If someone you know has suffered a traumatic experience, it’s perfectly natural for them to feel disconnected, anxious, sad, or frightened immediately after the traumatic experience.
As time passes, the emotional, physical, and psychological shock caused by the trauma should slowly subside.
However, if you know someone who’s experienced trauma and is having difficulties feeling safe, reconnecting with other people, and moving forward in their life weeks and even months after the event, they may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although PTSD may seem insurmountable and the person may feel that they’ll never fully recover from their trauma, help is available for those who are willing to seek it and do the work necessary to take back control of their lives.
But that leaves the question, “How can you help?”
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
In order to help someone who’s suffering from PTSD, the first thing you need to do is be sure they really have PTSD.
Immediately after a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least a few of the symptoms commonly associated with PTSD.
If someone’s sense of trust and personal safety has been shattered, feeling isolated, numb, fearful, or even a little crazy is perfectly normal. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve lived through a traumatic event to have nightmares and find themselves replaying the experience over and over in their minds.
Fortunately, these experiences are usually short-lived – lasting from several days to several weeks. But, for those with PTSD, the symptoms don’t get better over time … In fact, they often get worse.
Everyone experiences PTSD differently. However, there are some common symptoms experienced by individuals suffering from PTSD. These can include:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Nervousness, paranoia, and hypervigilance
- Feeling emotionally numb and disconnected from others
- Intrusive, disturbing memories of the trauma
- Nightmares or flashbacks
- Inability to remember certain aspects of the traumatic event
- Avoiding situations and circumstances that recall the traumatic event
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of mistrust or betrayal
- Decreased interest in activities that once brought joy
- Substance abuse
- Depression, hopelessness, and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts and feelings
While these symptoms usually develop within the hours and days immediately following a traumatic experience, some may arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go weeks, months, or even years after the traumatic event.
It is also important to note that post-traumatic stress disorder not only affects individuals who live through a traumatic event, but also the men and women who witness the event, those who assist the survivors (such as emergency and relief workers), as well as the family members and friends of those who survived the experience.
The Importance of Seeking Professional Help
If you believe someone you love is suffering from PTSD, taking care of yourself and seeking professional help are essential. And the sooner you seek help the easier it will be to overcome PTSD.
The desire to avoid painful feelings and memories may be natural, but attempting to do so will only make PTSD worse over time.
If your loved one is reluctant to seek help, they should keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is for them to confront what happened and learn to accept it as a part of their past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of a qualified trauma counselor or therapist.
A trauma counselor or therapist can help your loved one cope with the symptoms of PTSD, process the traumatic emotions and memories, overcome any adverse effects PTSD has caused in your relationship, and help him or her move forward again with confidence and optimism.
When looking for a counselor or psychotherapist to help treat your loved one’s PTSD, you should look for a mental health professional who specializes in providing trauma counseling or therapy.
You should also make sure the individual suffering from PTSD feels safe and comfortable with the therapist and the treatment program. The last thing your loved one needs is any additional fear or anxiety caused by their treatment.
Additional Steps You Can Take
Besides seeking professional help in the form of individual counseling or family therapy, there are several other steps you can take to make sure your loved one and you get the help and support you need:
- Become Informed – Making an effort to learn as much about PTSD as possible can help you understand what your loved one is going through as well as communicate more effectively with them and their healthcare providers.
- Anticipate PTSD Triggers – By being aware of the sights, sounds, people, places, and situations that may trigger an upsetting reaction in the person suffering from PTSD, you’ll be more capable of providing the support your loved one needs to remain calm.
- Be Patient and Understanding – Recovering from trauma and PTSD take time. Don’t force your loved one to talk about things they’re not ready to discuss, but be sure to offer a sympathetic ear whenever they need one.
- Try Not to Take PTSD Personally – If a person struggling with PTSD seems anxious, depressed, irritable, or emotionally distant, remember that it likely has more to do with their PTSD than with your relationship.
- Practice Self-Care – If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be very successful at taking care of your loved one. Be sure to spend time with friends, relaxing, reading, getting a massage, practicing yoga, or doing whatever you need to do to support your own mental, emotional, and physical health.
A loved one’s PTSD can take a heavy toll on your relationship and your family, and letting PTSD dominate both of your lives while ignoring your own needs is a surefire recipe for burnout.
In order to take care of your loved one, you need to learn all you can about PTSD and take care of yourself so you can recognize and cope with the symptoms of PTSD, understand your loved one’s treatment options, keep things in perspective, and provide the help and support your loved one needs to recover and take back control of their life.
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