Understanding Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress
Traumatic experiences inevitably have a significant impact on people’s lives. Events such as abuse, assault, injury, accidents, natural disaster, and war are by their very nature overwhelming and difficult to deal with. It is normal to have a wide range of responses following a traumatic experience. Common reactions include feeling tense and on edge, numb, shocked, fearful, angry, irritable, sad, guilty, and lacking in interest and motivation. It is also normal to experience difficulty concentrating, and to feel as though you are in a fog.
In the period following a trauma, support, patience, acceptance, and freedom to respond in your own way are very important. For some people, professional help is also useful. Others prefer to process their experience in their own way and in their own time.
For many people, given time and understanding, their emotional reactions to a trauma settle to manageable levels, over days, weeks, or months. Gradually finding ways to come to terms with what happened, they manage to carry on with their lives.
For others, however, strong reactions to a trauma persist. When strong post-traumatic reactions endure for more than three months, and interfere with a person’s life, the person is said to have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing symptoms, such as unwanted intrusive thoughts and memories of the trauma, nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of re-experiencing the event, physically or emotionally, often triggered by reminders of the original experience.
- Symptoms of heightened arousal, such as feeling constantly on alert for danger, being easily startled, being irritable or having angry outbursts, having difficulty sleeping, or difficulty concentrating.
- Symptoms related to avoidance and “switching off”, such as trying to avoid people, places, activities, thoughts, or conversations that remind you of the trauma; difficulty recalling important aspects of the traumatic event; diminished interest in your usual activities; feeling detached or estranged from others; feeling emotionally numb, such as difficulty having loving or tender feelings; or finding it difficult to envision a normal future for yourself.
Sometimes these symptoms appear shortly after the trauma, and sometimes they appear after a delay, up to months or years later.
If you are experiencing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, effective treatment helps you to understand your reactions, and to process the trauma in such a way that you are able to come to terms with it so that it intrudes less on your day-to-day experience. Therapy also allows you to regain a sense of equilibrium and stability, and to take part in your life with renewed peace and engagement.
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