Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term we’ve become familiar with in the aftermath of Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. War is a traumatic situation that can bring post-traumatic stress to the forefront of conversation because it affects so many people, making it difficult to disregard. The unfortunate reality is that people can suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS), even if they have never been anywhere near a battlefield. Events that cause a great deal of emotional trauma, bringing on a strong and lasting emotion, can lead to post-traumatic stress and when undiagnosed, become PTSD. People who have experienced violence in their youth, victims of domestic violence, survivors of natural disasters, and even people who live in constant fear in some areas of society are vulnerable to this debilitating condition. The good news is that even with post-traumatic stress, you can learn to cope and overcome such fears with the help of counseling and sometimes, medication. The first step with PTS, as with any condition, is to understand that it is not limited to war survivors but that it can happen to anyone. Second, you should know what it is so you can identify it in yourself or people you love, and seek treatment. Post-traumatic stress is the high level of emotion that occurs when you are in a traumatic event. The brain literally takes a snapshot of the events and remembers all the emotions associated with it. People with PTS will frequently flash back to that moment when they were experiencing an extreme adrenaline rush, be it from fear or the desire to fight. These re-occurring memories cloud the present, leading to sleeplessness, nightmares, and reliving the emotions over and over again. In addition to this, it creates a world where it is hard to express, and sometimes hard to even feel, emotion toward your loved ones. The constant living with this trauma leads a person to be easily angered, feeling like they’re living on the edge, and makes coping with life extremely hard. Friends, family, loved ones, and even jobs can suffer greatly because of this condition, making it critical that you get the treatment you need as soon as possible. One of the ways we deal with post-traumatic stress is called cognitive therapy. Essentially, cognitive therapy deals with the guilt association of having survived a traumatic event. People who live through natural disasters, for example, often ask why they were not killed. This leads to pent-up emotions of anger, frustration, and guilt. Through cognitive therapy, the therapist can help you identify these emotions and associate them correctly with the events that caused your post-traumatic stress. Over time, we can teach you to start replacing the thoughts of anger and guilt with more positive thoughts that do not evoke the same level of emotion. These less distressing thoughts gradually allow you to cope with the anger, fear, and guilt. We also teach you techniques to manage the emotion by learning to relax, using helpful breathing exercises and a host of other methods. Ultimately, dealing with post-traumatic stress requires identifying it, identifying why you have it, and then being diligent about getting therapy for it.
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