PTSD Understanding Traumatic Stress
By Ryan Light, Running/Anxiety Coach
PTSD Understanding Traumatic Stress – In the course of life, people experience many things. Some experiences may be good but others could be extremely terrifying. When something terrible happens to a person, they may be able to cope with it. Some experiences are however so harrowing and life changing that dealing with them becomes an almost impossible task. These experiences are referred to as traumatic experiences, and people react differently to them. Traumatic stress occurs when a person’s normal coping resources are severely damaged by a traumatic experience. Physical and psychological reactions to a traumatic experience are referred to as Traumatic Stress Response.
After a traumatic experience, people generally feel dejected, hopeless and desolate. Sometimes, the impact of a harrowing experience can be so profound that you relive the experience every single day for a long time after the event occurs. Getting up in the dead of the night gasping for breath after watching a scene of the fateful event can become a norm, although every single time it happens, the same feelings of extreme fear and panic still resurface. You might even lose hope for living, because life might not make much sense to you.
The good news is that even in the grimmest of situations, there is still hope that you can survive the experience and live a good life. Sure, traumatic events can have very far- reaching consequences, but the important thing is to never despair. With the right treatment, which aims at breaking the negative thought processes, traumatic stress can be successfully dealt with. There is still light at the end of the tunnel.
What Is A Traumatic Event?
A traumatic event is generally defined as an event where a person witnesses actual or threatened death or grievous injury.
Such experiences include the following:
- Domestic or street violence
- House fires
- Transport mishaps, such as road or rail accidents
- Natural disasters, like floods and earthquakes
- Battlefield experiences- both for militants and civilians alike
- Terrorist attacks
Other events that are not life-threatening, but which can also be positively traumatic include:
- Break- ups and divorces
- Job loss or redundancy
How Does Traumatic Stress Manifest Itself?
Traumatic stress manifests itself in three major ways:
Re- experiencing the event
- Flashbacks – Flashbacks refer to short- lived memories of the disturbing event. Flashbacks can occur during waking hours, or even in your sleep in the form of nightmares. They can be extremely unnerving, and can be accompanied by the panicky sensations associated with the event
- Intrusive recollections – These recollections can be taking place in your subconscious mind, but simple everyday things can bring them to your attention. For instance, being shoved in a crowd can bring back memories of the harrowing experience.
- Sleep disturbance – It is common for people to have disturbed sleep a few days after experiencing a traumatic event. The sleep disturbances can take the form of recurring dreams, nightmares or heavy sweating when asleep.
- Bad Temper and lack of concentration – Frightening events usually cause an increase in adrenaline levels, which make a person highly irritable. People may develop a sudden tendency to overreact to little provocation, which can be detrimental to their relationships with the people they interact with frequently.
- Hyper- alertness and exaggerated concern for safety – In the aftermath of a traumatic event, a person may suddenly develop an exaggerated concern for safety. Victims may be on the constant outlook for danger, which is virtually non- existent. It is a real- life embodiment of the proverb, once bitten twice shy.
- Exaggerated Startle Response and Panic Attacks – Unexpected movements and noises can trigger exaggerated responses on the part of the coping victim. Some may even suffer from panic attacks, which can take the form of hyperventilation, severe chest pains, dizziness and feeling faint- headed, shivering and other physical manifestations of acute anxiety.
- Avoidance Behavior – People who have undergone a scaring experience may develop a tendency to avoid certain places, people or things, especially if the things in question are in any way reminiscent of the ordeal.
- Emotional Numbness – After a tormenting event, people may have trouble experiencing or expressing their emotions. Even such ordinary things like laughing or even crying become difficult to do. For others, they might have a lot of trouble trying to relate with other people. Some may even decide to avoid forming intimate relationships at all costs, or just be unable to form them.
- Indulgence – Others may resort to the use of alcohol or drugs in a bid to numb the pain. Others can also fall prey to comfort eating in the hope that the food will help the pain subside a little.
- Depression and traumatic grief – Feelings of acute hopelessness and helplessness after a traumatic event are quite common. The event can weigh down a person and cast them deep into the mire of depression. Depression is characterized by a negative attitude to life, feelings of overwhelming worthlessness and unexplained fatigue.
- Guilt and self- blame – Sometimes, people may be haunted to survivor’s guilt, whereby they blame themselves for surviving a horrific experience when others don’t. Others may feel unreasonably guilty for the occurrence of an event they had no control over.
- Decreased Self- esteem and confidence – Some traumatic experiences can rob victims of their last shred of dignity, which can result in lost self- esteem and self- confidence.
Ideally, all of these feelings and reactions after a traumatic experience should subside with time. Unfortunately, this is not the case with some people, and it is when the reactions become very disruptive to everyday life that some action needs to be taken to combat them.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The disorder entails traumatic stress reactions that continue long after the event occurs. Diagnosis depends on the kind of reactions, their frequency and their intensity. After being diagnosed with PTSD, the next step is to get treatment for the disorder.
Management and Treatment
There is Hope!
After years of extensive research, therapists have discovered a successful method of dealing with traumatic stress. The therapy, referred to as cognitive behavior therapy, aims at addressing patterns associated with the problematic behavior and symptoms, and how best to break the thoughts that result in this behavior.
Treatment can be administered by a therapist, although there are equally helpful self- help manuals that can help you recover from the impact of the event. The manuals help victims to recognize and deal with the reactions, thoughts and feelings they may be experiencing. They offer people a methodical program of treatment to help victims move past the experience. These can be a victim’s best shot at recovering from the nasty effects of a traumatic experience.
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