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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

It’s normal after a distressing event to have trouble sleeping or to have difficulties adjusting back to day-to-day life, but if these symptoms last over a month, you might be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder triggered by very difficult, frightening and upsetting events. Although often associated with war veterans, PTSD can develop following any event (or series of events) that has been very overwhelming – such as a sexual assault, an accident, a natural disaster etc.

PTSD can involve reliving the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks.

PTSD can affect anyone, including people who have had indirect exposure to a distressing event or repeated exposure to graphic details of trauma.

If you’re suffering from PTSD, you might be avoiding situations or people that remind you of what happened, or you might have heightened reactions to loud or unexpected noises or movements.

The disorder can be mild, moderate or severe. These categories are defined according to how much your symptoms are influencing your day-to-day life, rather than a judgement on the event itself.

Sometimes, PTSD will be described under the following categories:

  • Delayed-onset PTSD – if symptoms occur more than 6 months after the distressing event.
  • Complex PTSD – if you experienced trauma at an early age or it lasted for a long time.
  • Birth trauma – occurs after a traumatic childbirth experience.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD 

Physiological Symptoms

  • Sweating
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Trembling

Psychological Symptoms

  • Vivid flashbacks
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty feeling emotions
  • Hypervigilance
  • Hyperacusis (reduced tolerance to noise)
  • Persistent fear, anger, guilt or shame
  • Difficulty with concentration

Behavioural Symptoms

  • Avoiding places that remind you of the event
  • Diminished interest in participation of activities and social gatherings
  • Reckless or destructive behaviour
  • Difficulty falling and/or remaining asleep

Therapies for PTSD

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you become aware of your negative thought patterns and recognise how they might be contributing to your anxiety. Your therapist will work with you to identify negative thought patterns, safely and gradually expose you to situations that trigger your anxiety, and also teach you how to manage challenging situations more effectively. CBT is a short-term therapy and will usually last anywhere from 8 – 16 sessions.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an evidence-based approach that instead of talking, relies on the patient’s own rapid, rhythmic movements. EMDR uses eye movements to help you process the feelings and memories associated with the trauma. Treatment can be fairly short-term for a specific trauma e.g. 8-16 sessions, or continue over a longer period of time for C-PTSD.

To find out more about which approach to therapy might be best for you, contact us here or call 020 3930 1437 for a free phone consultation.

How PTSD develops 

PTSD can develop following a traumatic or distressing event – or after a prolonged traumatic experience (sometimes referred to as Complex-PTSD). Examples might be:

  • Traumatic birth
  • Natural disaster
  • Witnessing a violent death
  • Terrorist attack

There are certain factors that can make you more likely to develop PTSD. For example, if you’ve experience depression or anxiety in the past or if you haven’t received the right support following the event. Also, having a parent with mental health issues can also increase your chances of developing PTSD.

It’s still not clear why some people develop PTSD and others don’t. However, recent research points to a biological predisposition – with the development of PTSD being a type of survival mechanism, caused by high adrenaline levels and physical and hormonal changes that happen in the brain.

PTSD statistics in the UK 

  • PTSD is estimated to affect 1 in 3 people who have experienced a traumatic event
  • Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop PTSD in comparison to men
  • It affects 1 in 5 firefighters
  • Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event
  • You are more likely to develop PTSD if you consume high amounts of alcohol
  • People with PTSD have a smaller amygdala, an area of the brain associated with the processing of emotions
  • About 30,000 women a year experience Birth Trauma
  • PTSD patients show a considerable reduction in the volume of the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory functions
  • Almost a quarter of PTSD cases may be delayed onset
  • PTSD was previously termed ‘Shell Shock’

PTSD myths 

PTSD cannot be treated” 

There are many different treatments for PTSD which can help someone manage the condition and their symtoms.

PTSD only affects soldiers”

PTSD was first diagnosed in soldiers, but it can affect anyone who experiences a very overwhelming or traumatic event.

People with PTSD are violent”

Aggression is not a key symptom of PTSD and less than 8% of people with PTSD experience violence as a symptom.

PTSD does not affect children”

Anyone can be diagnosed with PTSD and about 7% of girls and 2% of boys are diagnosed.

Suffering from PTSD means you are mentally weak”

Just like any other mental illness, having PTSD does not mean you are weak. To the contrary, it is often a response to having lived through something extremely distressing. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to developing PTSD – in the same way that someone can have a predisposition to a physical illness, such as heart disease.

My trauma occurred a long time ago, its too late to address it now”

Seeking support for trauma at any age is beneficial – no matter how long ago it happened.

If I can’t remember the abuse, then I wont be able to process the trauma”

There are many therapies where it’s not necessary to have coherent memories of the trauma you experienced. Instead, these therapies focus on helping you connect with and process the feelings and bodily sensations associated with the trauma.

Self help strategies for PTSD 

Self-care comes in many forms and it is important to find what works for you. Treatment and recovery take time, but there are a few steps you can take right now.

Books for PTSD 

  • I Can’t Get Over It: A Handbook For Trauma Survivors (Aphrodite Matsakis, 2002)
  • The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery and Growth (Glenn Schiraldi, 2016)
  • The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Arielle Schwartz, 2017)

Podcasts and Audible Guides

Best PTSD apps 

PTSD Coach. Provides information about PTSD, alongside a self-assessment and professional care. Opportunities to find support, and tools that can help you manage the stresses of living with PTSD.

PTSD Hub. Interactive community that allows people with PTSD to discuss their symptoms and coping strategies.

Breathe2Relax. Portable stress management tool that teaches diaphragmatic breathing. It works by decreasing the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response, making it a great option for people suffering from PTSD.

PTSD Family Coach. For family members of those living with PTSD. Provides information about PTSD, how to take care of yourself, how to take care of your relationship with your loved one, and how to help your loved one get treatment.

Mindfulness Coach. Teaches mindfulness techniques such as grounding yourself in the present moment. This can help you cope with the unpleasant thoughts and emotions that occur with PTSD.

To find out more about which approach to therapy might be best for you, contact us here or call 020 3930 1437 for a free phone consultation.