Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Anxiety
Some of us don't realise we have been through 'trauma'. It is true we all have to live through traumatic events growing up or now; divorce, moving, death, abuse, ill-health, the list is endless. Even hearing the news these days can traumatise us. Then we give ourselves an even harder time by believing 'I should be able to cope with this' and the guilt which can ensue when we feel we can't cope can be overwhelming, to say the least. How we deal with trauma, how we have been taught to deal with it (or not), can make a difference. Anxiety, stress and trauma are a 'normal' part of life for us. We can only learn to deal with them as best we can, after all we are only human. Sometimes past trauma's have not been processed in a way which allows us to move on. We many think we have moved on, only to find something is bothering us but we are not really sure what it is.
What is it like to have anxiety?
Those who suffer from anxiety often describe how their heart pounds, their bodies break out in a cold or hot sweat and it can be difficult to even breath or catch a breath. The overwhelming feelings of dread, anxiety and mental confusion which accompany this experience can be frightening. Anxiety can be described as 'a feeling of nervousness or worry'. Have you ever felt nervous when confronted by an angry animal or a spider? What happens to you when the object of fear goes away? The nervousness and worry do too. What though is different with an anxiety disorder?
Chronic anxiety is when the nervousness and worry continue long after there is no need to feel anxious, leading to it being considered a disorder. Not only that, but situations which you feel you should and want be able to handle i.e. go to the shop or work, become unmanageable. Remember, dis-order is the opposite of order. If you are suffering from this emotionally and physically disabilitating disorder, take heart, your body is trying to cope to bring order back to you. Our bodies are wise, they know when we have had enough, they are trying to let us know we are feeling something which needs attention. Sometimes we cannot hear the message as we are too busy panicking.
The good news is if we can learn to manage anxiety, this unfortunate but 'normal' occurance for all of us, we can start to live with more purpose and contentment. The opposite of this is unrelenting anxiety which can have serious consequences for the sufferer and their immediate family. Additionally, most of us have had years of built up responses to anxiety and trauma. 'Effective therapies for anxiety disorders are available, and research uncovering new treatments can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives' says the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Effective therapies include talking therapies such as counselling or psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), creative therapy and/or drugs.
Identifying the Types of Anxiety Disorders
PTSD comes under a type of anxiety disorder. There is also: Panic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder or Phobia and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
Post-Tramatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
This term has been used to describe a range of psychological symptoms people may experience following an extremely traumatic event that involved physical harm or the threat of harm. What is becoming apparent is that, even those who have not experienced a crime (or threat of) can still have PTSD from their own experience of trauma, in its many forms. PTSD sufferers may be easy to startle, irritable, emotionally numb, lost interest in things they once enjoyed and have trouble feeling affection for others, especially those with whom they used to be close. Some become agressive, even violent. They tend to either consciously or unconsiously avoid situations which remind them of the original traumatic incident. They can re-experience the trauma again and again in their bodies, mentally, emotionally and at cellular level.
It's not just the anxiety attacks which a sufferer finds so distressing, it's also the dread of when and if an attack is going to happen again. And the disappointment when it does. Sufferers, understandably, try to avoid places where they have had an attack previously. Some become so restricted they do not feel safe to leave the house and if they do venture out, they may feel they can only do so if they are with someone they can trust. For some being alone is enough to trigger an attack. For others being with people is enough to trigger an attack!
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD)
This can take many forms from those obsessed with germs or dirt who may develop a compulstion to wash their hands over and over to not being able to leave the house without double checking everything is off and 'safe'. We may feel a desparate need to be in control. It can also include our thoughts, when we compulsively go over and over something that has happened, analysing and reanalysing, which in turn causes us more turmoil. We may obsess over a relationship, for instance. Talking to someone with experience (someone we can trust) about our worries and anxieties can help us. Others have found medication can help in controlling this distressing compulsive need inside.
Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder
This describes people who are overwhelmed, anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations let alone at an actual event such as a wedding etc. Some sufferers feel very conspicuous, have an intense, disabling fear of being watched or judged by others. They may worry for days or weeks before attending an event and would rather turn down an invitation than live with the worry of having to attend. Their fear may become so severe it interferes with work, school and other ordinary activities. It can make it hard to make or keep friends. Some would rather not have friends as this causes the feelings of more pressure to do things they would prefer not to do and it seems impossible to believe its ok to say no. You may feel you would rather be alone than with people, as the overwhelming anxiety becomes too much to bear. This lack of interaction with others stops us connecting with the world and it is through this very connection with the world that we can feel alive. Sufferer's would like to be 'normal' and believe there is something 'wrong' with them, which increases the overwhelmed, anxious, guild-ridden feelings. It's a cycle so hard to break, so hard to feel safe.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Sufferers can go through the day filled with 'exaggerated worries' even though there is little or nothing to provoke them. Sufferers think ahead all the time, find it impossible to live in the moment and tend to anticipate disaster or the worst that could happen. They can be overly concerned with health issues, money, family problems or difficulties at work. Just the thought of getting through the day may produce anxiety.
The above material is based on publication of the National Institute of Mental Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
How to help those with an anxiety disorder
Be supportive: Sufferer's can have more than one anxiety disorder at the same time i.e. generlised anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sufferers experience people who find it hard to understand their emotional problems just as distressing. As a result, they are often so afraid of being misunderstood they try to hide their problem from others. This can result in feelings of guilt which worsens their emotional state. Therefore, it is vitally important for family and friends to be supportive.
Learn more about the disorder: If you know someone who has anxiety it may be helpful to learn as much as you can about it. Having never experienced it yourself you may find it hard to empathise and be patient. The fact you are reading this shows you want to help.
Watch our words, tone of voice and actions: We need to show that we deeply care for our friends and we need to avoid hurtful coments. This includes avoiding insinuations. Be sensative to the sufferer's feelings. We also need to respect the sufferer's need for privacy and need for security. If our attempts to help are rebuffed, try again at another time. Whatever we do, we must try not to be pushy or put pressure on the sufferer to 'go out', 'get involved' or 'get well' all in the name of their best interests as we perceive it.
Listen carefully: This is probably the most important one of all. It takes patience to listen. It also matters 'how you listen'. Your own perception may be that the trauma is 'trivial'. Put your judgements to one side. Try to view matters through the eyes of the one who is suffering, rather than through your own. Do not jump to conclusions while listening or come up with solutions, as this can make the person feel even worse. Allow them to express freely how they truly feel. This may help you to try to understand better what they are experiencing. Try not to give examples of when you went through the same thing, this can cause the sufferer to feel you are not really interested in them.
Remember, everyone's journey is different. Your experiences will not be the same as others.
You may be able to help sufferers enjoy a more full and meaningful life just by being there.
Perhaps you would like to talk, find out more, explore if individual therapy or couples counselling is for you, please contact me confidentially and without obligation.
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