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What is PTSD?

When you hear the phrase post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, the image that comes into most people’s minds is a soldier who struggles to cope with the effects of war. This isn’t surprising, as PTSD was first recognised in veterans returning from conflict. It was originally called shell shock, but the link between PTSD and the military remains strong.

However, PTSD can develop following a traumatic event of any kind, including:

  • Being involved in an accident, like a car crash

  • Being raped or sexually assaulted

  • Being abused or discriminated against

  • Surviving a natural disaster

  • Experiencing violence, including military combat or terrorist attack

  • Doing a job that exposes you to distressing things, like working in the emergency services or armed forces

  • Experiencing traumatic childbirth

  • Losing someone close to you, particularly in distressing circumstances

  • Being diagnosed with a life threatening or serious condition

PTSD can affect anyone, but you can be more likely to develop it if you don’t have a support network around you, if you are already experiencing other stress at the same time, if you have a history of anxiety of depression, or if you experience repeated traumas.

Everyone experiences PTSD differently, but there are some common symptoms that may be felt:

  • Reliving aspects of what happened - this may include flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts

  • Alertness or feeling on edge, including panicking, being easily upset or angry, disturbed sleep, aggressive behaviour or being jumpy

  • Avoiding feelings or memories that remind you of the trauma

  • Feeling physically and/or emotionally numb

  • Feeling like nobody understands, that nowhere is safe, or blaming yourself for what happened

  • Physical symptoms such as cheat pain, dizziness, stomach pain or headaches

These symptoms can quickly impact other areas of your life, like relationships, holding down a job, being able to enjoy yourself, and self-care. It’s also common to experience other mental health problems alongside PTSD, such as anxiety, depression, dissociative disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

There are techniques that may help someone to cope with PTSD – key to managing the overwhelming symptoms is to find coping methods that allow you to ride the emotions safely. This might be breathing techniques, mantras to remind yourself that you are safe, an object to carry with you to remind you of the present, grounding techniques (such as describing your surroundings out loud to distract yourself from flashbacks or intrusive thoughts) or a combination of these things. Keeping a diary can help track your emotions and the triggers for them, which can help you avoid or prepare for them.

Having a solid support network in your friends and family will be a great help, as having someone to confide in can help relieve some of the tension. You don’t have to disclose details of the trauma for people to be able to support you.

There are also treatments that may make a difference, such as medication, therapy and/or support groups like arts therapies or group support. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to go through it alone – speak to a family member, your GP, or charities specialising in trauma.

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