Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD as it is better known, is a type of anxiety disorder which mostly develops in people after they’ve witnessed or experienced horrifying events like war, homicide, natural disasters, accidents and any violent assaults.
Experiencing a traumatic event can result in various significant consequences for day to day living. It also challenges our belief about life, the world and ourselves and can make us feel extremely insecure and unsafe.
You start operating from the mentality that your world can collapse at any given moment.
Dealing with trauma has always been and will always be a part of the human experience. Much before PTSD was diagnosed, in fact, we read about it in various literary tales. Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Homer’s Iliad are two such examples.
Before the diagnosis of PTSD, suffering from the aftermaths of tragedy was seen as a weakness. It is largely due to research on war veterans and their experiences that PTSD even came to be formed.
What Happens in PTSD?
PTSD is characterised by the feeling of re-experience. Anything which reminds them of the horrific incident acts like a trigger. At first, there are feeling of shock and disbelief which may eventually emerge in the form of anger or fear.
A client I used to see was suffering from PTSD after the 2004 tsunami in Chennai. The sound of waves hitting the seashore – while calming to many – became her personal nightmare. Every time she would hear it, whether on the beach or in a movie or video, she would experience mind numbing panic and terror. She started having nightmares not only of the tsunami, but also of being in a situation where she couldn’t escape listening to the waves hitting the shore again and again.
Most people with PTSD try to avoid conversations, reminders or triggers which make them think of the event. In turn, they build anxiety over avoiding such reminders as well. There is also an underlying sense of detachment, lack of interest in any activities, intense flashbacks, and lack of expression. These are more often than not accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, having difficulty in breathing, severe headaches and trouble sleeping.
The symptoms of PTSD can be complex and may vary from individual to individual. Visiting a psychiatrist/therapist is non-negotiable.
However, there are certain self-help techniques you can employ:
Join a Peer Support Group
Support groups can be found in your city or even online and are typically either led by a counsellor or someone who themselves have been through trauma. Listening to other people describe their experiences makes one feel like they’re not alone and makes it easier to deal with our own feelings of shame and fear.
It also teaches us to ask for help and to reach out to others – thus reducing feelings of detachment.
Be Aware of the ‘Now’
You need to be more aware of the present moment – whether it is feeling the taste of the chewing gum in your mouth or concentrating on the lyrics of the song playing around you. This helps with PTSD as it reduces the avoidance of negative thoughts and instead makes us accept their existence. It may be difficult at first but ultimately makes you more compassionate towards yourself.
People with PTSD feel an overwhelming sense of loss in relationships as the world becomes a very unsafe place for them. Try to build back bonds and attachment by dedicating yourself to causes. This will also help in building self-esteem as there will be a sense of achievement if you feel like you have something to offer.
Avoid Alcohol or Drugs
It can be easy to use substance as a form of escapism when you’re struggling with the aftermath of trauma – but substance abuse only worsens PTSD as it leads to more numbness and isolation.
(Prachi Jain is a psychologist, trainer, optimist, reader and lover of Red Velvets.)