Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

ptsd during covid

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that arises as a consequence of experiencing trauma. Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of any event, a series of events, or a set of enduring conditions in which a person’s ability to integrate their emotional experience is overwhelmed and/or they experience (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity or sanity.

 

Children can be especially prone to PTSD, as their foundation for coping emotionally and psychologically is not fully developed. A simple event – like a charging, barking dog – can be traumatic for a small child. And children are particularly vulnerable to developmental trauma, from neglect, abuse or even misaligned parental attachment.

Trauma is relative: what is traumatic depends on our vulnerability.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

There are four main classes of symptoms of PTSD. Because trauma affects people differently depending on their personality, mental health, and maturity, symptoms vary greatly from person to person, and from moment to moment. The four main categories of symptoms and how they affect people are:

Intrusive Memories

After a traumatic incident, repetitive memories or “flashbacks” of the trauma may repeat in the person’s mind, exposing them to re-traumatization over and over.

The person may perceive the trauma as though it were happening again in real time. Intrusive memories may also manifest as nightmares about the event or some aspect of it. They can also arise as severe emotional or physical distress in response to something that reminds the person of the event. 

Avoidance

An individual who experiences trauma may want to avoid talking about the event or how it made them feel. That person also may want to avoid people, places, things, or situations that remind him or her of the event. The individual believes that he or she will be unable to manage their emotions or actions when such memories are triggered. When they are triggered, there may be an acute reaction, which then justifies the avoidance. 

Negative Thinking/Moods

People who have been through traumatic events can become pessimistic in their view of themselves, their situations, the world, or the future. They may demonstrate a tendency to withdraw from society or avoid close relationships, friends and family, or other social situations. The depression may make them feel numb throughout their day, preventing them from enjoying activities that they once loved, or from experiencing positive emotions in general. They may have difficulty remembering specific events or details of the trauma.

Hyper-Vigilence

PTSD patients can often become hypersensitized to their environments as a consequence of their trauma. This can present in a variety of ways. Patients can be irritable, easily startled or frightened, have trouble sleeping or concentrating, or always be on guard for danger. The hypersensitivity can lead to quick or impulsive decisions, including risky or erratic behavior, such as substance abuse, dangerous driving, or insensitive or angry outbursts. Any of this can lead to overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame, which can have a negative impact on relationships.

What are the stages of PTSD?

PTSD has four basic phases:

Impact Phase

The impact phase is the period immediately after the incident. In this phase, the individual is stunned; he or she cannot process what has happened. For some people, this lasts longer than for others. It depends on severity of the threat and the duration of the consequences of the event. 

Rescue Phase

In the rescue phase, the individual begins to come to terms with the incident. They might ask questions or investigate. As they explore it, they may encounter a number of complex emotions, and may not understand them.

Intermediate Recovery

In this phase, the individual has made some adjustments to their new reality. Their basic needs may be met, but they have other needs that arise. In this phase it is critical that the individual receive support and encouragement. If not, they can have feelings of depression or despair, as the individual is faced with the crushing weight of resolving the situation on their own. With proper support, the individual will be able to process their grief, and in turn be motivated to help others get through difficult situations they are experiencing.

Long-Term Reconstruction

At this stage, the individual has come to terms with the reality that they have lived through something terrible which will continue to cause troubling memories and stress, and they need to face them in real time. PTSD survivors must make a decision in the moment to face their fear, and by doing so, process what has happened, and see their present reality objectively. The more they can succeed at this, the more that the troubling memories may fade, and the less power their triggers have. This is the point at which working with a therapist trained in trauma resolution including EMDR is crucial.

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Reach Out When You're Ready.

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Differences between PTSD and Panic Disorder?

PTSD is a condition tied to an individual’s experience of one or more troubling events. A panic disorder may have some of the same symptoms, and as a result, a doctor may inadvertently diagnose someone suffering from PTSD with a panic disorder. However, a panic disorder will have a different set of symptoms. Instead of intrusive thoughts and nightmares, the panic-stricken individual has rapid or difficult breathing, accelerated heart rate, trembling, or shaking. Instead of going out of one’s way to avoid triggers that remind one of the event, the individual avoids situations that might trigger a panic attack. Instead of having a panic attack as a result of reliving a traumatic event, the individual has panic symptoms that arise seemingly out of nowhere. To diagnose either condition correctly, a healthcare provider will have to ask specific questions of the individual, To gain understanding of their symptoms. This can be challenging as sufferers of PTSD do their best to avoid their experience.

What are PTSD Triggers?

PTSD triggers include any situation, person, object, or experience which might remind an individual of a traumatic event. If a song was playing during the traumatic moment, the individual might develop panic symptoms if they hear the song playing later. 

If the trauma occurred in a specific location, the individual may become triggered if they find themselves in a similar location. If a child was abused by a caregiver, they may experience panic symptoms if they encounter that same caregiver years later.

how to deal with ptsd

How to overcome PTSD?

Several treatment modalities are effective in addressing PTSD symptoms. It helps to have a therapist who is well-versed in all of them, so that if the patient is not responding to one treatment, the therapist can try another. There are three main goals when treating PTSD:

  • Reducing your symptoms
  • Teaching skills that enable you to respond when triggered
  • Regaining your ability to function effectively in life

When you are making progress in these key areas, you are on the right path to long-term recovery.

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Meet Jim Brillon

Jim Brillon is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Orange County, California. He specializes in treating all manner of psychological conditions, including PTSD. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, call our office and schedule an appointment. We would be happy to help you come to terms with the difficulties you are facing, and in managing your emotions moving forward. You don’t need to face it alone; you need someone in your corner. 

Reach Out When You're Ready.