What are common symptoms of PTSD?
The restlessness, dread and panic that happens after a traumatic experience are the hallmarks of what categorizes something as a traumatic event. People may experience symptoms such as avoidance, re-experiencing, hyperarousal, and negative mood.
Avoiding specific locations, sights, situations, and sounds that are reminders of the event
Intrusive thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks
Anger, irritability and hypervigilance
Aggressive, reckless behavior, including self-harm
Negative Mood and Cognition Symptoms
Loss of interest in activities that were once considered enjoyable
Difficulty remembering details of the distressing event
Change in habits or behavior since the trauma
Anxiety, Guilt, Shame
Can I have a PTSD or is it only for military and rape victims?
Contrary to what most people believe, trauma is not an event, but the body’s response to the event. This is why two people can have the same event happen and one develop PTSD and one not.
Most people will experience a potential traumatic event in their lifetime whether it’s a car accident, child abuse or neglect, the sudden death of a loved one, a violent criminal act, exposure to the violence of war, or a natural disaster.
While many people can recover from this event over time with the love and support of family and friends and bounce back with resiliency, others may discover effects of lasting trauma, which can cause a person to live with deep emotional pain, fear, confusion, or posttraumatic stress far after the event has passed.
Anxiety stemming from a potentially traumatic event can come out of nowhere catching you off guard at inopportune times. Trauma therapy can be very helpful in this case.
The traumatic experience doesn’t even have to be ours. It can be something we learned, saw on television, read about, etc.
Covid 19 and the war between Russia and Ukraine are potentially traumatic events for the entire world. Not just those who witness it’s effects first hand, but for everyone. What we see and hear in the news and social media every day. The possibility of death. The fear we feel. The anxiety we feel. The uncertainty we feel. If your body is responding with anxiety or worry, THIS is trauma. This is PTSD.
If trauma is not an event, how do I get PTSD symptoms?
Anxiety stems from the Sympathetic Nervous System being turned on. There are two parts of the central nervous system that deal with the fight/flight or stress or trauma response. The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.
When you are calm, your blood pressure and heard rate are at your normal, you are able to think logically and make purposeful decisions, and your muscles are relaxed your your parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. The Parasympathetic Nervous system is active when the brain believes you are safe.
When your mind and body are feeling threatened, whether or not it is real, your blood pressure and heart rate elevate, your muscles tighten, you don’t think as clearly, and you have an urge to flee. Now your sympathetic nervous system is dominant. The sympathetic nervous system is active when the brain believe you are in danger.
The sympathetic nervous system is vital to survival when you are in times of uncertainty or a threatening situation, but when you are not in danger and the sympathetic nervous system stays dominant and active, it causes many physical and emotional symptoms (depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart problems, etc) and behavioral symptoms (anger outbursts, crying, difficulty with relationships, trust problems, etc).
When the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, (in other words, your body is in fight/flight mode), these symptoms and behaviors are NORMAL. Any situation or cumulative situations that cause the body to react this way is considered a traumatic experience.
Keep this in mind: If you are having a hard time thinking clearly, hard time sleeping, wanting to just run away, noticing your heart rate, your blood pressure is up, your muscles are tight, feeling anxious, feeling depressed, feeling angry, crying easily, etc, it very well may be your body believing you are in danger and reacting to it. Once again, this is NORMAL.
Are there ways to manage the effects of trauma?
Those of us who deal with people in crisis are generally able to separate the experiences at work with their own lives, thus able to work very difficult jobs. However, we are human and will have reactions to our experiences. Sometimes we can no longer separate our work and home lives.
When these symptoms (inability to turn your brain off, anxiety, nervousness, nightmares, superimposing family on a call you went on, irritability above and beyond what’s normal for you, excess exercise or other adrenaline-pumping activities) occur, the body has failed to regulate. You are now suffering a trauma.
For many of us dealing with repeated traumatic experiences at work, trauma reactions are cumulative instead of just one specific event.
Why do people think breathing exercises will help me feel better?
Self-regulation are techniques such as breathing, meditation, relaxation, imagery, using your senses, and more to regulate the body and bring it from sympathetic dominance (fight/flight) to parasympathetic dominance (calm).
Self-regulation exercises like those above will bring the brain out of uneasiness, but the body may still feel restless.
When we can get our bodies out of constant sympathetic dominance, the brain realizes we are not in danger right here, right now, and stops sending the adrenalin into the body to save our lives. We can start to lead the lives we want, free of the behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms of trauma, thus traumatic experiences will not dominate our minds and bodies any longer.
An important thing to remember about self-regulation is that breathing techniques will not necessarily bring your shakiness down. What it will do is give you time so your logic can turn on and you can think clearly, slow down the heart and blood pressure thus helping you to maintain a healthy heart and circulatory system. Time is the only thing that will actually calm the body responses.
You will live a healthier life without the body constantly pumping adrenaline into the system keeping your heart rate and blood pressure elevated for safety that is not necessarily needed.
What kinds of PTSD Therapy is effective?
All of these therapies are evidenced-based (they have been studied) as effective treatment to quiet the misery of anxiety, stress, and trauma responses. Finding a trauma counselor trained in one or more of these modalities can potentially significantly reduce your time spent in therapy.
- Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model (ATRIUM)
- Beyond Trauma: A Healing Journey for Women
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Thematic Map and Release
- Prolonged Exposure (PE)
- Seeking Safety
- Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Treatment (TARGET)
- Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM)
- Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM)
- Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)