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Understand & Learn About Post Traumatic Stress

Understand & Learn About Post Traumatic Stress

What is Post-Traumatic Stress?

Exposure to distressing events or disturbing experiences such as natural disaster, car accidents, childhood abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, to name a few, can bring about unwanted emotional responses like fear, helplessness, or horror. These situations are often called traumatic events. The accompanying response to these traumatic events can vary in intensity and duration. In some individuals, the experience can incite fear and stress-related symptoms that dissipate/go away over time.

Conversely, the exposure can bring about guttural (i.e., deep, harsh) long-term responses that become clinical in nature and prevent the individual from moving forward. As a result, these individuals may develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The newly revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-5) details that any person who has experienced or witnessed a situation that involves a threat of death or serious injury, threat to the physical composition of another, or the witnessing, first-hand, that typically involves threat of death or injury, can develop PTSD.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced, in the following way(s):

  • Intrusive or unwanted thoughts, memories, or images
  • Nightmares
  • “Flashbacks” or the feeling as if the event is recurring
  • Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
  • Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders

Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, in the following way(s):

  • Trauma-related thoughts or feelings are avoided
  • Trauma-related reminders are avoided

Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):

  • Inability to recall key features of the trauma
  • Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
  • Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
  • Negative affect/feelings
  • Decreased interest in activities
  • Feeling isolated
  • Difficulty experiencing positive affect/feelings

Trauma-related arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):

  • Irritability or aggression
  • Risky or destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance or always expecting danger
  • Heightened startle reaction
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

Tips for Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress

  • Know that recovery is a process
    • Healing takes time
  • Learn more about the common reactions to trauma and PTSD
    • This will help you realize that you are not alone and help is available
  • Talk with supported people
    • Supportive family, friends, therapist, and/or a support group
  • Adopt healthy relaxation practices
    • Breathing exercises, meditation, muscle relaxation exercises, stretching, prayer, spending time in nature, or listening to music
  • Distract yourself with positive activities
    • Art, dance, or creative writing (e.g., poetry)
  • Talk with your medical doctor about your posttraumatic stress symptoms.
    • Your medical doctor can help you manage negative reactions to symptoms (e.g., disturbed sleep, increased anxiety) and refer you to a mental health professional.
  • Use mindfulness and grounding techniques
    • These strategies may be helpful in reminding yourself that you are secure and not currently in danger.
  • Keep to a regular sleep schedule
    • This may aid in reducing sleeping difficulties
  • Exercising regularly
    • This may assist in reducing stress
  • Seek a mental health professional if symptoms continue or get worse

Having some of the above reactions to a traumatic event(s) is common; however, please take note if reactions persist for more than one month or if the distress is affecting important areas of functioning (e.g., social, occupational), the distress is not better explained by physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, illicit drug use) or due to another medical condition.

Author:

Elaine R. Augustine, MA, LPC
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student

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