What Is PTSD?

June is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) awareness month. PTSD is a fairly recent diagnosis.  It’s often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.  Therefore, it’s important to raise awareness of it. PTSD is a condition that some people develop after experiencing, witnessing or learning about the occurrence of traumatic events. These events may have been life-threatening or have led to serious injury. Examples of traumatic events that could lead to PTSD include road traffic accidents, natural disasters, war, abuse, violence, or medical emergencies and complications. People who work in first-responder professions such as the army, police, fire-fighters or ambulance staff may experience PTSD through their work.  However, PTSD affects anyone from any background at any time in their lives.

It’s normal to find experiencing a traumatic event distressing. We might feel helpless.  It may seem that we don’t have control.  Or we may lack trust in our ability to cope or the ability of others to support us. Following a traumatic event, we can experience anxiety, low mood, and difficulty sleeping. Disturbing memories of the event may continue to bother us for weeks. However, if these symptoms last more than a few weeks or if they start to interfere with our day-to-day lives then we may have PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD can also be triggered years after the distressing event. If you think you might have PTSD then it’s advisable to seek support from a doctor or mental health professional who can diagnose you and recommend the most appropriate treatment.

Symptoms Of PTSD

PTSD has a variety of symptoms.  There are commonalities, however, the diagnosis is experienced differently by different people. Someone with PTSD might experience nightmares of the event. The nightmares may or may not be accompanied by flashbacks, a feeling of trauma happening again. Someone with PTSD might start to avoid reminders of the event, so they may travel a different way to work or avoid driving. A person with PTSD may also become hyper-aroused to potential danger to themselves or others. Someone with PTSD can also feel emotionally numb and have difficulty identifying with their experience of trauma. They might struggle to express their feelings, and this can lead to irritability and stress. Substance abuse or suicidal thoughts can be more common in people with PTSD.

Why Does PTSD Happen?

PTSD occurs due to an error in memory storage. Usually, when we experience an event we give a clear ‘beginning, middle, and end’ narrative to the event. This linear narrative enables us to process the event and embed it in our long-term memory. Once the event has been processed and stored in long-term memory, when we think about it again we know that it happened in the past.  This is the normal way that our brains store memories.

However, in PTSD the trauma of the situation leads our brains to be unable to process the event normally.  The memories of the event then lack a clear narrative structure and don’t get stored away neatly in one place. Instead, the memories become fragmented. Following this, we may respond to the event as if it was still happening now. Our feelings of re-experiencing the event are our mind’s attempts to store away the memory but it has become stuck and so we’re unable to complete this process.

What Is CPTSD?

CPTSD is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In CPTSD the person experiences symptoms similar to PTSD but they may also have different experiences. These other symptoms can include difficulty in controlling their emotions, feeling very distrustful, a sense of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and issues in relationships. Ongoing exposure to traumatic circumstances causes CPTSD. This differs from PTSD, which is usually caused by a single traumatic event. Examples of causes of CPTSD include childhood abuse or neglect, ongoing bullying, or domestic violence. Due to the difficulties in managing emotions or relationships, CPTSD is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. As with PTSD, if you think you may have symptoms of CPTSD it’s important to reach out for support from a doctor or mental health professional. This will enable you to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment For PTSD and CPTSD

Trauma-focused therapy can often successfully treat PTSD and CPTSD. Both CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) are effective in the treatment of PTSD and CPTSD. These therapies allow individuals to successfully process their memories and heal from the trauma. It’s important to find a qualified CBT or EMDR practitioner who’s also experienced in treating trauma. The treatment for PTSD is usually quicker than the treatment for CPTSD.  This is because PTSD tends to involve just one event whereas CPTSD involves various events. However, both have good outcomes when treated appropriately. In addition to trauma-focused therapy, medication is an option so remember to talk with your doctor.

It’s best not to deal with any type of diagnosis alone. If you have this diagnosis or think you do, it can help to reach out for support. However, there are some techniques you can use for self-help. Both diagnoses can lead to anxiety and hyperarousal.  Therefore, calming these responses through relaxation can make it easier to deal with the diagnosis and with day-to-day life. You might want to try calming activities. These activities might include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, walking in nature, journaling, creative pursuits, gentle exercise such as swimming, or listening to relaxing music.

How Can Online-Therapy.com Help?

If this article has resonated with you and you’re wondering if you may have PTSD or CPTSD then Online-Therapy.com can help. By signing up with our program you can choose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalized toolkit to support you and guide you in the right direction for treatment. You can choose to have your therapy sessions by video, phone or text chat (couple counselling will be video only).  This makes Online-Therapy.com a flexible and convenient option.

At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic package to enable you to feel at your best. Our approach includes regular video, phone or text chat sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and worksheet support, journaling and yoga.