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NOT ALL WOUNDS ARE VISIBLE : The Invisible Torment of PTSD

June is PTSD awareness month and with a growing number of people plagued with this mental health condition it's important to bring attention to this wide spread issue so we recognize it and get the needed support to find healing.

Many connect PTSD with war trauma or being in a war-type situation but in fact, most cases of PTSD do not include military combat although it often does happen. PTSD comes up more frequently with physical and sexual assaults, motor vehicle accidents, natural disasters, or a wide range of life threatening events such as an unexpected or severe injury, terrorist attack or a dangerous encounter. Emotionally threatening events such as bullying or racism can also produce cases of PTSD. The threats of death or the belief that one will die is the common belief that leads to PTSD. Despite living through the traumatic encounter the effects of threat remain because the brain and body remember. PTSD symptoms typically come up immediately or shortly after a traumatic event but may come up months or even years later triggered by another life event reminiscent of the trauma. Being aware of what to look for emotionally and physically can help you or someone you love get the support they need to overcome this debilitating condition.

Of those who experience a traumatic event, it is thought that 30% of them go on to develop the symptoms of PTSD.

What to look for in the symptoms of PTSD?

The main four types of symptoms:

1. Hyperarousal - Feeling that you are constantly aware of threats and feel quite jumpy/easily startled or "on-edge." This often leads to angry outbursts and irritability as you are more sensitive and overly responsive to stimuli and events in the world around you. This is typically the first sign of PTSD and it's directly linked to activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Due to this vigilance and hyper-awareness, sleep is often disturbed and one has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep as the nervous system is on high alert and does not believe it's safe to rest.

2. Re-experiencing - This is where you re-live the event in the form of a nightmare, flashback or a sensation - such as a smell or a sensation on the skin. This may happen smelling a scent and being triggered to relive the trauma or hearing a car backfire and hitting the ground out of reflex. Having flashbacks or having the sensation of reliving the trauma becomes a physical reminder and activates the fight or flight response (for example, feeling a surge in the heart rate or starting to sweat.)

3. Avoidance - This can be avoiding certain people, places or circumstances that remind you of the traumatic event. You may make great efforts to drive another way to work to avoid the intersection where the accident happened or the area of town where the assault occurred or it can be avoiding watching the news or reading the newspaper to avoid coverage of war. There can also be emotional avoidance in which a person may force themselves to think about other things other than their trauma and may stop themselves when they begin to feel sadness or anger. It's common to want to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions associated with a traumatic event but when it's the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing.

4. Emotional Numbing - This is when you try to feel nothing at all - by becoming emotionally numb. You begin to isolate from social settings, close relationships and withdraw which increases depression and often causes strain in your relationships both personal and professional. The pain and overwhelm of the experience is so terrifying that it's easier to numb all emotions to avoid feeling anything at all.

Common Reactions to Traumatic Stress

The following reactions are common in someone suffering from PTSD and should not be ignored.

Physical Reactions:

* Change in sleep patterns

* Change in appetite

* Rapid, shallow breathing

* Muscle tension & soreness

* Heart palpitations/rapid heart rate

Emotional Reactions:

* Depression or low mood

* Guilt/frustration

* Feeling unsafe, hyper-vigilant

* Fear

* Anger

Mental/Cognitive Reactions:

* Confusion

* Difficulty concentrating

* Difficulty recalling details of traumatic event

* Feeling mentally "foggy"

* Sadness/tearful

Behavioral Reactions:

* Fear of being alone

* Withdrawal from others

* Angry outbursts/irritability

* Decreased energy/ambition

* Marital/relationship conflict

* Increase use of alcohol, drugs or medications

Support for PTSD is critical

If you believe you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms or reactions of PTSD it's important to seek counseling support by an experienced therapist working with trauma and it's treatment. There are effective, evidence based therapeutic interventions that focus on trauma repair that give people their lives back. One such therapy is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR.) It focuses on reprocessing the traumatic memories and creating new neuropathways in the brain that integrates new, adaptive information into the nervous system through the bilateral stimulation of eye movements or tactiles/tones. This reprocessing cuts off the charge of the trauma and the original images of the trauma, body sensations, feelings and beliefs are no longer connected to the traumatic event. Currently in trauma work, EMDR is the "power tool" we have for the treatment of PTSD and provides the needed brain repair to leave the past in the past so people can walk forward free and healed.

It is necessary to gently support those who are suffering with PTSD and to be sensitive to their triggers. The effects of PTSD are relentless and the sufferer needs great compassion, hope and support as they take the courageous steps toward healing.

To find out more about the treatment of PTSD or trauma please reach out for a confidential, free consultation to learn more.

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