Traumatic Stress Disorder is a constellation of symptoms some individuals (but not all) develop after seeing or living through a traumatic event. Potential traumas include military combat, sexual or physical abuse, sudden death, disasters, assaults, and severe injuries. Most people experience a fight-or-flight syndrome in response to life-threatening danger, but then they return to baseline. PTSD occurs when people get stuck in the trauma for over three months after the event.
Individuals with PTSD re-experience the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares, and they feel a sense of panic when the trauma intrudes on them. To minimize the racing heart, shortness of breath, nausea, and chills, people try to avoid remembering the trauma. Avoidance may include problematic use of alcohol or other drugs, trying not to think about what happened, or withdrawing from loved ones. Unfortunately, the avoidance keeps people stuck, because they don’t have the opportunity to modify inaccurate conclusions formed in the chaos of the trauma. People with PTSD often have negative thoughts like, “It was my fault,” “I’m a bad person,” or “No one is trustworthy,” as well as feelings of guilt, shame, or self-directed anger. Finally, individuals with PTSD feel on-edge and often have trouble sleeping.
While PTSD can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, treatment works. If you have PTSD, you can get better. The National Center for PTSD (http://www.ptsd.va.gov) highlights evidence-based treatments including my favorite, Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD (http://cptforptsd.com). I have witnessed the indomitable human spirit as individuals recover from horrifying events to go on to lead more productive and peaceful lives. It takes that bold first step of talking to someone to get unstuck from the past.
Article Courtesy: Jen Carter, PhD, ABPP Counseling and Sport Psychologist, Sports Medicine Associate Professor, Clinical, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health