It isn’t in my past, it’s in my everyday.
There’s a mental health condition that’s not often talked about and can sometimes be misunderstood: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that can occur when someone has experienced or witnessed an event that threatened their life or safety. PTSD is most commonly associated with soldiers of war, but there are many other things that can bring it on. Here are some life events that can trigger PTSD:
- being involved in a car crash
- being violently attacked, raped, or assaulted
- being abused, harassed or bullied
- being kidnapped or held hostage
- seeing other people hurt or killed
- surviving a natural disaster, such as flooding or an earthquake
- being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition
- losing someone close to you in particularly upsetting circumstances
It’s particularly important for us girls to talk about this topic because we are twice as likely to develop PTSD as males. According to PTSD research, around 10% of women have PTSD sometime in their lives compared to 4% of men. PTSD can often be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Everyone’s experience is slightly different but there are some general symptoms common in almost all PTSD cases. There are 4 categories of responses:
Flashbacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts/memories.
Avoidance of talking or thinking about the event, and avoidance of people and places that remind you of the event.
Panic, anxiety, extreme alertness, disturbed sleep, irritability, aggressiveness, and self-destructive behaviour.
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Hopelessness, negative thoughts about yourself/the world, difficulty maintaining relationships, and feeling detached.
Along with the traumatic event itself, people who experience PTSD also have these symptoms to deal with which can be extremely distressing. But there are ways to overcome it.
Neuroscientist Dr. Swaab describes PTSD as a sign that the amygdala (a very clever little part of our brain that looks after emotions and memories) has done it’s work too well, and that it just forgot to let us know that we’re not in danger any more.
- Get to know your triggers
- Talk it out with someone you trust.
- Be patient with yourself; you’re healing.
- Look after yourself; eat well, get enough sleep, and move your body.
- Check out peer or specialist support if you need to:
Learning how to manage it.
There is an abundance of information online which can be overwhelming so here’s some quick tips on how to deal with flashbacks:
- Focus on your breathing. get yourself into a seated position, both feet on the ground, hands on your lap, eyes closed.
- Take 5 long, slow, deep breaths – fully in so that your lungs are full up to the brim, and then fully out until all the air is gone. You should feel calmer within a few minutes.
- Remind yourself that you are safe now, and that the trauma is in the past.
- Self-care/comfort. Do something that brings you joy and a sense of calm. Paint your nails, cuddle your pet, curl up on the couch with a blanket.
- Keep a journal. This will help you to express your thoughts and feelings. Journalling also helps us to spot patterns and find triggers.
Hearing others’ personal stories can really help:
Here’s a worksheet you can either print off or replicate in your journal:
Do you know someone with PTSD but don’t know how to help? Here’s 5 simple steps:
- Listen – sometimes you don’t need to say a word
- Don’t judge – their experience is very real and their response is valid
- Learn what their triggers are – get in tune with them so you can help them
- Respect their space – they might need space, let them tell you that, and then respect it
- Look after yourself – you’re going to worry about them, that’s ok, mind yourself too
- “We Are Our Brains” by Dr. Swaab