What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after distressing events
- Persistent feelings of panic, flashbacks and nightmares around a past traumatic event
- People who have experienced a distressing event may find they face emotional challenges long after the incident took place
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or
PTSD can affect anyone. People experience PTSD after a traumatic event or events in their life. PTSD can occur immediately after a traumatic experience, but it often affects people long after the event has passed.
A trauma is a shocking and dangerous event that you see or that happens to you. PTSD can be triggered by lots of different experiences.
It varies from person to person. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks and nightmares around the trauma, as well as difficulty concentrating and carrying out everyday activities.
Most people who go through a traumatic event will experience distress, however this usually lessens over time. People dealing with PTSD have intense symptoms that can continue long after the trauma is over.
If you think that you or someone you care about is struggling with PTSD, you should talk to someone. You can contact the CALM helpline here.
How does PTSD feel?
PTSD can come on suddenly, and flashbacks can often be vivid. People often feel like they’ve been taken back to the exact moment they experienced the trauma. Because these feelings are so intense and real, people often experience physical symptoms too, like sweating, pain or nausea.
PTSD can feel isolating and make it difficult to reach out for support. It can feel as if no one understands how you feel, but you’re not alone. Altogether, it is estimated that around 2 million people in the UK have experienced PTSD.
If you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, you may feel some of the following:
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Avoidance and numbing – trying to distract yourself
- Feeling on high alert most of the time
- Muscle aches and other pain
- Feeling easily upset/angry
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling jumpy
- Self-destructive behaviour
1 in 2
people will experience Trauma at some point in their life
Why do people get PTSD?
People can develop PTSD for a variety of reasons, but anyone who has experienced a traumatic situation can develop this disorder.
It may be a result of one traumatic event, or ongoing trauma. Examples of events that can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder include:
- Violent assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- Car accidents
- Health problems
- Childbirth experiences
- Military combat
Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop days, weeks, or even years after a disturbing experience and it’s estimated that 1 in 3 people who have gone through something traumatic, will struggle with some level of PTSD. It’s unclear why some people develop the condition and others don’t, but it’s important to remember that if you are experiencing it, you aren’t alone.
Where can I find help?
- Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our trained helpline workers are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
- Outside of these hours, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
- Contact your GP for an appointment.
After a difficult or distressing event, it’s normal to experience upsetting or confusing thoughts. If these feelings do not fade after a few weeks, or if symptoms are particularly disruptive, you should speak with your GP.
Dealing with PTSD
No matter when PTSD develops, even years after the traumatic event,
it can be successfully treated. Treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are and how soon after a trauma they develop.
If you decide to seek help, you may be offered any of the following as treatment options:
- Watchful waiting – keeping track of your symptoms to monitor whether they improve or worsen without treatment.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a therapy that aims to help you manage symptoms by changing the way you think and behave.
- Exposure therapy – a behavioural therapy that helps to reduce your fear or anxiety by getting you to confront the thoughts, feelings or situations you feel apprehensive about.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy – a behavioural therapy that combines mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance.
- Medication – many people manage PTSD successfully using medication.
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage and acupuncture can also help alleviate some symptoms of PTSD. While these will not resolve post-traumatic stress disorder, they may help you to manage stress and the symptoms surrounding it.
If you’re struggling with PTSD Symptoms, some of the following might help:
- Try to bring yourself back to the moment. If your trauma or flashbacks feel very real, try to use your senses to remind you of where you are and that you are safe. Think about the smells, sights and sounds that are going on, what’s different? Try to bring yourself back to the moment.
- Positive affirmations and encouragement. You got this! No really, you do. Use positive language to let yourself know you’re ok. Find what works for you from ‘I’m safe’, to ‘I can deal with this’, and everything in between (including swears if it helps!)
- You’re not alone. Join a group where people may be having a similar experience to you. Social support is great for mental wellbeing and support groups can offer a safe space to share your feelings.
- Give relaxation techniques a go. It might not seem like your bag, but meditation, deep breathing, visualisation and progressive muscle relaxation can be useful tools.
- Self-care. Looking after yourself can help you cope with stress. Plenty of sleep, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet can make it easier to manage your PTSD symptoms.
If you’re finding things difficult, you can also refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service through the NHS, here.
Talking about PTSD
If you’re experiencing PTSD it can be difficult to put how you’re feeling into words. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation about how you’re feeling with friends, family, or a professional:
“I’ve been really struggling since (_) happened, I could do with your support.”
“I don’t feel ready to talk about the cause, but I think I may be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I need support”
You're not Alone
“I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I've always been open about how I was feeling and tried to seek help from the right people when I needed it. I was often ridiculed for speaking up and felt unafraid to say how I'm doing. It made speaking up harder to know that I could be bullied for doing it. The problem, however, isn’t with me, or even them, it was to do with our culture and the stigma around speaking up. Being silent was confused with being strong. As the conversation has changed, some of those same people have opened up to me about being jealous that I felt I could say something”
Header Illustration by Saskia Pomeroy
Worried about someone? Find information and advice for someone you care about here.