Understanding PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

What is PTSD

Post traumatic stress disorder is one of several anxiety disorders and was previously referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome. This does not mean however that it only affects war veterans or people working in the emergency services. It can affect anyone of any age, ethnicity or social background, and it is believed that it will affect between a third or one half of the population at some point in their lives.  Whilst most people will have some kind of traumatic event occur during their lifetime, not all of them will develop PTSD.  They will recover from the affects with the help of their family and friends within a few weeks.


PTSD is specifically caused by either witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event or accident. This could be anything from:

  • A serious road accident
  • Traumatic birth
  • Natural disaster
  • A violent event like an assault, robbery or mugging
  • Seeing someone take their own life or die.
  • Being told you have a life threatening or life limiting illness
  • Abuse or bullying in childhood
  • Sexual violence

Symptoms usually occur within three months of the incident happening but can also occur years afterwards in some circumstances.

Physical Symptoms

The body naturally produces adrenaline and cortisol in response to your body’s flight or fight response to it sensing imminent danger. With PTSD however the body continues to produce these hormones even though you are no longer in danger, and these can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea or diarrhoea
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness

Psychological Symptoms

  • Feelings of guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Negative thoughts and feelings
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Nightmares

Behavioural Changes

  • Avoiding places or people that remind you of the event
  • Feeling the need to be constantly busy to avoid thinking about it
  • Addictions, using alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better or blot out negative memories or emotions
  • Self-destructive tendencies
  • Losing interest or enthusiasm for things you previously enjoyed

Self Help

The internet is always a valuable source of information for self-help treatments.  These can include yoga or meditation and an assortment of different breathing techniques as well as self-help guides and books.  Try doing things that will up lift you like listening to music, drawing, swimming or running.  There are also several support groups available to help you that you may find useful.

Professional Help

It is normal to feel distress and confusion after a traumatic event in your life, but if you are still feeling unable to cope, or that your symptoms are not improving you should consult your doctor.

They may suggest monitoring your symptoms or prescribing medication such as antidepressants or SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

They may also be able to provide psychological therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or EMDR (eye movement desensitisation reprocessing) if they are available.

If your doctor is unable to provide therapy you may need to seek professional help directly from a private practitioner.  They can use a variety of therapies including trauma focused CBT, clinical hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy or prolonged exposure therapy.

Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK).  For more free information click above link.