After you experience a trauma, it’s normal to feel sad, scared, angry, anxious or depressed. For many people, these feelings will fade with time. However, when these feeling don’t fade, if they increase of if you feel stuck experiencing a constant sense of danger and painful memories, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after a traumatic event has taken place, such as an attack, a natural disaster, abuse or severe illness. Often times, as a result of the trauma, you may begin to disconnect from your emotions which may, in turn, cause you to move away from your loved ones and friends, isolating yourself even more. If this continues for a long period of time, it may even result in your denial that the stressor took place.
After a traumatic experience, your mind and body are in shock. With time, however, your body and mind begin to make sense of what happened and you begin to process your emotions and slowly move out of shock and disbelief. This “moving away” may happen hours, days, weeks or even months after the event. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In some cases, the effects of PTSD are not long lasting. In others, it can become a chronic problem that can last for years to come, sometimes for the rest of your life. In order to move on from the trauma, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.
The Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Recurring nightmares or thoughts about a traumatic event
- Trouble sleeping and eating
- Anxiety and fear when exposed to situations that resemble the trauma itself
- Hyperarousal and overly alert at all times
- Depression and sadness
- Low energy level
- Memory loss, especially of the traumatic event that caused the condition
- Inability to focus on work and other daily activities
- Difficulty making decisions
- Emotionally numb
- Withdrawn and disconnected from life and others
- Extremely protective and fearful where it comes to the safety of loved ones
- Avoidance of people, places, and activities that remind the person of the event
Am I At Risk?
While it is impossible to tell who will develop PTSD and who will be able to process the traumatic experience and move forward, there are some risk factors that will increase your vulnerability. Some of these risk factors revolve around the type of trauma. If the trauma threatened your life or involved your personal safety or if the traumatic experience happened over a long period of time, the more likely it is that you will develop PTSD. Intentional violent acts, like rape and assault, tend to increase the risk of PTSD, rather than natural disasters or “acts of God”. As well, any previous traumatic history, like childhood abuse or neglect, will increase the risk. The stronger your support system of family and friends, the greater the chance that the normal reactions to trauma will not evolve into PTSD.
What Can I Do?
For anyone who has experienced a trauma, the most important step in your recovery is to get help. While the feelings, emotions, reactions to trauma are “normal” responses to an “abnormal” situation, the more you confront, talk about and process your experiences, the better able you will be to move forward in a positive and healthy way. Instead of avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it, treatment will help you to remember and process the emotions and sensations you felt during the original event. Treatment offers you an outlet for the emotions you’ve been bottling up and it will help restore your sense of control and reduce the powerful hold the memory of the trauma has on your life.
For more about PTSD, please join us on June 6th and 7th as we welcome Dr. Anna Salter. Dr. Salter, who specializes in the area of Sexual Abuse, Sex Offenders and Victimization, will be presenting Sex Offenders and Victims: Current Trends.