According to the Mayo Clinic an individual who has survived a traumatic event may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), causing him to continually think about and relive the event. Fear along with anxiety, anger, depression and guilt are all extremely common emotions and reactions to trauma. However, the majority of individuals have experienced trauma do not typically develop long-term PTSD.
Even if the individual is struggling with overcoming the trauma but has not developed PTSD, getting the support he so desperately needs can help him recover. This could include turning to family and friends or may even mean seeking out the help of a mental health provider for the course of treatment.
Seeking treatment in a timely matter can help the individual prevent normal or day-to-day stress reactions from worsening and developing into PTSD. Support from others may also prevent one from turning to unhealthy coping mechanism such as the use/abuse of alcohol and drugs.
What Are Some Causes of PTSD?
The Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs describes PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that can occur after experiencing or even witnessing life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, and physical and/or sexual assault either as an adult or child. Most survivors return to normal after a period of time. However, some individuals will have reactions to this trauma that continue to worsen or do not go away on their own. According to the Nebraska Department of Affairs, there are three different stages to PTSD, including the following:
- Re-living the trauma
- Avoidance and numbing
- Increased emotional arousal
Re-living a trauma means that these memories can be triggered by traumatic reminders, such as a rape victim hearing about a report of a recent sexual assault. Although the individual may not be directly tied to the report, it could spark memories of her assault and cause her to relive the event, often referred to as a “flashback”. This can cause an individual to experience intense feelings of fear, helplessness, and horror similar to how she felt when the initial event took place.
Avoidance symptoms refer to an individual’s efforts to avoid situations that may trigger memories of the traumatic event. This could include avoiding places where the trauma occurred along with avoiding specific TV programs that discuss or incorporate activities that could trigger a memory. The individual may also seem “numb”, detached, or extremely distant with her emotions in order to avoid triggering a memory.
PTSD also causes an extremely high level of alertness, known as increased emotional arousal, which can affect an individual’s sleep, cause outbursts of anger and hostility, and make it difficult for her to concentrate.
How to Cope with PTSD
Living with PTSD can make even the simplest everyday activities a struggle. If stress and/or other problems caused by a tragic or traumatic event affect an individual’s life, she should first seek help with a health care professional. Once this has occurred, the individual struggling with PTSD can take some of the following actions to help her cope with stress and/or anxiety:
- Reach out and join a support group
- Practice self care
- Break the cycle
Individuals struggling with mental health issues, such as PTSD, often find themselves facing stigma and battling whether or not they should reach out to others. However, reaching out to someone or joining a support group can help individuals receive added support from peers who have also experienced the same issues. By talking with them they are able to understand that although they feel isolated at times, they are not alone. Reaching out to a loved one and/or family member can also give individuals with PTSD a strong foundation and support network to turn to when they are struggling.
Taking care of one’s self is not a selfish act, in fact it is one of the most unselfish tasks an individual can do for both herself and her family. This means getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy meals, exercising, and taking adequate time to relax. Avoiding committing to so many social obligations can help an individual avoid feeling overwhelmed with both her schedule and being in large groups of individuals. Taking care of yourself, in addition to incorporating a healthy lifestyle, also means following the treatment plan doctors helped establish, taking the proper medications, learning about your diagnosis, and avoiding self-medicating.
Anytime an individual starts to feel overwhelmed or that her stress and anxiety are increasing at a steady rate, she should remove herself from the situation, even if for a brief moment. Try focusing on something else, such as breathing or even counting one’s steps. Breaking the cycle of flashbacks and anxiety can give the individual a sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing she can learn to manage her symptoms, even if it’s one small victory at a time.