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Post traumatic stress

post traumatic stress

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What is PTS?

The term post traumatic stress (PTS) is used to describe a range of symptoms that can appear after people have been involved in situations that are outside of most human experience. These situations can cause acute distress and include being in a serious car accident, being held hostage, being the victim of sexual or physical assault, taking part in military combat, being mugged or being in a natural or man-made disaster.  It is also possible to develop post traumatic stress if you are a witness something like this happening. Although they are normal reactions to abnormal events, the behaviours and feelings that develop from involvement in these scenarios can be extreme and lead to serious constraints on a persons experience of life.


Numbness is a common reaction to a traumatic experience, and is the bodies natural way of shutting down as much as possible to protect a person  from overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Overtime other symptoms may start to emerge. These can include flashbacks, which are vivid and realistic recall of the situation as if it were happening in the present, nightmares and intrusive thoughts or images. These can be very disturbing and it’s important to realise that they are all simply ways in which your mind is trying to process what has happened. Other symptoms include high degrees of anxiety expressed through extreme alertness, panicking, irritability and disturbed sleep. You might also notice changes in behaviours including difficulty in expressing affection, feeling detached or hopeless and needing to keep extremely busy.

If there can be a big gap of time between the event and the reactions showing themselves, it can feel confusing and frightening for a person when the symptoms start to appear, especially if a feeling of being in control or numbness has become the norm. Sometimes people imagine that they are going mad and the reassurance of someone who understands what is happening is of paramount importance.

post traumatic stress

Don’t push too hard

One of the most important aspects of PTS is that the person who experienced the trauma is allowed control of when they start to talk about it and how much they say and to who. Talking about traumatic events too soon or too quickly runs a risk of making things worse for the person. Sometimes it is more helpful to initially focus on practical support rather than emotional until the person feels stronger and ready to share their emotional experience.  However, keeping an eye on and responding to changing behaviours is also important so that  a healthy period of respecting ‘denial’ doesn’t turn into bottling up stress over months or years.

Group therapy

Sharing experiences with people who have been through similar things to yourself can be extremely helpful. It will give you a sense of support and lessen the isolation that you may feel . Your doctor can be a good starting point to find out what support is available for you locally. There are specialist trauma clinics that people can be referred to where you may be able to access therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT),or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). CBT will help you to understand how fearful and limiting thoughts and beliefs contribute to stressful feelings and how you can go about challenging them and changing them overtime. EMDR is a technique using eye movement to enable you to bypass the blocks to accessing your feelings so that you can connect to the suppressed emotions, express them and relieve the stress of the trauma.  Both of these techniques have been shown to be very affective in the recovery from trauma.

Self  help

Self help is also possible at any stage in the healing journey from trauma. Using art forms such as painting, writing, clay modelling can be extremely therapeutic. Physical exercise whether gentle or strenuous can help slow the mind down and relax your nervous system. Spending time in nature or even just sitting somewhere with a view can bring you an alternative perspective and spending time with animals can very supportive in your recovery. If you are concerned that you or someone else may be experiencing PST Mind Mental Health Charity offers more information and has a helpline. Further information can be found at MIND.





About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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