Also known as Post-Traumatic Stress, it can occur after a significant incident that is out of the ordinary. It has been most commonly associated with war and soldiers, however ANY difficult experience in our lives can have a knock on effect to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Some examples include:
- Being attacked
- Being assaulted
- Being abused emotionally or physically
- Sexual abuse
- An accident
- A house fire
- An incident at work
An initial reaction to such an event might be shock and disbelief. Over time, this can fade. More troubling thoughts and feelings can emerge. These might include anger, helplessness or fear. It can be difficult to process your memories of the event, or understand what happened and why.
You might re-experience the incident through intrusive flashbacks or nightmares. Following such an experience, it is also common to avoid things that remind you of the incident. Often after such an incident, it is difficult to understand what happened and reason through why it might have occurred. Recalling and trying to process these events may cause more upset and distress. It can, however, be helpful in order to eventually resolve these difficult emotions.
Feelings you may experience
- Fear/being scared
- Emotionally numb
Physical symptoms you may experience
- Heart racing
- Disturbed sleep pattern
- Tense muscles
Thoughts you may experience
- I’m to blame for what happened
- I’m out of control
- Why has this happened?
- Something awful might happen
- Flashbacks or nightmares of the event
- It’s going to happen again
Behaviour patterns you may experience
- Restless and distracted
- Angry outbursts and antisocial behaviour
- Avoiding social contact
- Hyper-alert and easily startled
- Avoiding things relating to the trauma
Self-care when dealing with any traumatic experience
- Focus on your breathing. You may stop breathing normally when scared and this increases feelings of fear and panic, so it can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to ten. See our relaxation page
- Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch a particular object during a flashback. This might be something you decide to carry in your pocket or bag.
- Tell yourself that you are safe. It is important to tell yourself that the trauma is over and you are safe now. It can be hard to think in this way during a flashback, so it could help to write down or record some useful phrases at a time when you’re feeling better.
- Comfort yourself. For example, you could curl up in a blanket, cuddle a pet, listen to soothing music or watch a favourite film. If you’re out then try taking a scarf or hankie smelling of something soothing, like lavender or perhaps a smell that reminds you of home or a safe space.
- Keep a diary. Making a note of what happens when you have a flashback could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you. This will help you to notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.
- Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can keep you connected to the present and help you cope with flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. For example, you could describe your surroundings out loud or count objects of a particular type or colour. See relaxation.
Massage or yoga have proven to be very helpful in activating the body’s relaxation response and ease symptoms of PTSD as we hold incredible amounts of tension in our bodies.
How counselling can help with PTSD, abuse and trauma
A person with PTSD may need to talk about the traumatic event over and over again. This is a normal part of the healing process, and helps by desensitising from the trauma. Professional support gives you the opportunity to speak freely, safely, without fear of “upsetting” or “burdening people.” It’s beneficial to have a space where you can explore your experiences and emotions openly and look to leave it in the room. Challenging the repetitive behaviours and triggers to help change the thoughts currently associated with the triggers.
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