Ptsd In Military Veterans
For all too many veterans, returning from military service means coping with symptoms of PTSD. You may have a hard time readjusting to life out of the military. Or you may constantly feel on edge, emotionally numb and disconnected, or close to panicking or exploding. But its important to know that youre not alone and there are plenty of ways you can deal with nightmares and flashbacks, cope with feelings of depression, anxiety or guilt, and regain your sense of control.
How Is Ptsd Treated
Professional treatment can help you feel better, says Dr. Wimbiscus. And while medications can play a role in treating the disorder, she says the gold-standard treatment is trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, or TF-CBT, and sometimes another variation of this type of therapy called EMDR .
This type of therapy helps you reframe your memories of the trauma and learn new ways to manage those thoughts and feelings. A big part of managing PTSD is having a skilled mental health professional working alongside you, Dr. Wimbiscus says.
Heres the ugly truth: That treatment isnt easy it might dig up memories or emotions youd rather keep buried. And for all that effort, you may not feel like youre making much progress. And you might have to meet with your therapist a few times before you can get into the real work of treating PTSD.
Having patience for that process is easier said than done. But your hard work will be worth it when you come out on the other side, with fewer symptoms and better tools to manage your anxiety.
Some people with PTSD will notice their symptoms fade in a matter of months. For others, healing takes longer. You may feel frustrated that you cant speed up the process.
Ptsd Flashbacks And How The Past Is Relived In The Present Moment
Keywords: PTSD Flashbacks.
The experience of time changes drastically when you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex Trauma.
Events, people or circumstances can suddenly trigger an emotional response that brings the emotional residue of your experienced trauma right to the surface in the here and now. Often, it is very difficult to distinguish that your trigger and the emotional responses that come with it relate to your experienced trauma of the past, as your brain projects the danger almost perfectly onto the situation or person at hand in the present.
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What Is A Flashback
A flashback is a PTSD symptom that involves vividly re-experiencing a traumatic event. These episodes may occur suddenly and unexpectedly in response to a trigger that reminds you of the trauma.
A flashback may be temporary and you may maintain some connection with the present moment. Or you may lose all awareness of what’s going on around you and be taken completely back to your traumatic event.
For example, a rape survivor, when triggered, may begin to smell certain scents or feel pain similar to what they experienced during the assault.
Tip : Be A Good Listener
While you shouldnt push a person with PTSD to talk, if they do choose to share, try to listen without expectations or judgments. Make it clear that youre interested and that you care, but dont worry about giving advice. Its the act of listening attentively that is helpful to your loved one, not what you say.
A person with PTSD may need to talk about the traumatic event over and over again. This is part of the healing process, so avoid the temptation to tell your loved one to stop rehashing the past and move on. Instead, offer to talk as many times as they need.
Some of the things your loved one tells you might be very hard to listen to. Its okay to dislike what you hear, but its important to respect their feelings and reactions. If you come across as disapproving, horrified, or judgmental, they are unlikely to open up to you again.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Ptsd
Everyone is affected differently by PTSD. Symptoms can range from subtle changes in day-to-day life, withdrawal and numbness, to distressing flashbacks or physical anxiety.
Symptoms of PTSD may appear in the month after the traumatic event, but sometimes they can stay dormant for years.
Some symptoms of PTSD include:
- re-experiencing the trauma
- repetitive memories that are hard to control and intrude into everyday life
- extreme distress caused by reminders of the trauma
- memories or disturbing thoughts that can be prompted by smells, sounds, words or other triggers
- staying away from places, people or objects that may trigger memories of the traumatic event
- changing a normal routine to avoid triggering memories
- not wanting to talk about or think about the event
- feeling a sense of hopelessness about the future
- negative beliefs about yourself or the world
- blaming yourself or others unreasonably
- intense worry, depression, anger or guilt
- not being able to remember the traumatic event
- no longer enjoying favourite activities
- becoming emotionally detached from others
- not being able to experience positive emotions
- scanning the environment for signs of danger
- being easily startled
- poor concentration
For a symptom checklist, visit Beyond Blue.
Children or teenagers with PTSD may have similar symptoms, but with some differences. Symptoms of PTSD in children include:
A teenager may experience any of the adult symptoms but may be more likely to:
Getting Professional Help For Ptsd
If you suspect that you or a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder, its important to seek help right away. The sooner PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome. If youre reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.
Its only natural to want to avoid painful memories and feelings. But if you try to numb yourself and push your memories away, PTSD will only get worse. You cant escape your emotions completelythey emerge under stress or whenever you let down your guardand trying to do so is exhausting. The avoidance will ultimately harm your relationships, your ability to function, and the quality of your life.
Why you should seek help for PTSD
Early treatment is better. Symptoms of PTSD may get worse. Dealing with them now might help stop them from getting worse in the future. Finding out more about what treatments work, where to look for help, and what kind of questions to ask can make it easier to get help and lead to better outcomes.
PTSD symptoms can change family life. PTSD symptoms can get in the way of your family life. You may find that you pull away from loved ones, are not able to get along with people, or that you are angry or even violent. Getting help for your PTSD can help improve your family life.
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What Helps During A Flashback
If you realize that you are in the middle of a flashback, consider the following tips:
- Tell yourself that you are having a flashback. Remind yourself that the actual event is over and that you survived.
- Breathe. Take slow, deep breaths by placing your hand on your stomach and taking deep breaths. You should see your hand move out with the inhalations, and watch it fall in with the exhalations. When we panic, our body begins to take short, shallow breaths, and the decrease in oxygen can make you feel more panicked. Deep breathing is important because it increases the oxygen in your system and helps you move out of anxious state faster.
- Return to the present by using the five senses.
- Look around you. Make a list of the items in the room count the colors or pieces of furniture around you. What do you see?
- Breathe in a comforting scent, or focus on the smells around you. What do you smell?
- Listen to the noises around you, or turn on music. What do you hear?
- Eat or drink something you enjoy. Focus on the flavor. What do you taste?
- Hold something cold, like a piece of ice, or hot, like a mug of tea. What does it feel like?
For Primarily Visual Flashbacks
Encourage the client to imagine they are seeing the flashback at the cinema. Initially the client focuses on making it appear flat, as if projected on a screen. This is followed by adding visualised props, such as a curtain, the backs of peoples heads, the exit doors, the noise of people eating popcorn and so on. After this they can visualise it as a video, which they can pause, fast forward, slow down, pause, rewind or watch in black and white.
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How Is Ptsd Diagnosed
The doctor will do a mental health assessment. This means they will ask about current symptoms, past history and family history. They may do a physical examination to check that there are no other reasons for the symptoms.
The doctor may refer to a psychiatrist or psychologist. They will ask how long, how often and how intense the symptoms are, and what happened during the triggering event.
For PTSD to be diagnosed, the symptoms need to be severe enough to interfere with someones ability to function at work, socially or at home. A full diagnosis cannot be made until at least 6 months after the trauma.
Often a diagnosis can come as a relief for someone who has been suffering debilitating symptoms because it provides an explanation and a basis for beginning treatment.
Treatments For Ptsd Flashbacks
Its important to get help from your doctor or mental health professional if you notice that you are having flashbacks, intrusive memories, dissociation, and difficulties in your work, personal, and social life. Similarly, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself and have intent and a plan to harm yourself, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number or go to the nearest emergency room.1
Some of the therapeutic modalities that are well-known for treating PTSD include:
There are also more alternative and complementary modalities that can help with PTSD symptoms, like brainspotting and EFT tapping.
If you dont know where to start, try searching an online therapist directory to find a therapist who provides trauma-informed care, or specializes in any of the modalities listed above.
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What Does A Ptsd Flashback Look Like
A flashback can involve a range of involuntary physiological, emotional, and psychological experiences regarding the memory of the traumatic event.2 Its important to note that people who experience flashbacks seem to retrieve specific moments in relation to the trauma, rather than experiencing the entire traumatic event as a flashback.2
Here are a few things that can happen during a flashback:1,2,3
- Reliving the traumatic event or experiencing intrusive thoughts about it
- Having nightmares about the traumatic event, which impacts sleep and leads to fatigue and exhaustion
- Fear of the traumatic event occurring again
- Feeling terrified or out of control
- Dissociating from current reality and experiencing past traumas as though they were happening in the present
- Being easily startled and experiencing related hyperarousal, including a range of physiological PTSD symptoms
- Feeling numb, agitated, anxious, sad, fearful, and exhibiting flat emotional affect
Getting Help For Sleep Problems
Sleep problems are common among people with PTSD. They’re considered a PTSD hyperarousal symptom–meaning that they stem from a high level of anxiety.
If you have PTSD and problems sleeping, it’s important to find ways to improve your sleep. Sleep problems can make your other PTSD symptoms worse. In addition, poor sleep can negatively impact your effectiveness at work or school.
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Recognize When You Need Professional Help
While you may be able to deal with occasional partial flashbacks, severe PTSD flashbacks often indicate a need for professional help. An experienced mental health professional can advise you about available therapies and help you work toward regaining control of your life. Signs that you may want to seek help to deal with PTSD include:
- You experience flashbacks frequently or they continue to occur for many weeks, months or years.
- You have difficulty pulling yourself out of flashbacks when they happen.
- Flashbacks are affecting your everyday life and your relationships with others.
If youre ready to start your recovery journey after a traumatic experience, contact us at Restore using the online form or call 546-7284.
Causes Of Ptsd Flashbacks
People can develop PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event , threatened abuse, or a life-threatening event any event that induces significant distress.1 When an individual encounters something that reminds them of the trauma, this can trigger a flashback.
These triggers or reminders can take the form of different senses . For example, seeing a person from a distance who reminds you of a person who attacked you may be a trigger. Similarly, hearing a loud noise may remind you of a gunshot if you were a victim. Evidently, there is a broad range of ways a flashback can be triggered in an individual.1
Several risk factors for PTSD include:1,2,3
- Longstanding trauma or multiple traumatic events also known as complex PTSD
- Severe or intense traumatic events
- Natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks
- Having a personal or family history of trauma
- Having a personal or family history of mental health challenges or disorders
- Working in a field that is prone to trauma
- Limited coping skills and protective factors
- Minimal social supports
- Minimal hope for the future and disbelief over ones ability to cope with the trauma
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Dont Be Too Hard On Yourself
One more thing you should definitely do if you have PTSD: Be kind to yourself. That advice probably makes you roll your eyes but sometimes, cheesy advice rings true. PTSD can cause feelings of guilt, shame and anger. When youre feeling down, it can help to remember that its not you. Its the disorder.
PTSD changes the structure of your brain, Dr. Wimbiscus points out. Think about that: Your brain is physically different than it used to be. PTSD is not caused by weakness, and you cant just make yourself get over it.
So what should you do when youre feeling hopeless? Remember that hopelessness, too, can be a symptom of the disorder.
And try to follow Dr. Wimbiscus advice: Focus on getting through your daily tasks, and know that it gets better. Allow time to do its work. It may be a struggle right now, but time is one of our greatest healers. There is hope.
Tip : Deal With Volatility And Anger
PTSD can lead to difficulties managing emotions and impulses. In your loved one, this may manifest as extreme irritability, moodiness, or explosions of rage.
People suffering from PTSD live in a constant state of physical and emotional stress. Since they usually have trouble sleeping, it means theyre constantly exhausted, on edge, and physically strung outincreasing the likelihood that theyll overreact to day-to-day stressors.
For many people with PTSD, anger can also be a cover for other feelings such as grief, helplessness, or guilt. Anger makes them feel powerful, instead of weak and vulnerable. Others try to suppress their anger until it erupts when you least expect it.
Watch for signs that your loved one is angry, such as clenching jaw or fists, talking louder, or getting agitated. Take steps to defuse the situation as soon as you see the initial warning signs.
Try to remain calm. During an emotional outburst, try your best to stay calm. This will communicate to your loved one that you are safe, and prevent the situation from escalating.
Give the person space. Avoid crowding or grabbing the person. This can make a traumatized person feel threatened.
Ask how you can help. For example: What can I do to help you right now? You can also suggest a time out or change of scenery.
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How To Cope During A Flashback
A flashback is when you experience memories and emotions that return you to a traumatic event.
They can last for seconds or minutes, and involve some level of dissociation or mental disconnection from the present.
During a flashback, grounding techniques and other coping strategies can help you soothe distress and make it easier to hold on to the present moment.
Practicing these exercises regularly may also help you manage flashbacks when they occur.
The 13 Steps To Managing Emotional Flashbacks
As stated, Pete Walker proposes on his website that there are thirteen steps toward managing and perhaps overcoming the effects of emotional flashbacks. These steps are available both on Mr. Walkerâs website and in his book, Complex PTSD from Surviving to Thriving.
The 13 steps to managing emotional flashbacks are quoted from Pete Walkerâs website below:
Flashbacks take us into a timeless part of the psyche that feels as helpless, hopeless, and surrounded by danger as we were in childhood. The feelings and sensations you are experiencing are memories that cannot hurt you now.
I am safe now, here in the present.â Remember, you are now in the safety of the present, far from the danger of the past.
Remind yourself that you do not have to allow anyone to mistreat you you are free to leave dangerous situations and protest unfair behavior.
The child needs to know that you love her unconditionally- that she can come to you for comfort and protection when she feels lost and scared.
Remind yourself that you are in an adult body with allies, skills, and resources to protect you that you never had as a child.
Feeling small and little is a sure sign of a flashback.
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