PTSD is an anxiety disorder usually developed as a set of psychological reactions exhibited after witnessing or experiencing a traumatising incident. The event may have endangered your life or your loved ones leading to feelings of helplessness, intense fear and terror.
Individuals most likely to suffer from PTSD have either experienced physical and sexual abuse or those who have a medical history of the condition. Many devastating events may trigger the condition some of them are as follows:
- Serious accident
- Physical or sexual assault
- Natural disasters such as fire or flood
- Life changing events that cause disability
- Death of loved one
- Living in war zone
According to statistics 65% of the Australians are susceptible to traumatising events, which makes the presence of PTSD very common. Brain trauma is caused by an unexpected and unpredictable event, something that you have never encountered before in life. The event occurs haphazardly leaving no room for preparation or adjustment from beforehand leaving the victim in a state of confused senses. This chain of events can leave the sufferer with doubts about their strongly held beliefs of safety and the ability to control their own life.
Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Individuals suffering from PTSD have been exposed to an event that involved them witnessing, confronting or experiencing an event or a series of events which involved death, threat of death or a serious injury or a threat to the individual’s integrity. The individual’s response in this case can be horror, helplessness or intense fear.
Most patients suffering from PTSD have terrifying memories of the experience. Many of them relive the memories in the form of nightmares and recollections when awake. This problem is frequently accompanied with problems like substance abuse, depression or anxiety.
There are certain signs and symptoms, which can categorise a person who is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. These symptoms can be mild or severe and vary from person to person. A definitive diagnosis of PTSD is established when these symptoms remain for more than one month. Most individuals start experiencing symptoms 3 months after the traumatising experience. The symptoms, which form a part of trauma response, can be categorised in three categories:
1. Reliving the experience:
- Repeated and intrusive recollections of the event involving images, perceptions or thoughts.
- Recurrent nightmares about the event.
- Acting or actually reliving the experience through hallucinations, delusions, flashbacks. These can occur while awake or when intoxicated.
- Internal or external cues that remind the individual of the event arouse significant psychological distress or physiological reactivity.
2. Avoidance of stimuli and decreased general responsiveness
The individual also has an attitude of avoidance of the stimuli associated with the traumatic event and a numbness of general responsiveness, which was not present before the event. 3 or more of the following symptoms indicates this:
- Making efforts to avoid thoughts, conversations or feelings that serve as a reminder of the trauma
- Making efforts to avoids places, people or activities that serve as a reminder of the traumatic event
- Inability to recall some important aspect of the trauma.
- A decreased interest or participation in important activities to a significant extent.
- Having a feeling of detachment or estrangement.
- Restricted range of affect (outward manifestation of feelings)
- Possessing a sense of foreshortened future i.e. believing that one should not have expectations for marriage, family, children or professional career.
3. Increased arousal
- Individuals with PTSD will experience two or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Irritable or anger outbursts
- Difficulty while concentrating
- Exaggerated startle response
- Hypervigilance about safety
Effects of trauma on brain function
It is common knowledge that all sorts of experiences can modify the brain whether they are good or bad. This phenomenon is known as brain plasticity. The impact of a traumatic experience can affect the following brain structures:
- Amygdala: This is a structure of the limbic system responsible for attaching emotional value to sensory stimuli. In conditions that involve danger or threat, the amygdala gets into action without alerting the brain cortex (responsible for logic and judgement). It activates the ANS, which triggers a ‘flight or fight’ response.
- Hippocampus: This portion of the brain is associated with memory and learning. It arranges memories in a chronological order. During a traumatic event, the amygdala and the ANS are active so these memories do not get processed or integrated by the cortex and are instead stored in the lower parts of the brain in a disorganised manner.
Thus we can conclude that the ANS gets activated in response to threat as a normal biological response. Individuals suffering from PTSD will have their ANS engaged even when the threat is no longer present.
In order to set the ANS in motion the amydala requires a 10 to 20 percent overlap between the stimulus for danger and the sensory cue that is available. This is the reason behind the feeling of reliving the traumatic experience that the PTSD individuals suffer from.
Dealing with traumatic events
If you believe that you or a loved one has become a victim of the menace of PTSD then there are several ways to deal with the problem and lessen the impact that it may have on your personal life. Here are a few ways that will help you deal with a traumatic event:
1. Don’t isolate yourself: Connections and relationships fuel the healing process. A trusted friend or family member can also offer valuable advice about the situation. Joining support groups may also help lessen the burden of your trauma.
2. Take control of your life: You might feel like you are losing interest in aspects of daily life. This is when you should put in extra efforts like following a daily routine and finding activities that please you to get a hold on your life. You may try and break down difficult tasks into smaller manageable ones in order to stay focused and feel a sense of achievement.
3. Take care of your health: Following a traumatic event, you may ignore your personal health and well-being. In order to avoid this, you must exercise daily. This releases endorphins, which help your body recover. In fact activities like meditation, breathing and yoga help you recover from stress and avoid the uninvited anxiety can grips you. Drug and alcohol addiction is also a problem associated with those who suffer from PTSD. If you feel that you are having such inclinations, then remind yourself that they will only worsen the situation and exacerbate the feelings or anxiety, depression or isolation. Eat a balanced diet and focus on your health.
The treatment process will require you to process all your trauma related feelings and emotions and discharge the ‘fight or flight’ energy that is stored in your body. The treatment will also teach you how to regulate strong emotions and build the ability in you to trust other people.
Trauma can activate your body into a state of hyperarousal or fear. The aim of a successful therapy is to restore the balance of the over active nervous system. Here are a few therapeutic approaches that may help you:
Somatic experiencing: This therapy focuses on the bodily sensations and depends on the ability to heal itself. It encourages you to get in touch with your body’s trauma related energy and tension. Then you release this energy in various forms by using the body’s survival instinct.
EMDR: This incorporated elements of CBT and eye movements. The rhythmic eye movements are used to unfreeze the memories and allows you to resolve them.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy): This helps you evaluate your thoughts and ideas about the trauma.
Australian Centre for PostTraumatic Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from:
Dryden-Edwards, R. MedicineNet. Retrieved from medicinenet.com:
If you or someone you know may be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, Australia Counselling links you with professional counsellors, psychologists and social workers in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Canberrs and regional areas. Search our post traumatic stress disorder page to find a counsellor near you.
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