What is trauma?
Trauma is not a disease or sign of personal weakness, rather the result of our biological impulse to defend ourselves in the face of danger. When we have been unable to successfully fend off danger, our brain gets stuck in this defensive stance (“survival mode”), causing us to interact with the world differently. The impact of trauma can lead us to feel out of control. Very often, we experience physical responses to danger even after the trauma has passed, including heart palpitations and shortness of breath, stomach aches and trembling. Unwanted, intrusive memories might disrupt daily activities. We might begin to feel detached from loved ones. Increased irritability, fear, difficulty sleeping and concentrating are all results of trauma. These changes are normal reactions to abnormal events. In the same way that trauma shifts our behavior, we can learn concrete techniques to reduce these symptoms and create long-term change.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a new name for a condition that’s been around for a very long time. Whether you call it shell-shock, combat fatigue, or the modern name of PTSD, it describes the set of lasting impacts caused by the traumatic event, or events. People living with PTSD live in a constant state of “survival mode”, in which their environment triggers the reflexive fear responses that helped keep them alive when initially in danger. Though these responses were useful at the time, they can often become debilitating when activated in everyday life or in situations without an actual threat of danger.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Signs Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
It isn’t a guarantee that someone who experiences a traumatic event, or events, will develop PTSD. One of the most challenging things about identifying PTSD is that it very often takes a while to notice the symptoms; people become used to living in this state of “survival mode”, and many feel ashamed to seek help after experiencing trauma and time has passed.
A diagnosis of PTSD requires the presence of some of the following categories of symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts or memories about the trauma
- Attempts to avoid reminders of the trauma
- Changes in thoughts about the world and mood
- Changes in behavior
For a lot of people who have experienced chronic trauma in childhood or as an adult, the onset of these symptoms is not as clear and might feel like the status quo. It doesn’t have to be this way forever.
What Makes Some People Develop PTSD and Others Not?
In many cases what causes one person to develop PTSD over another isn’t well understood. However, there are some indicators that can show a reduced risk, including the presence of a strong support system and coping mechanisms that were already in use before the trauma took place. Oftentimes, people who are able to foster connections with others tend to be at a lower risk of developing PTSD.
How Is PTSD Treated?
In many cases, PTSD is treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. It is important to remember that every case of PTSD is as individual as the person experiencing it, and their treatment is likely to be just as personal. Medications that have been shown to be useful for treatment include a variety of antidepressants and Prazosin in cases where nightmares are prevalent. Trauma-focused talk therapy should be tailored to the individual; short-term work (between 6 and 12 weeks) can be effective, but it is common for therapy to last much longer based on the person’s experience.