Trauma describes an experience that is terrifying, which is underpinned by a feeling of helplessness. There are many ways an individual can be traumatised. You may be directly subjected to a traumatic event or you may witness the trauma vicariously or directly. Trauma can be the result of a single life-threatening incident, such as a major car accident or bushfire; or something that occurs repeatedly, such as being part of a war, family violence, and sexual or physical abuse.

Everyone reacts to trauma differently. Some people may recover fairly well; others may struggle to resume their lives. The impact of trauma depends on our age, the severity and duration of the trauma and the level of support around us. Trauma in early life – while our brains are still developing and when we are trying to make sense of the world – tends to have a greater impact on us, especially if a parent or caregiver abuses a child.

We expect an individual exposed to trauma to feel a range of difficult emotions. However, if difficult feelings persist and life does not return to normal, then you may be experiencing a type of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).

What are the signs and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)?

  • Are you jumpy and feel on edge? You may be on high alert, scanning for danger wherever you are. You may struggle to switch off and re-experience the trauma via intrusive thoughts or images; also known as flashbacks.
  • Mood swings and difficult emotions. You may be highly anxious or often irritable. You may get agitated easily and feel angry about what has happened to you. Or, you may feel numb and detached. You may feel like you are in a fog and going through the day on autopilot, without actually being present.
  • Physical symptoms. Being on high alert and in an anxious state puts our body into a ‘fight or flight’ state. Your heart may race, your stomach may churn and you may be sweating. You may also feel exhausted and experience headaches, nausea and general muscle aches and pains.
  • Avoidance. Have you found yourself avoiding anything to do with the traumatic experience? For example, you may find yourself avoiding the people who were there, the place where it happened and anything at all that is related to the incident.
  • Sleep disturbances. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) impacts on sleep. It is difficult to relax and your mind may race. You may find yourself going over and over what happened; the unwanted thoughts and images replaying in your mind. Nightmares, panic and night sweats are also commonly seen in Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). While sleep is disturbed, you may also spend excessive time in bed. Sleep can also be a way to avoid your frightening world. The anxiety also experienced during the day is exhausting.

How does Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) affect me?

  • PTSD affects your self-esteem and confidence. Your trust in yourself may be shattered – for example, you may doubt your own judgement and struggle to make decisions. People exposed to trauma often blame themselves for the event, viewing themselves as ‘worthless’, contrary to the reality that a victim is never at fault. Low self-esteem can also lead to poor choices in romantic partners. If you have been abused emotionally, physically or sexually, you can be vulnerable to re-partnering with a person who is abusive.
  • Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) impacts our relationships, especially if the trauma occurred within a relationship – for example, family violence or sexual abuse. Trauma affects our ability to trust people. You might expect to be betrayed or hurt. As well, you may often feel irritable and lash out at those you love. You may find it difficult to truly connect to others and avoid sexual and emotional intimacy.
  • Poor school or work performance. Trauma can affect your ability to concentrate; you may be scattered and disorganised. Motivation can also wane. You may take frequent sick days and turn up to work or school late. This can all lead to falling behind.
  • Impulsive behaviour. Are you drinking or using drugs to numb your pain or escape difficult feelings? Or, maybe you are self-harming in an attempt to reduce distressing emotions, or to feel ‘something’ rather than your experience of numbness. You may be starting to give up hope in your life and feel so detached that you no longer care what happens. This may result in you engaging in risky behaviours, such as driving recklessly.

How can I treat my Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)?

Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) (including Exposure Therapy) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) are the two main therapies that have been proven by research to effectively treat Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

We are experienced and trained in treating Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). If you are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress and would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.

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