WHAT IS IT?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult. These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person's day-to-day life.
Each person's experience of PTSD is unique to them. You might have experienced a similar type of trauma to someone else, yet be affected in different ways.
When we feel stressed emotionally, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body's automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the 'fight, flight or freeze' response.
Studies have shown that someone with PTSD will continue producing these hormones when they're no longer in danger, which is thought to explain some symptoms such as extreme alertness and being easily startled.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON SYMPTOMS?
If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, you might also find that you have difficulty with some everyday aspects of your life, such as:
Looking after yourself
Holding down a job
Maintaining friendships or relationships
Remembering things and making decisions
Your sex drive
Coping with change
Simply enjoying your leisure time.
Some people also experience physical symptoms similar to symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TYPES OF TREATMENT?
It's possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event or events occurred, which means it's never too late to seek help. If you have PTSD that requires treatment, psychological therapies are usually recommended first.
A combination of psychological therapy and medicine may be recommended if you have severe or persistent PTSD.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that aims to help you manage problems by changing how you think and act.
Trauma-focused CBT uses a range of psychological techniques to help you come to terms with the traumatic event. During this process, your therapist helps you cope with any distress you feel while identifying any beliefs you have about the experience that may be unhelpful. Your therapist can help you gain control of your fear and distress by reviewing with you any conclusions you have drawn about your experience
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychological treatment that's been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. It involves recalling the traumatic incident in detail while making eye movements, usually by following the movement of your therapist's finger.
The 2 medicines recommended to treat PTSD in adults are paroxetine and sertraline. Paroxetine and sertraline are both a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).If medicine for PTSD is effective, it'll usually be continued for a minimum of 12 months before being gradually withdrawn over the course of 4 weeks or longer.
WHAT CAN HELP?
'Self-help' tips don't solve the issue. However, they can help you/others feel more in control when experiencing strong emotions.
If you find that 'self-help' isn't enough, consider reaching out to a counsellor or your GP for help managing overwhelming emotions.
Focus on your breathing. When you are frightened, you might stop breathing normally. This increases feelings of fear and panic, so it can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.
Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch or look at a particular object during a flashback. This might be something you decide to carry in your pocket or bag, or something that you have with you anyway, such as a keyring or a piece of jewellery.
Tell yourself that you are safe. It may help to tell yourself that the trauma is over and you are safe now. It can be hard to think in this way during a flashback, so it could help to write down or record some useful phrases at a time when you're feeling better.
Comfort yourself. For example, you could curl up in a blanket, cuddle a pet, listen to soothing music or watch a favourite film.
Keep a diary. Making a note of what happens when you have a flashback could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you. You might also learn to notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.
Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can keep you connected to the present and help you cope with flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. For example, you could describe your surroundings out loud or count objects of a particular type or colour. See our page on self-care for dissociative disorders for more information on grounding techniques.
Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol and any other stimulants.
When you’re suffering from PTSD, exercise can do more than release endorphins and improve your mood and outlook. By really focusing on your body and how it feels as you move, exercise can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response
PTSD can make you feel disconnected from others. You may be tempted to withdraw from social activities and your loved ones.Reach out to someone you can connect with for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen when you want to talk without judging, criticizing, or continually getting distracted.
PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.