Following a traumatic event or tragic circumstances, it can be difficult to put the thoughts and feelings of that moment out of your head. If a huge wave of anxiety or distress hits you as soon as you think back to that time, then it’s likely you’re suffering from a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
While it’s often associated with soldiers who witness horrific events in war zones, it can affect people of all ages or backgrounds who have been through something horrendous in their life.
Singing superstar Ariana Grande recently opened up about her struggle with PTSD in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack, which saw terrorists kill 23 people on the way out from her concert. In an interview with British Vogue she spoke about her experience, saying: “It’s hard to talk about because so many people have suffered such severe, tremendous loss. But, yeah, it’s a real thing.”
“I know those families and my fans, and everyone there experienced a tremendous amount of it as well.”
Anyone suffering from PTSD needs help and support, so we spoke to Traumatologist and Counselling Directory member Kay Choudary to find out the best PTSD copying techniques and how to get the help you need.
To start with, how can someone identify if they have PTSD?
“It can be tough to understand what is going on for individuals and their friends and families who may experience or witness someone suffering from symptoms, such as not wanting to engage with others, avoiding situations or places that remind them of what happened. Individuals may feel angry more easily, have negative thoughts about themselves, have nightmares, anxiety, insomnia or feel completely numb, or even unable to describe what they feel and this is called ‘alexithymia’.
“They may also have trouble concentrating or feel fatigued much of the time. Sometimes, something will occur that makes them think about the traumatic event even though they were not thinking about it at that moment, and to the outsider it often seems entirely unrelated. It just pops into their mind. These are called intrusive thoughts or flashbacks and are very common in PTSD. It can be a sound, a smell or just someone being too close to you.”
Who should someone with PTSD turn to for help?
“Living with, or experiencing PTSD is difficult. The person may not feel like the real ‘them’ anymore. They may be irritable, losing friends is also typical as individuals don’t feel like socialising. If you have had the symptoms for more than three months, you may need expert help. There needs to be at least three months to be able to diagnose and meet the PTSD criteria as some of the symptoms in the first three months are very, very ordinary when something horrific has happened. You need to turn to someone who has the experience to treat PTSD, so this can be a psychotherapist or a doctor who has undertaken Trauma and PTSD training, as it is a very complex subject.”
If someone’s struggling really with PTSD, what would you advise them to do?
“Get diagnosed so that they can get appropriate treatment. There is a PTSD criteria form, and other approved assessments forms that professionals will use to see if you have PTSD. Get treatment that is specifically aimed at treating PTSD. Treating the anxiety that is apparent in PTSD is helpful but does not clear it. When treating PTSD, your amygdala needs to be activated so that you can put the memory in place in your brain where it belongs.”
“Get help from someone who knows how to treat PTSD, reach out and say “I have intrusive thoughts that wake me up or scare me out of the blue”. For example, it may be something like: “Every time I drive up the M1 I am reminded of the bombing at Manchester”.”
Does PTSD stay with someone for life or can it eventually go?
“PTSD needs specific evidenced-based treatment to help overcome the trauma that you have experienced. The good news is that with the correct treatment, it either goes or is significantly reduced! Initially, you may not believe it can ever get better as it’s so overwhelming to be in constant hyper-arousal, and it stays there unless you can process the trauma. Some people say I have never been the same since such and such happened. Also, that is true; their brain is still in the activated state which can be exhausting for them and others around them.”
“Hope is there though, as evidenced-based treatments can help you get over PTSD and start living life your normal life again. You won’t forget but you can become emotionally regulated, so you get back to your normal everyday life. Even if you are reading this and your trauma was years ago, PTSD can still be treated.”
What are your foolproof tips for someone dealing with PTSD?
“Once PTSD has developed it does not know any boundaries and can affect you at any given time, so you need to learn techniques on how to stabilise yourself wherever the flashback or activating event happens. You can use tips such as the 54321 technique:
5. Identify five things you can see
4. Identify four things you can touch
3. Identify three things you can hear externally, so not your breathing
2. Identify two things you can smell. That not always easy, but even smelling the soap, you washed your clothes in counts
1. Identify one thing you can taste. It may be your toothpaste or your last meal
“Foolproof is not easy as PTSD affects people in different ways, so it is essential that you learn lots of self-soothing tips such as mindfulness, progressive relaxation techniques and these will all be taught by your professional before treating the actual traumatic event. It is also helpful for those around you to learn the techniques so when you become activated, they can help. It may be that sometimes you may need someone to remind you to take a deep breath and do your favoured self-soothing routine.”