What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur at any age. It usually begins within the first three months following a traumatic event. However, some people can experience what is known as Delayed Onset PTSD. This means they may not develop PTSD symptoms for months, even years, after the trauma occurred.

What Is PTSD?

In diagnostic terms, the essential feature of post-traumatic stress disorder is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events. This usually means an individual re-experiences the traumatic events in various ways, for example through flashbacks or intrusive memories of the trauma. Another common re-experiencing symptom is distressing dreams that replay the event itself or revolve around the major threats involved. The traumatic event can also lead to negative changes in thoughts or mood. The individual may find themselves thinking things like ‘it’s all my fault’, ‘I can’t trust anyone again’ or ‘I’m in danger’.

Symptoms to Look Out For

As mentioned above, the most common symptom of PTSD is re-experiencing. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive and distressing images or sensations, or physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling.

In terms of mood, those experiencing PTSD may feel excessively anxious, angry and irritable. They may find it difficult to experience positive emotions. Those with PTSD can also feel hyper-vigilant or on edge. They may find it hard to concentrate on things like reading, watching TV or having a conversation with someone. They may avoid situations, conversations or objects that remind them of the trauma. Some individuals also experience dissociative symptoms as their brain gets confused between the past and the present.

Many people with PTSD also experience other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or phobias. They may resort to self-harming or destructive behaviour, such as drug misuse or alcohol misuse. They can also struggle with physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches. PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.

Coping with the Symptoms of PTSD

Here are three things you can do to tackle some of the symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Complete a trigger diary

The more aware of your triggers you are, the more you can prepare yourself to cope when those triggers arise. Keep a record of the types of people, situations, places or conversations that remind you of the traumatic event and trigger emotional distress.

  1. Practise grounding techniques

Often, when an individual is triggered, the brain becomes confused between the past and the present and the body starts to feel how it felt at the time of the trauma. One way to tackle this is to focus your attention on your surroundings to remind your brain you are in the present. A really simple way of doing this is to name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

  1. Try some breathing exercises

Typically, when we’re anxious, our breathing becomes faster. This keeps us feeling anxious and makes it harder to cope with triggers. Focusing on your breathing, taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, can help with this. In fact, it’s one of the quickest ways to calm your nervous system. You can buffer this exercise by repeating the words ‘I am safe now’ or ‘I am in control’ (or any other suitable coping statement). Alongside deep breathing, this serves as a reminder to your brain that the trauma is over.

Treatment for PTSD

Although it’s useful to develop ways of coping with PTSD, it is not something that goes away on its own. The current recommended psychological treatments are Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). Both have an effective and robust evidence base in treating the symptoms of PTSD and are widely used within the NHS and privately.

To access psychological support, you can refer yourself to your local talking therapies service. However, it’s likely there will be a long waiting list. If you are able, I would highly recommend seeking private therapy. It tends to be the quickest way to see a therapist. If you have private health insurance, it’s worth checking whether therapy sessions are covered.

It’s important to engage a therapist like me who is highly experienced and trained in the treatment of PTSD. As well as being extremely passionate about helping people heal from trauma so they can reclaim their lives, I’m trained in Trauma Focused CBT and EMDR therapy. I also offer a free consultation in which I’m happy to chat about your specific circumstances and develop an individualised treatment plan.

If you’re interested in working with me, you can book a free consultation here. I also share lots of tips and advice via Instagram.

Useful Links

What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

All You Need to Know About EMDR

Trauma – It’s Not What You Think It Is

Coping with Birth Trauma

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