you contact Sarah Rees.