If you’re living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD), you may be feeling trapped, overwhelmed, and helpless. Many people who experience PTSD report feeling “stuck” in their own lives because their symptoms make it difficult to simply get through the day. But if you’re experiencing any of these feelings in conjunction with symptoms of PTSD, you should know that you are not alone and you don’t have to feel like this forever. Help and healing are within reach and, in this article, we’ll explore the resources that are available for treating your symptoms of PTSD.
What Is PTSD?
There are a number of common misconceptions about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so it’s important to begin by taking a clear and concise look at what PTSD really is. Although many people believe that only soldiers can experience PTSD, the truth is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is exactly what its name implies: a response to trauma. And anyone can experience PTSD as a result of living through something traumatic.
PTSD can be caused by a wide range of events including— but not limited to— physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; living through a war or natural disaster; a car accident; a traumatic death or loss (for example, the death of your child, a divorce, or a breakup), or a family tragedy. Everyone is different and so are our emotional experiences, so it’s also important to remember that responses to trauma will vary from person to person, and the same is true of the events which we consider traumatic.
What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD?
For example, imagine that you, your mother, and your brother were robbed at knifepoint while you and your brother were quite young. Thankfully, no one was injured or harmed as a result of the robbery, but you all still experienced the shock and fear of being threatened by a man with a knife. In that moment, you all might feel very afraid, uncertain, and helpless. So, let’s imagine that— for your mother and your brother— that shock eventually wears off. After a few weeks— or perhaps even a few months— they move on with their lives as though it never happened.
But you don’t feel able to do that. For you, that experience left such an imprint on your mind and your emotions that you can’t forget it and move on. As much as you would like to stop thinking about that terrible day, you feel as though the memory is constantly playing on a loop in your mind. You dream about that moment. You’re afraid to be alone, whether you’re in your own house or walking down the street. You find yourself wondering if it will happen again and how you would respond if it did. You blame yourself for being unable to protect your mother and brother, even though there is no expectation for you to do so.
All of these feelings would be difficult to live with and they would be especially difficult if other people in your life repeatedly told you to “get over it,” “snap out of it,” or implied that you were weak for “allowing” yourself to continually be upset by this experience. But it’s important to remember that none of those statements are true— and they certainly aren’t things that you should say to someone who is experiencing PTSD! That’s partly because those statements are insensitive and unhelpful and partly because someone who has PTSD literally cannot “get over it.”
PTSD is not a choice; it’s a disorder that quite literally requires someone’s brain, making them feel trapped and unable to stop reliving the experience that traumatised them. PTSD is characterised by a wide variety of symptoms including:
- Vivid and disturbing memories of the traumatic event
- Intense memories that feel as though the event is re-occurring in real time (often called “flashbacks”)
- Recurrent nightmares about the event
- Recurrent and unwanted intrusive thoughts about the event
- Extreme emotional and physical reactions to stimuli that triggers a reminder of the event
- Feeling as though you are constantly on “high alert”
- A persistent feeling that you are unsafe
- Self-destructive behavior
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty maintaining relationships or holding down a job
- Feeling numb, depressed, or hopeless
- Trouble concentrating
This is not a comprehensive list of PTSD symptoms but the symptoms on the list are among the most common and most disruptive symptoms experienced by people who live with PTSD. After looking at these symptoms, it’s easy to see why people with PTSD may experience significant struggles in their daily lives. Flashbacks can be especially disturbing because life is unpredictable; you never know when you will encounter something that reminds you of the traumatic experience you went through.
For example, someone who experiences PTSD as a result of a sexual assault may feel triggered by watching a TV show or a news report that deals with sexual assault. Likewise, someone who has PTSD as a result of living through a war may hear fireworks and be reminded of the gunfire they associate with their trauma. We can’t control the stimuli we encounter in life and this may feel very frightening to someone who lives with PTSD; they may feel as though new triggers are around every corner and that they are chronically unsafe as a result.
And that’s exactly why treatment and understanding are so important! People who experience PTSD need support and treatment so that they can successfully cope with their symptoms and enjoy the life that everyone deserves: a life free from the pain and fear of feeling unsafe as you relive traumatic memories every day. So, let’s take a look at some of the many common treatment options that have proven to be effective in the treatment of PTSD.
Seeking Treatment For PTSD
Living with PTSD can make you feel lost and overwhelmed, but you should know that you don’t have to live with those feelings forever. A wide variety of highly effective treatment options are available and they can help to reduce your symptoms of PTSD. The treatment option that works best for you will vary depending on your specific case but common treatment options for PTSD include:
- Trauma-Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which is commonly referred to by the abbreviation CBT) is considered the gold standard in therapeutic treatment for anxiety disorders. And because most symptoms of PTSD cause extreme anxiety, CBT can be very helpful for treating those symptoms and alleviating anxiety. So, how does CBT actually work in practice? The simplest definition is that CBT is a type of talk therapy. This form of therapy is designed to reduce anxiety by reframing our thoughts and providing a positive alternative to the stories we tell ourselves.
For example, if you are someone who experiences high levels of anxiety on a daily basis, you may often think, “I’m so nervous” or “Everyone is staring at me” or “Everything is going to go wrong!” These are common fears that people with anxiety experience and these fears inform our behavior and, consequently, our perceptions of situations. But CBT aims to alter this internal monologue by reframing your thoughts in a more positive and rational context so you can go through life without being paralysed by these fears.
For example, CBT often encourages people to avoid a practice known as “black and white thinking.” This type of thought process is common for people who live with anxiety because the anxious brain tends to think in extremes as a result of the fear signals that are flooding the brain. In practice, this might cause someone to think, “Everything is going to go wrong!” But CBT encourages people to reframe that thought by making a conscious effort to tell yourself something like, “I’m experiencing feelings of anxiety right now. My brain is causing me to worry that the worst possible outcome will occur.”
This might sound quite simplistic but, in reality, reframing your thought processes can be extremely beneficial! When we re-write our internal script, we can remember that thoughts and feelings are not facts; our brains may send us these signals but that doesn’t mean that these signals are accurate representations of reality. Re-training your brain in this manner can be incredibly beneficial for someone who is struggling with PTSD and feeling constantly overwhelmed by fear signals in the brain.
Medication can also be effective for some people who are experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Because PTSD can often cause severe feelings of depression and anxiety, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications can be very helpful in reducing these symptoms. Each of these medications can be uniquely helpful in their own ways. For example, antidepressants can help to alleviate depression symptoms, while mood stabilizers can help people avoid the severe mood swings and angry outbursts associated with agitated depression. Likewise, medications that are specially formulated to reduce anxiety may help you feel a general sense of calm and holistically reduce your symptoms. However, it’s important to remember that you should only take medication that has been prescribed to you by a physician, whether that’s your primary care doctor or a licensed mental health professional.
Your doctor will also be able to prescribe additional treatments in addition to— or instead of— medication. For example, some people benefit from regular sessions with a therapist in addition to medication while others don’t respond to medication at all and find significant relief from their symptoms after solely treating their agitated depression with therapy. Connecting with a therapist can be highly beneficial because therapy provides you with professional insights about your symptoms and the arsenal of tools you need to fight depression and reclaim your peace of mind.
Connecting With A Therapist
If you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it’s highly likely that you’re living with the effects of unresolved trauma. People who live with PTSD often feel conflicted or ashamed as a result of their symptoms, especially if they believe that they should be able to “shake it off” or feel that they should not be so adversely affected by the trauma they experienced. But it’s important to remember that these feelings are not realistic and they should not define your approach to trauma and treatment. People who live with PTSD often say in therapy that they feel their trauma “wasn’t that bad” or that “other people have it worse,” so it “shouldn’t be a big deal.”
But the truth is that none of that matters. No matter what type of trauma you experienced, your trauma is valid because it has a significant impact on you. And if you’re living with symptoms that are negatively affecting your quality of life, you deserve to find help and healing. And, most importantly, you deserve to know that you do not have to fight this on your own. Therapy can be extremely beneficial because it offers you a safe and supportive space in which to process your trauma.
Your therapist can work with you as you unpack your feelings and, together, understand why your experience impacted you in the way it did. From there, you can work together to develop a treatment plan and assemble an arsenal of positive tools and coping mechanisms that will help you address your symptoms. Whether this includes CBT, medication, or a combination of both, your therapeutic treatment plan can empower you to fight back, reclaim your peace of mind, and begin your healing journey.
So, if you feel ready to reach out and seek hope and healing through therapy, you may want to consider BetterHelp! BetterHelp is an online mental health provider run by licensed counselors and therapists who are passionate about making mental health care accessible to all. With the advances in modern technology, many people have gravitated toward online therapy because this format is more convenient in our hectic, fast-paced world. Rather than needing to amend your schedule to attend an in-person therapy appointment, online therapy is literally right at your fingertips; you can chat with your therapist from the comfort of your own phone any time you want! So, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Hope is only a click away!
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