What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Feelings of fear, sadness, anxiety and being disconnected are normal after a person experiences something traumatic. But if these feelings don’t go away and the person remains trapped with an unending feeling of danger and distressing memories, he could be a victim of a stress disorder that comes after experiencing a traumatic event.
Effective treatment, seeking support, and learning how to cope with it will help the person overcome his disorder and get on with life.
This stress disorder can build up after a disturbing incident that is a threat to one’s safety or which makes one feel vulnerable and helpless.
Most people who experience this disorder are battle-weary soldiers and other military personnel who have faced combat. Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rambo’ is a classic example of the problems this type of army man faces when he leaves the war theater. However, a devastating experience in anyone’s life could activate this disorder specially if the experience is random and which cannot be controlled.
This acute stress problem could affect people who themselves go through the catastrophe, besides the persons who are witness to it. Other people indirectly connected to it –like emergency workers or law enforcement people, may also show symptoms of the disorder. Family members and friends of the patient could also be affected.
This stress disorder shows up differently in different persons. The symptoms are generally noticed a few hours after the incident or even days after it. Sometimes it may happen after weeks or even months and years.
Some traumatic events ar:
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- neglect in childhood,
- physical ill-treatment,
- death in the family,
- attack by terrorists,
- a robbery with assault,
- domestic problems over a period of years,
- an airline crash,
- a train or car accident or any other incident that involves serious physical and mental stress and/or grievous harm or loss of precious things or people.
The trauma that leads to this condition is generally extremely devastating and scary. It would make anyone distressed. After such an experience, almost all persons connected with it have similar feelings though they may be in varying degrees.
Feelings of craziness, feeling disconnected, numbness or feelings of insensitivity are normal responses to events that are not normal. So it’s not unnatural for these people to experience scary dreams, feeling of fear and difficulty in erasing the event from memory.
The symptoms may last for a little while, among most people. But if it is a post-trauma disorder that’s causing extreme stress, the symptoms will not lessen in their severity. It doesn’t get better with time; in fact it may get worse. A person’s mental and physical condition is in shock after an experience of this kind. But he/she can recover by getting hold of these emotions and controlling them.
PTSD Signs and Symptoms
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The symptoms of post trauma disorder may come and go suddenly; or they may take some time. They can get activated by something that is connected to the actual event. Thus specific words or smells or certain sounds can trigger a bout of the disorder.
Though different persons may have different experiences of this syndrome, the symptoms are of three major kinds:
• Experiencing the devastating event again.
• Striving to avoid reminders of the experience.
• Increased level of anxiety and emotional stress.
Memories of the event that caused the stress that are invasive and distressing include:
Flashbacks – These are, feeling as if the incident is happening once more.
Nightmares – Bad dreams concerning the experience.
Distressful feelings – Intense reactions when the trauma topic is brought up again.
Physical reactions – increased pounding of the heart, quick breathing, feeling of nausea, tension of the muscle and sweating.
Avoidance, numbing symptoms
Persons suffering from this kind of trauma disorder may avoid specific types of activity, thought processes or even places and feelings which are a reminder of the traumatic event.
• They may be unable to recall vital aspects of the event.
• They may lose interest in normal activity or in life.
• They may feel cut off from the rest of the people and become emotionally numb.
They may feel that their future is limited, that is, they won’t live a normal lifespan, or even get married and enjoy a career, for example.
There are many widespread symptoms connected with this disorder. They range from sleep problems, irritability, feeling of intense anger, hyper-vigilance, jumpiness, guilt and depression to thoughts of suicide, feelings of betrayal, mistrust, drug abuse, feelings of alienation and body aches.
PTSD In Children
Post-trauma symptoms are different in children than in adults. They include:
• Fear of getting separated from their parents.
• Losing skills they already had.
• Sleep disorders and nightmares which they cannot recognize.
• Repetition of some aspects of the event.
• New fears and anxiety that may not be related to the actual event.
• Playing out the incident in games, or in stories and paintings or drawings.
• Body ache that has no real cause.
• Irritability and hostility.
PTSD Causes and Risk Factors
It’s not possible to tell who may get stress disorders in reaction to certain situations. But one must examine certain risk factors connected with it and which may make you vulnerable to it. These factors may relate to the event itself.
There is more likelihood of a disorder when a person’s life is threatened during the incident. The risk will be greater and longer depending on the severity of the threat.
Harm done by human beings, like assault or torture or rape tends to be very severe in its intensity compared to accidents that are acts of nature like earthquakes or storms. The unexpectedness of the trauma, inability to control it and the feeling of ‘no escape’ from it all play their role.
If a person shows signs of suffering from traumatic disorder, then help should be sought speedily. The sooner the condition is tackled, the easier may be the cure.
If the person is not keen to get help, remember that this disorder does not mean that the affected person is weak. It has to be confronted and the person has to learn that it is all a segment of his past life.
The guiding hand of a doctor or therapist who are experienced will be of great help. It’s a natural thing to avoid hurtful memories. But if you become numb and thrust aside those memories, the stress disorder worsens. You cannot get away from your emotions entirely. They will re-appear when you are stressed or when you lower your defenses.
Avoidance could greatly harm relationships, the ability to work and ultimately the quality of life.
Treatment will relieve the symptoms of the disorder. It will help the person tackle the trauma head on, and not avoid it or have memories of it. It will help you gather your emotions better and get sensitized to the feelings you experienced during the event. Your bottled up emotions will get an outlet. The treatment will also help you to regain your control and lessen the dominant hold your memory will have on the traumatic experience.
The treatment will include:
• Exploring your feelings and thoughts concerning the event.
• Working with your guilt feeling and self-blame.
• Learning to cope and control with those memories.
• Addressing the problems related to the disorder; how it has disturbed your life and your friendships.
PTSD Types of Treatment
Behavioral therapy: Psychotherapy involves careful and gradual exposure of your thoughts and your feelings in relation to the traumatic incident. In therapy you will also identify those memories that upset you, especially the irrational and fuzzy ones. You will learn to substitute them with a more balanced scenario.
Family help: As this disorder will affect you as well as your family, all of you can sit down and seek out the best form of cure for it. Loved ones will understand better what you are feeling.
Medication: Sometimes prescribed medicine help the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Medicines like Prozac are commonly
Eye movement and therapy: This includes both therapy and eye movements. It may also incorporate rhythmic hand taps or similar sounds.