Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by distressing or frightening events. It can develop immediately after experiencing the event, or even months/years later. PTSD can be caused by experiencing trauma directly or indirectly
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- Whilst it is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts and experiences following a traumatic event, you should visit your GP if these symptoms are still present more than four weeks after the event.
- Learn some specific techniques to manage flashbacks such as: focusing on your breathing, carrying an object that brings you to the present moment, telling yourself you’re safe, comforting yourself, keeping a diary, and learning grounding techniques. For more information see Mind
- You may find it helpful to join a self-help or support group. There are many resources that can be shared that will help you manage your PTSD. For examples of where to find these groups please see: Combat Stress, Rape Crisis, Victim Support, and CRUSE.
- Whilst undergoing treatment for PTSD, ensure to provide yourself with plenty of self-care. Recovery can be difficult and tiring so it’s important to look after all aspects of your physical and mental health during this time.
- Learn to identify your triggers and share these with those around you. This can help both yourself and others to better manage your anxiety.
- Following a traumatic event, most people will experience a short-term stress reaction, which usually resolves itself without the need for professional help. Every two in three people who continue to experience difficulties after a traumatic event will get better without treatment within a few weeks.
- People experiencing PTSD often find themselves reliving the traumatic event through nightmares or flashbacks.
- PTSD can be caused by having experienced a traumatic event; witnessed a traumatic event in person; learned someone close to you experienced or was threatened by a traumatic event; or if you are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (e.g. first responders).
- Examples of traumatic events which could lead to experiences of PTSD include: accidents, bereavement, medical emergencies, violence, natural disasters, war, prolonged bullying or neglect and abuse.
- Psychological therapy has been shown to be effective for those experiencing PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by a single or multiple distressing and/or frightening events. It can develop immediately after experiencing the event, or even months or years later in some cases of complex PTSD. Most of us will experience a short-term distress reaction in response to an event which we find traumatic. However, this usually resolves without the need for professional intervention. Following a traumatic event, approximately two in three people who experience initial difficulties coping will get better without treatment within a few weeks. For one in three of these people, this reaction can be longer lasting and professional help is usually required.
PTSD can be caused by a variety of different experiences including: direct experience of a traumatic event; witnessing a traumatic event in person; learning that someone close to you experienced or was threatened by a traumatic event; or being repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (e.g. first responders). Examples of the types of events which could cause this reaction include: accidents, bereavement, medical emergencies, violence, natural disasters, war, prolonged bullying, or neglect and abuse. PTSD can be an incredibly difficult and distressing experience which can drastically restrict daily functioning and well-being. It often involves reliving the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks and nightmares and can be paired with feelings of isolation, irritability, and guilt. Whilst the symptoms can be severe and debilitating there are a number of successful treatments available.
For most people the symptoms of PTSD will develop within the first month after a traumatic event. These symptoms are usually experienced as either constant and severe, or periods where symptoms are better and worse. Whilst the specific symptoms can vary between individuals, symptoms of PTSD usually fall into the following categories:
- Re-experiencing - where a person involuntarily relives the trauma as a flashback, through nightmares, repetitive and distressing images or as a physical sensation (e.g. pain, sweating, trembling etc.). The individual may also experience negative thoughts or questions about the event which can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame.
- Avoidance and emotional numbing - avoidance of reminders of the trauma (e.g. avoiding a person or place who reminds you of the event). Emotional numbing is where an individual may try to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This can lead to isolation and withdrawal from others or activities which previously may have been enjoyed.
- Hyperarousal - is where an individual may feel easily startled, highly anxious, and constantly aware of potential threats and therefore may find it difficult to relax. Hyperarousal in turn can lead to irritability, feelings of anger, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
- Other difficulties - include other mental health difficulties such as low mood or motivation, anxiety, phobias, drug or alcohol misuse, self-harming, or destructive behaviour. Physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches can also be experienced.
The recommended treatments for PTSD are psychological therapies and medication. However, if you have been experiencing the symptoms for less than four weeks your physician will normally take a watchful waiting approach before proceeding with treatment. This is because two out of three people experiencing symptoms after trauma will get better without intervention. For those whose symptoms persist, acknowledging your difficulties and receiving help from a professional is often the only effective way to treat PTSD.
The most common and effective psychological therapies used to treat PTSD are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), and group therapy. Using CBT to treat PTSD aims to help you manage your symptoms by changing how you think about the trauma and act as a result of it. It usually helps you to come to terms with the traumatic event through a process called re-living and people are supported to gain control over any fears which reduces distress. Similarly, EMDR aims to treat PTSD with the same goal of adjusting the way you appraise the trauma. EMDR involves side to side eye movements during active recall of the traumatic event. It is believed to be a way of re-processing the traumatic event experienced. Group therapy is usually considered helpful as it allows you to share your experiences with others who are also struggling with PTSD. It can help you to manage your symptoms and better understand the condition as a whole. Medication may be used alone, or in conjunction with psychological therapy to improve PTSD symptoms.
How to get help
In order to access treatment or support for PTSD, you could start by talking to your GP as they will be able to refer you to a specialist for further assessment. Typically, 70% of people who experience PTSD never seek help for their symptoms. Whilst It can be difficult to start the conversation, it is important to try not to let avoidance or shame get in the way of getting the help you may need. Experiencing PTSD is not uncommon in those who experience trauma or a life-threatening event, and by starting a conversation with a friend, family member or healthcare professional, you will be taking the first step towards recovery and improving your well-being.
Our therapists specialising in post-traumatic stress disorder
Because we are online we can work with the Best therapists from across the country. Every HelloSelf therapist is an accredited psychotherapist who is both HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) registered and a member of the BPS (British Psychological Society).
Every HelloSelf therapist is interviewed and checked by our team & Clinical Director. We pride ourselves on working with the best Therapists in the UK, and our assessment process ensures we provide only the highest standards for our members.
Dr Kathy Chapman
I like to work collaboratively with clients, using their perspective, goals and outcomes.
Dr Rumina Taylor
I’m qualified in: Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing.