Discover Therapy Blog

Recent events and PTSD

As we watch the news about the violence and threats in our society, you might wonder whether the people who experience those events will have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). It is quite possible and it is a condition that can affect a person in every aspect of life. Let's look at what PTSD means and how it shows up in thoughts and behaviors.

First, PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. That last symptom seems like a catch-all term because "uncontrollable thoughts" may be practically subconscious (such as avoiding places or situation that are reminders of the trauma) or blatant (such as having anxious thoughts that a threat is real and the resulting anxiety).

It is important to realize that PTSD is a term people use fairy commonly, but to be diagnosed with PTSD a person must have consistent symptoms over a certain period of time (minimum) usually with significant impact on daily life. One may experience PTSD-type symptoms but not meet criteria for the disorder, or the person might heal from the trauma through immediate help or resilience.

I explain PTSD and trauma as more than thoughts that are disturbing. Trauma is stored in the body, and a person "remembers" traumatic events first through signals in the body that are activated by triggers, which means a person can have a physical reaction before the person even knows why (as in mentally aware of one's behaviors.) Think of a person who ducks for safety when they hear a firecracker -- it's not the fear of the firecracker (usually) , it's the sound that reminds them of a prior traumatic event when they needed to duck for safety.

Not every person will develop a diagnosis of PTSD after a traumatic event. Some people will experience fear and anxiety for a few weeks , then carry on with life -- changed and with the memories but not affected every time they have reminders of the trauma. Those people may be resilient because of strong support from friends, family or community, or generally healthy in mind, body, and/or spirit. for others, the trauma will be a constant challenge. Therapy can help. I practice EMDR which is effective in over 80% of clients. Look for more post about EMDR in the near future!

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