For those of us who have witnessed or experienced a life-threatening trauma, know how it feels when it holds itself hostage in our minds and our bodies. Even when we are unable to clearly remember the details of the event every day, we can unexpectedly be transported to that moment as though we’re living it once again. The trauma doesn’t feel like something that happened a long time ago. It feels like it just happened, or is still happening. It becomes impossible to sleep in the dark because nightmares and flashbacks still haunt our guts and anxiety becomes a regular customer. But because of the PTSD stigma which still prevails, we often dismiss these symptoms until it becomes impossible for us to ignore.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition which is triggered by the witnessing or experience of a traumatic event which refuses to leave its mark on our minds.
Diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an event that involved the actual or possible threat of death, violence or serious trauma. Your exposure can happen in one or more of these ways:
You directly experienced the traumatic event
You witnessed, in person, the traumatic event occurring to others
You learned somebody close to you encountered or was endangered by the traumatic event
You are frequently exposed to graphic details of traumatic events
PTSD indications may start to surface within a month of the traumatic event but sometimes the symptoms may not appear until a year after the event. These symptoms interfere with one’s ability to do their daily tasks and cause significant disruption in social and workspaces as well as relationships.
Symptoms are generally of four types-
Periodic, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
Frightening dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
Drastic emotional discomfort or physical responses to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Trying to avoid thinking or speaking about the traumatic event
Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
3. Changes in physical and emotional reactions:
Being easily startled or frightened
Always being on guard for danger
Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
Overwhelming guilt or shame
4. Negative changes in thinking and mood:
Pessimistic thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
Hopelessness about the future
Memory problems, including not recalling important aspects of the traumatic event
Difficulty maintaining close connections
Feeling detached from family and friends
Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Feeling emotionally numb
If you have suicidal thoughts or know anyone who does, immediately consult a therapist or contact a suicide prevention helpline.
Learning that you have PTSD is the first step towards recovery. PTSD is serious but it is not impossible to manage.
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help you recover a sense of custody over your life. The primary treatment is psychotherapy, but can also include medication. Combining these treatments can help improve symptoms.
Some types of psychotherapy used in PTSD treatment include:
This type of talk therapy helps you recognize the ways of thinking (cognitive patterns) that are keeping you stuck — for example, negative beliefs about yourself and the risk of traumatic things happening again. For PTSD, cognitive therapy often is used along with exposure therapy.
This behavioral therapy helps you safely face both situations and memories that you find frightening so that you can learn to cope with them effectively. Exposure therapy can be particularly helpful for flashbacks and nightmares. One approach uses virtual reality programs that allow you to re-enter the setting in which you experienced trauma.
PTSD and fear are best friends. The best way to cope up is overcoming your fears. But, overcoming fears is not about not being afraid anymore. It's about wanting to do what you want to do despite it.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements that help you process traumatic memories and change how you react to them.
Several types of medications can help improve symptoms of PTSD
These medications can help symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can also help improve sleep problems and concentration.
These drugs can relieve severe anxiety and related problems. Some anti-anxiety medications have the potential for abuse, so they are generally used only for a short time.
One needs to realize that working on self for recovering from the trauma isn’t about ‘fixing’ themselves, it’s about healing.
PTSD keeps us stuck in the past, however grounding techniques help us connect to the present by focusing on the five senses- smell, taste, sight, touch and sound.
Sight- Grounding yourself through sight is a great way to regain your sense of self in a tough moment.
Smell- Nothing snaps you back into the present more than a strong scent. Anything from scented candles, essential oils, or scented soaps can be used to help ground yourself. Lavender oil is one of my personal favorite scents to use when I am dissociating.
Sound- Using sound to ground yourself doesn't have to be loud or extreme. The soft, natural sounds of your environment are what make an effective grounding tool. Take a moment to listen to birds chirp, the cars drive by, and the wind whistle in the trees.
Touch- Touch is another great way to break out of a flashback or panic attack. Feeling different parts of your body and focusing on the sensations is both self-soothing and grounding. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes--or vice versa.
Taste- Strong tastes can snap you back into the present. Sour lemons, bitter coffee, or spicy peppers can help you reconnect with the present.
Little things you can do for yourself and your loved ones is all that counts. Let’s try and heal ourselves together rather than fixing the damages. After all, we’re all the bravest survivors of a never ending war with ourselves.