According to studies, divorce is the second most stressful event an individual can go through. Even the healthiest, most mutual divorce may carry emotional baggage, so recovery can take time. However, for some people, recovery might seem to be farther on the horizon. In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops.
What Are The Signs Of PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition with numerous symptoms that fall into four symptomatic categories. These categories include the following:
- Intrusive memories
- Adverse changes in thinking or behavior
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Intrusive memories may involve flashbacks (vivid re-living of an event through memories and sensations) or nightmares. Re-experiencing these scenes can cause people to engage in avoidance behaviors to avoid experiences, objects, people, topics, or places that trigger memories of the event leading to PTSD.
Negative mood and thinking patterns may occur in the form of depression, anxiety, and increased irritability. Changes in physical and emotional reactions can mean "feeling on edge" or engaging in reactionary behavior and communication. Some people may also develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like the use of substances.
To meet the minimum requirements for a diagnosis, psychologists look at whether an individual meets these symptoms for at least one month. Prolonged symptoms can lead to other mental and physical health conditions due to the intense nature of PTSD, so individuals may receive more than one diagnosis.
PTSD can also involve physical symptoms, including but not limited to headaches, stomachaches, and unexplained body pains.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Does Divorce Give Children PTSD?
Children may be susceptible to PTSD-related symptoms following a divorce, particularly if the divorce between their caregivers or parents was tumultuous, prolonged, or marked by excessive arguing. Because children may not understand the complex dynamics of adult relationships, the dissolution of a marriage can give children the impression that their relationship with their parents is also at risk. In addition, divorce can come with many transitions.
What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD In Children?
Changes in behavior and sleeping patterns are two symptoms of PTSD in children whose parents have divorced. Children might seem quiet and withdrawn with one or both parents. Contrarily, they might grow increasingly aggressive, angry, or defensive. As they experience symptoms, they might have insomnia or sleep more than usual.
Some children may show a decline in academic performance, including changes like failing exams or not completing assignments. This shift could be the result of a fear response. Children might take on the role of one parent, who is meeker than the other, or a more aggressive parent. Through this process, they act out the roles that have become the new normal for them.
Often, children struggle to communicate with their parents about what they are experiencing. For that reason, it can be essential for parents to take heed of any behavioral, communication, or mood changes and take steps to resolve them. Children may benefit significantly from professional intervention with a childhood divorce therapist.
Why Do Children Get PTSD From Divorce?
Children rely heavily upon family stability to develop a sense of equilibrium in their lives. They require a safe home to return to when life has grown confusing, overwhelming, or dangerous. If home life does not provide that stability, children might begin to experience symptoms of PTSD and feel confused about what is happening.
Does Divorce Give Adults PTSD?
Adults involved in a divorce may also experience PTSD due to losing their partner. However, traumatic divorces may be more likely in prolonged or high-conflict divorces, as both spouses may experience mood changes, stress, and significant life changes. For this reason, cooperation may be an essential aspect of divorce:
Children aren't the only ones who can experience intense feelings during a divorce. Adults often experience stressors that can lead to PTSD. Divorce is one of the leading stressors worldwide, so it may be considered traumatic.
PTSD has also been linked to divorce in instances involving sudden divorce or infidelity. Because both circumstances involve a dramatic loss of trust in someone previously considered a partner, PTSD might be possible. Individuals in these cases might experience flashbacks about the day they were told their partner was leaving, the day they discovered their partner had had an affair, or when they experienced a job loss or financial burden after their spouse left them.
Partners may also feel they no longer have a safe space to retreat if their spouse committed infidelity at home or held secrets for many years. Severe anxiety, reactive behaviors, or avoidance of home can occur.
While some people associate PTSD with war, natural disasters, or car accidents, many stressful events can be traumatic for people, and not every person reacts to the same event in the same way. If you are experiencing PTSD symptoms after a divorce, consider talking to a therapist about your feelings.
What Are The Risk Factors For PTSD After Divorce?
The primary risk factor for PTSD is experiencing a traumatic event, including divorce or the discovery of infidelity. Apart from this factor, a history of anxiety or depression or a family history of these conditions may elevate your risk of developing PTSD. Having experienced other mental health conditions or trauma may also predispose you to develop PTSD.
PTSD is a treatable condition. Some people can manage their PTSD through talk therapy and other therapeutic modalities, while others might use therapy in conjunction with pharmaceutical intervention as part of their treatment protocol. In the case of a divorce, PTSD may be prolonged or short-term. However, symptoms can cause a significant impairment in functioning, which is why reaching out for professional support early on may be beneficial.
Some people might struggle to seek support due to barriers like financial stress, a busy schedule, or embarrassment about seeking services. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may make receiving adequate care more manageable, more convenient, and more affordable. For those living with PTSD, going to in-person appointments in unfamiliar settings can be uncomfortable and stressful.
Research suggests that online therapy is effective for mental illnesses like PTSD. One study analyzing the impact of online therapy for those with PTSD noted that many participants experienced significant improvements in their symptoms. Another found that online therapy could be effective for those who had gone through domestic violence or abuse in their relationship, which are also potential causes for PTSD after divorce.
What to do when your PTSD is triggered?
The US Department of Veterans Affairs has some recommendations for managing distress. While it is aimed at veterans who may be dealing with a combat stress reaction, these tips can help anyone when their PTSD is triggered, even those with post divorce trauma.
- Consider limiting your exposure to the news, as increased media can increase stress.
- Keep up with your daily schedules and routines, and try to include activities that you enjoy every day.
- Make sure you get enough exercise, food, and sleep.
- Let yourself feel your emotions. You may feel angry but try to stay calm and avoid reacting with anger.
- Give yourself time and space to deal with your trauma, and remind yourself that everyone progresses at a different pace.
- Writing in a journal can help you deal with intense emotions, especially if you do not feel like talking.
If you have distressful psychological symptoms or are engaging in risky or destructive behavior, reach out to a mental health professional for help.
How do you deal with PTSD after divorce?
If you experience PTSD related symptoms after divorce, remember that PTSD is a treatable condition. Some people manage their symptoms through talk therapy alone, while others may need medication. With divorce, PTSD may be short or long-term, depending on many factors, like whether there was sexual violence or emotional trauma in the relationship. The divorce process is one of the most severe life stressors, and reaching out for support from a mental health professional early on can be beneficial.
How do you deal with PTSD without therapy?
Recovering from PTSD is a process that could take some time, and you may need the help of others to get through it. But there are some things you can do to help yourself.
Connect with your friends and family, as isolation can make you feel worse. Talking to friends and family can help you get the support you need, and meaningful connections can help with health and healing.
Make time to relax, whether you choose to read a book, listen to music, or take a walk. If you need help relaxing, try meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or massage therapy. Avoid using alcohol or other substances. While it may feel like these substances help you cope, they can make post traumatic stress symptoms worse and lead to abuse or addiction.
Exercise can help. Any amount or type of exercise can be beneficial as long as you don’t overdo it. Exercise has many benefits, including improving sleep and mood, boosting strength, and even easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Make sleep a priority, and try to get between seven and nine hours a night. Limit caffeine as it can cause anxiety in some people and may disturb your sleep. Watching disturbing news on TV, especially right before bed, can also affect the quality of your sleep.
What kind of trauma does divorce cause?
Everyone copes with divorce differently, and some people may experience PTSD as a result of losing their partner. Developing ptsd post divorce may be more common in high-conflict divorces if the marriage involved traumatic experiences like infidelity or intimate partner abuse. Many people associate a formal PTSD diagnosis with actual or threatened death or serious injury, but everyone is different. Experiences that cause high levels of stress can lead to PTSD.
Can PTSD be caused by heartbreak?
Some studies show that a stressful divorce can lead to symptoms similar to PTSD. PTSD caused by heartbreak may also be more likely in relationships that involved infidelity or physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse.
How does PTSD impact daily life?
PTSD can cause difficulty sleeping and concentration problems, making it difficult for people with this condition to focus on things like school or work. If their career is somehow connected to the trauma, they may need to change career paths entirely.
Some people with PTSD may find driving or taking public transportation difficult. They may have a hard time doing things others take for granted, like going to the grocery store or attending a party, which can lead to them avoiding many activities.
How long does it take to recover from PTSD?
How long treatment takes depends on the individual. According to the American Psychological Association, the treatment type and duration should always match the nature and severity of the person’s symptoms. About half of patients need an average of 15 to 20 sessions, while some types of treatment may be effective after as few as 12 sessions. Some patients and therapists prefer to continue treatment for more extended periods of 30 sessions or more to achieve more complete symptom remission.
Can you fully recover from PTSD?
There is no cure for PTSD, but treatment can help people with this condition learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
How does a person with PTSD behave?
People with PTSD do not all act the same, but they may have some common behaviors. They may exhibit emotional numbness, have difficulty experiencing positive affect, or show signs of anger, shame, guilt, or confusion. People with PTSD may also experience issues with body image or self-esteem, depression, or a fear of intimacy. Self-sabotaging behaviors, anxiety, social phobias, panic attacks, and sleep disorders may also occur.
How does PTSD affect you socially?
Some people with PTSD may experience significant social effects. Some people with this condition may isolate themselves because they are trying to avoid triggers or feel unsafe leaving the house. Others may experience depression, which can lead them to withdraw from others. With treatment, many people can overcome the social effects of PTSD and alleviate distressful symptoms.
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