What is Post Traumatic Stress?
A trauma is a terrifying event which engenders heightened and overwhelming distress, pain, stress or fear. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a mental health disorder which can develop after experiencing or being witness to such an event, and refers to the lasting psychological impact of that experience. Typically, post traumatic stress develops after a person is subjected to an experience which threatens their safety or their life, or the safety or lives of others. Of course, how people deal with trauma is highly variable. Whilst 50% of people will likely experience a traumatic event during their lifetime, only 7% of those will go on to develop PTSD.
PTSD can be a harrowing disease which tends to manifest in one of two ways. Either the person continues to relive the traumatic experience – in a series of nightmarish memories, or they fall subject to feelings of numbness associated with underplaying the seriousness of their experience. Often, a person with PTSD experiences both sides of the spectrum, see-sawing between a state of intrusion (intrusive memories) and a state of denial.
What Causes PTSD?
An event that is shocking and scary, or one that causes you to believe your life, or the life of another, is in danger, causes trauma. This includes experiencing, or bearing witness to, a physically violent act, such as an accident, injury, assault or death. However, a trauma doesn’t have to be a reaction to a physical event, it may also be a reaction to a psychological event.
Below is a list of events which typically cause trauma:
• An unexpected event
• An emotionally destabilising event
• Physical abuse or a physical threat to life
• Psychological abuse
• Undue or prolonged strain or stresses.
What are the main signs of psychological impact?
The following symptoms are generally associated with Post Traumatic Stress. Note that they may develop immediately after the incident, or they may emerge at a later time – weeks, months or even years later.
Typical symptoms of trauma include:
• Severe anxiety and/or depression
• Physical symptoms such as sweating, palpitations, trembling, shock
• Psychological symptoms such as aggression or panic
• Flashbacks and/or recurrent thoughts
• Mood swings
• Feelings of guilt
• Disturbed sleep & lack of concentration
• Increased need to control everything
• Attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma
• Feelings of detachment
• Suicidal thoughts
Sometimes these symptoms will be triggered by the memory of a trauma, and the connection between the traumatic event and the traumatic emotion will be obvious. At other times, the link between these may be less obvious, as in the case where the memory is triggered on a sub-conscious level. Sometimes a subtle reminder is enough to bring on a memory of the event which may cause a severe emotional reaction, such as when a veteran hears a car backfire and is reminded of their experience of active warfare.
If you have experienced trauma in your life and your emotional response is too much to handle, we can help. You probably feel like your trauma is having a permanent negative influence on your life, but it doesn’t need to. Our professional counsellors can work with you to uncover your emotions, address your underlying fears, and develop healthier response mechanisms.