While many people still associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with military veterans, it’s widely shared by people who have never set foot in a war zone. In fact, most people living with PTSD have no idea they even suffer from the disorder. But unaddressed PTSD can wreak havoc on your life, and its impact is so pervasive that it can significantly impair an individual’s ability to make constructive changes and improve their well-being. In my day-to-day work with clients, I often identify the symptoms and signs of PTSD permeating lives and add to the burden these individuals carry as they work to improve themselves.
As a Board-Certified Holistic Nurse, I believe that a better quality of life (physically, emotionally, or spiritually) cannot be obtained without developing a well-rounded understanding of the anxieties and depression currently experienced by the individual and the underlying circumstances and contributors aggravating those psychological challenges. This article is designed to allow readers to consider what their life may look like through the lens of PTSD, hopefully empowering individuals to seek help for unaddressed trauma histories, which could still impact their daily lives.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for “post-traumatic stress disorder” and is a psychiatric condition common amongst individuals who have experienced a traumatic event.
Normally, our experiences get processed in real-time as we experience them. When events are too overwhelming, they are saved as unprocessed chunks of experience. This is why, for instance, terrifying moments in your life get remembered like a video, where you can sometimes remember entire periods, including what you saw, smelled, felt, heard, and tasted. PTSD results in physical changes to the structure of your brain and has been demonstrated using brain scans.
We often associate PTSD with war veterans because of how researchers and psychologists first became aware of the disorder. During World War One, soldiers exhibited a mysterious set of symptoms that could not be explained according to available medicinal understandings. By 1914, the term “shell shock” became a common term for this newly identified condition, in which mental confusion, tremors, severe nightmares, exhaustion, impaired senses, and other physical and mental symptoms could recognize.
Now, over a hundred years later, psychologists and researchers realize that PTSD can result from any form of trauma severe enough to overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope with the trauma.
A number of events can result in the trauma that ultimately leads to PTSD, and some examples include:
- A near-death experience
- Domestic or interpersonal violence
- Sexual assault
- Childhood trauma
- Memories of war or significant political unrest
- Natural disasters
- Witnessing violence
- Legal violence, such as a lawsuit or traumatic divorce
Ongoing, severe trauma, including childhood abuse and neglect, can result in a more pervasive, life-changing form of PTSD known as complex PTSD, or c-PTSD. Unfortunately, significant numbers of people experience these and other forms of trauma. As a result, experts estimate that PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of adults every year, and they also believe that women are twice as likely to suffer from it. While we often associate the disorder with veterans according to the more tell-tale signs of PTSD and flashbacks of the trauma, there is a slew of more subtle symptoms that individuals often miss due to undiagnosed PTSD.
Silent Suffering with PTSD
According to estimates, six in 100 people will suffer from PTSD because of at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. It’s important to recognize that people experience PTSD in degrees. Our minds and bodies have varying thresholds and perceptions of stress, meaning that two people could be exposed to the same traumatic experience, while one will develop PTSD, but the other will not.
If you have developed PTSD, do not blame yourself or see yourself as weak! The reality is that people are different and experience life in different ways. No one way is better or worse than another. They give rise to different types of physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. It’s also important to know that a person may not initially show the signs of PTSD after a traumatic event. The challenges can also accumulate, meaning that the interruption or dysfunction in an individual’s daily life may not become apparent until years afterward.
Some more subtle yet tell-tale signs of PTSD include challenges with ongoing interpersonal relationships or daily routines. Medical experts on PTSD have distinguished four manifestations of PTSD symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts
Intrusive thoughts occur with stressful or unwanted thoughts enter our minds at inappropriate moments, disrupting the flow of our daily activities. Intrusive thoughts can refer to recurring anxious or fearful thoughts, daydreams, or nightmares. They can also exist as flashbacks, where memories of the trauma replay in our minds, and these are often powerful enough to make us feel like we are re-living the experience.
It’s not uncommon to avoid places where unpleasant memories occur. But this is all in degrees, and only a professional with training in PTSD can help you distinguish whether your avoidance is severe enough to suggest PTSD. There are also various types of avoidance associated with PTSD.
Sometimes, our avoidance can become so deeply ingrained in our lives that it causes a more extreme and disruptive impact on us, driving us to numb our emotions, turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, sugar, vaping, or even excessive shopping to cope. It can also alter our behavior, making us reluctant to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs in the face of potential conflict. This is especially important: remember that conflict is a part of life. No conflict likely means that you are devaluing your thoughts and ideas, potentially due to traumatic events in your past.
- Physical and emotional responses
Our behaviors may also turn self-destructive if we have PTSD since we may seek to attribute some cause to the traumatic experience, which inevitably leads us to blame ourselves. As a result, it’s not uncommon for those with PTSD to consciously or subconsciously sabotage themselves and potentially mistreat their bodies.
- Negative changes in mood or reasoning (these changes can present as sudden changes)
Ongoing anxiety and depression are also common conditions that develop out of PTSD. It is common for those with PTSD to have incredibly low self-esteem that impairs their ability to develop healthy and fulfilling relationships.
Treatment for PTSD
Fortunately, while PTSD can significantly affect your health and wellbeing, there are ways to treat it and reclaim the power that traumatic events have taken over your life.
There are several avenues for treatment of PTSD:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT involves identifying maladaptive behavioral patterns and beliefs resulting from the traumatic event and surrounding issues. By discussing memories, thoughts, and emotions, the therapist can help restructure your thinking and provide the tools to recognize and diffuse those negative and destructive thoughts, preventing them from causing further strife.
- Exposure Therapy. Exposure therapy allows you to re-examine your trauma responses through simulated traumatic events conducted in a safe and secure place. These simulations allow the patient to confront frightening memories and triumph over them.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR may sound strange, but the interesting blend of exposure therapy and guided eye movements has been demonstrated to improve the experiences of those suffering from PTSD. The unique method allows individuals to process their traumatic memories and alter their behaviors towards memories and reminders of the trauma.
- Medication. While medications prove useful, their effects wear off once they are no longer taken. Therefore, medication should be viewed as something other than a stand-alone, long-term solution. Still, they are a great tool for offering immediate relief when life circumstances become overwhelming and can help give back the physical and emotional resources needed to work through traumas.
If you may be suffering from PTSD, I urge you to contact a licensed psychologist or counselor to begin working through your trauma. I also must caution you that the results of therapy are not immediate, and over the course of therapy, patients often report feeling worse before they feel better. This is understandable since each form of treatment with a licensed psychologist will involve revisiting those painful memories and emotions.
Addressing Your PTSD Using the Burn Bright Way™
As a Board-Certified Holistic Nurse, I can help. While mainstream therapy focuses exclusively on the mind and follows a more medium-to-long-term treatment focus, holistic wellness remains just as focused on your wellbeing in the present as any moment in the future. The challenges associated with PTSD can be debilitating, and holistic care providers provide the support and guidance needed to make immediate improvements in your life. These include stress management techniques, energy healing modalities, spiritual care, and holistic wellness training.
If you are suffering from PTSD or c-PTSD, you are not alone, and there is a path for you to get relief, live a happier, healthier life, and have peace. I’ve done it. My clients have done it. And You can do it too.