You wake up after another restless night of sleep. It took you a long time to fall asleep, and you had unsettling dreams, as usual. You’ve tried some things to sleep better that you found on the internet, but nothing really helps.
As you get ready for your day, you notice that you feel guilty and irritable, again. These feelings persist as you go about your daily activities. You also feel numb and detached from other people, including family and friends. At work, you find it really hard to focus on tasks that require a lot of mental attention.
Going home, you avoid driving past certain places, although it is hard to say exactly why that is. A friend texted to invite you to a gathering, but you decide to avoid that too, even though you actually like many of the people who will be there.
Sitting down at dinner, some members of your family start to disagree with each other and begin arguing a little loudly. Feeling jumpy and nervous, you take your meal to the other room to finish it. Later, as you are reading in bed, a family member quickly opens your door looking for you, and you practically jump out of your skin while letting out a yelp.
Do some of these symptoms resonate with you?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Although it can be difficult to hear, many people with these types of concerns and struggles can trace them back to difficult past experiences that resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is common. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 10% of women and 4% of men have PTSD at some point in their lives. (These data were published before the COVID-19 pandemic, and so the numbers may now be higher).
But PTSD Only Happens After Severe Traumas Like War, Assault, and Bad Car Accidents, Right?
Because of the way PTSD has been shown in movies and TV shows over the past 50 years, many people believe that the only kind of experiences that “count” as trauma are very violent or terrifying, discrete incidents (war, the 9/11 attacks, assault, a bad car accident, getting shot, etc.). While these types of experiences certainly are traumatic, they are not the only types of experiences that “count” as traumatic.
Trauma can be thought of as coming in two types: “Big T Trauma” and “little t trauma”. Both types are very “real” and can cause PTSD.
Big T Trauma experiences happen during one limited period of time (a few hours, days, weeks, or months) and can include:
- Physical assault
- Sexual assault
- War or being in a war zone
- Terrorist attack
- Serious accidents
- Witnessing someone die in a sudden, violent, or unexpected way, especially if you know them or they are close to you
- Being awake during surgery or medical procedures that are painful or very frightening
- Difficult childbirth experiences, such as losing a baby or not being adequately numbed up before procedures are performed on your body
- Surviving a natural disaster or the aftermath, such as flooding, earthquakes or pandemics (including COVID-19)
- Being diagnosed with a serious medical condition
Little t trauma experiences happen intermittently and repeatedly over a longer period of time (months to years to decades) and can include:
- Physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse situations, including childhood or intimate partner abuse
- Exposure to traumatic events at work, including both live and remote exposure
- Armed Forces
- First responders
- Medical personnel
- Crime scene professionals
- Social workers/therapists/mental health providers
- Those exposed to violent videos or pictures of actual events (social media moderators and screeners, journalists, etc.)
- Bullying at any age, but especially in childhood
- Living with serious health problems or chronic, painful medical conditions
- Being repeatedly abused, harassed or oppressed because of your identity – race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Some of the most common symptoms are listed below. You don’t have to experience all of these to meet the criteria for PTSD.
- Intrusive, disturbing thoughts, feelings, or images
- Distressing thoughts and memories that feel involuntary or intrusive
- Distressing dreams/nightmares
- Flashbacks, which are brief times when you are awake that you feel like you are stuck in a “bad scene” or where difficult memories are being replayed in your mind’s eye
- Feeling panicky and distressed when you encounter or witness something that even vaguely reminds you of a traumatic experience or experiences. You may not always know why you feel this way or be able to explain it.
- Avoiding thinking about things that make you feel panicky and distressed
- Avoid certain people, places, or situations. You may not know why you are avoiding and may not be able to explain it.
- Negative thinking and feeling
- Not being able to remember things/periods of time/events
- Feeling “bad”, “dirty”, “shameful”, “wrong”, “broken”, “defective”, “useless”, or “worthless” most of the time
- Believing you are at fault for the difficult experiences that happened to you
- Believing the world is generally dangerous and people are generally not to be trusted
- Persistently having negative emotions (fear, anger, guilt, shame)
- Feeling detached from yourself, your body, the world, or other people
- Disinterest in activities or people
- Inability to feel positive emotions (happiness, joy, satisfaction, loving feelings)
- Feeling irritable and/or having angry outbursts
- Reckless or risky behaviors
- Feeling “on edge” all the time and always feeling like something terrible is about to happen
- Startling easily and to a degree that seems much more than most people you know
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Many people have a few of these symptoms periodically, which can be a normal part of a stressful life. However, people with PTSD experience many of these, and they last for more than a few days or weeks. The symptoms of PTSD will impact one or more areas of responsibility, including work, school, social life, child care, or intimate partnerships.
Getting Support for PTSD
If you are experiencing these or other symptoms and would like to discuss things further with a qualified mental health professional, please reach out to the Rollins Counseling Center today! Our warm, supportive, empathetic, and accepting therapists are trained in assessing for PTSD, and we offer many proven methods for reducing symptoms and helping you achieve the healing you deserve. We would love to help you find more peace, joy, and ease in your life!