Holidays are a particularly stressful time. So what can we do?
The Psychological Aftermath of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a popular term that pops up in conversations and the media when discussing victims of traumatic events such as the recent Ariel Castro kidnappings. As such, it is important to understand what exactly the disorder is and what it entails.
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that may occur after you’ve been subjected to extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death. However, just because you experience a traumatic event does not mean that you will inevitably get PTSD. Doctors are not sure why this is the case, but it is believed that environmental factors, such as genetics, emotions, and family settings, all play a role.
With PTSD, the body’s response to a stressful event is changed. Normally, the body recovers after a stressful event and stress hormones and chemicals go back to normal levels. By contrast, when you have PTSD, your body continuously releases high levels of stress hormones and chemicals instead of going back down to normal levels. PTSD can happen to individuals of any age.
Events that May Cause PTSD
• Car accidents
• Natural disasters
• Prison stay
Symptoms of PTSD
Reliving the event, which gets in the way of a person’s day-to-day activity – May experience “flashbacks” of the event, where the event seems to be happening over and over again
• Repeated upsetting memories of the event
• Repeated nightmares of the event
• Strong, uncomfortable reactions to situations that remind you of the event
• Emotional numbing, as if you don’t care about anything
• Feeling detached
• Inability to remember significant parts of the event
• Lack of interest in normal activities
• Showing less of your moods/emotions
• Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the event
• Feeling as though you have no future
• Paranoid, always scanning your surroundings for signs of danger (hypervigilance)
• Inability to concentrate
• Easily become startled
• Feelings of irritability or having outbursts of anger
• Trouble falling and/or staying asleep
Other symptoms can include feeling guilty, including “survivors guilt.” Some people with PTSD also experience symptoms of agitation or excitability, dizziness, fainting, feeling your heart beat in your chest, and headaches.
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, the person must experience symptoms for at least 30 days. If this is the case, the healthcare provider will also perform a mental health exam, physical exam, and blood tests to rule out other illnesses that are similar to PTSD.
Luckily, PTSD is a treatable disorder. PTSD treatment may include “talk therapy” (i.e. counseling) and/or medications. One of the most common methods used in talk therapy is “desensitization” where the person is encouraged to remember the traumatic event and express their feelings as they occur. The idea behind this is that by doing it repeatedly, the person’s memories of the event become less frightening. Talk therapy can also be used to teach victims how to relax, especially when experiencing flashbacks. There are also many PTSD support groups that can be helpful for some individuals.