It’s clear that people from every socio-economic status have experienced one or more life events that have caused emotional trauma, thus creating PTSD. It’s not just a “veteran’s ailment,” and PTSD is gaining needed recognition in the psychotherapeutic healing community.
PTSD can be caused by childhood trauma, financial disasters, recession, loss of employment, loss of a relationally close family member, divorce, loss of home, sudden shift in life responsibilities such as having to be a primary caretaker for an elderly family member, physical and chronic pain, loss of health, or many other scenarios. These chaotic shifts create what neuroscientists are recently exploring in the brain, including cerebral atrophy and loss of gray matter. So becoming aware of PTSD symptoms can be helpful to a person struggling to understand how to seek treatment.
Do you experience one or more of the following symptoms?
- Wandering of the mind, lack of focus, low memory recollection, especially short-term memory.
- Flip-flopping with decision making.
- Loss of confidence and trusting your own instincts.
- Staying on the surface instead of going deep enough, since it feels too difficult to follow through to the end of a thought process.
- Limited physical energy; feel exhausted even after small tasks.
- Limited mental capacity.
- Social anxiety.
- Sometimes not being able to separate reality from imagination.
- Starting something but not able to finish it.
- Waking up often at night, fitful sleep.
- Lethargy – physical and/or mental.
- Hopelessness, despair, depression.
- Addictive behavior as a form of escape.
- Making poor choices that generate shame instead of making good choices to alleviate it.
- Having to lie to someone because you don’t want the shame of saying you’re too tired, you don’t remember, or you can’t think deeply enough right now.
- Confusion at why you are experiencing this “brain fog” or “shell shock.”
- Simple things feel laborious and heavy to get through.
- Feel self-loathing because you aren’t able to accomplish what you used to be able to do.
- Feel like you have lost control and not able to decide things quickly or at all.
- Overly protective of personal life and only sharing with safe people who don’t judge you.
- Feeling as though you’ve slipped from normal functioning to “survival mode.”
- Mistrust and suspicion of people who show similar behaviors or personalities to that of the previous abuser, if the trauma was due to emotional abuse.
- Heightened sensitivity to triggers that recall the trauma, usually related to the same emotional abuse or trauma that was experienced.
It’s very important to understand that experiencing co-occurring disorders as depression and anxiety can be a result of PTSD, so instead of quickly relying on a clinician to prescribe an anti-depressant, know that there are better ways to recover. Medications serve only as a band-aid, suppressing areas of the brain and don’t rewire and heal it. In some cases medications are warranted but they are not a long-term solution and many therapists see them as the “easy solution” instead of encouraging their clients to do cognitive repair work themselves.
Two very successful approaches that have been found to aid in trauma recovery are Self-Care techniques and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). These can be done yourself after a few sessions with a good psychotherapist who is familiar with both. In many cases, recovery isn’t immediate, especially if you are dealing with a constant or increasing level of chaos. Yet integrating both of these recovery tactics into your life will lead to marked improvements in your capacity to deal with the stressors. Self-care has been shown to increase the gray matter in your brain, better equipping and strengthening it. CBT is a tremendous tool for becoming self-aware and will aid in brain recovery, since you are changing the way you are thinking and responding to the stressors. You will see yourself recalibrating back to what you know as more “normal” for you, and even small shifts in thinking brings great relief.