Wars are long, grueling, and exhausting conflicts that often cause a lot of casualties.
Some enemies confront each other with carefully planned tactics in open warfare. Others are more devious.
What if your enemy’s attacks are unpredictable? What if they can strike you anytime, anywhere, without a warning? Cunningly sneaking up on you, and suddenly, there they are!
The stress would be constant. Few places would feel safe. And you would always be on high alert—worrying, fearing, looking over your shoulder.
Worst of all, what if this enemy’s assaults don’t hail from the outside, but from inside your own mind?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—it is the war within.
It assaults relentlessly and without notice. It triggers upheavals and turmoils that can throw you into the depths of despair. And it is an enemy that does not fight fair.
Where does it come from? How does it manifest itself? And what strategies can help you overcome it?
Causes of PTSD
In any war, even the war within, your first order is to know your enemy. Once you have an understanding of what PTSD is and what causes it, you can find a way to address it.
In general, PTSD is defined as a mental health condition thought to be caused by a shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event. One that a person may have experienced directly or simply witnessed.
Some of the most common traumatic experiences include exposure to combat, sexual and physical abuse, an accident or fire, a natural disaster, a robbery, a terrorist attack, torture, an aggressive chronic illness, or any other life-threatening situation.
Of course, nearly anybody who has dealt with such traumatic situations will experience some level of post-traumatic reaction. However, most recover from it eventually. Those who don’t are often diagnosed with PTSD, especially if they feel scared or stressed when they are actually no longer in danger.
For PTSD to develop, though, a complex mix of factors have to exist, such as:
- Suffering from a mental health issue, like depression or anxiety
- Experiencing a large amount, greater severity, or longer lasting trauma
- Having a family history of anxiety and depression
- Being exposed to the trauma in childhood
- Having problems with how the brain regulates stress hormones
- Working in a job that exposes you to traumatic situations
- Experiencing issues with substance abuse, such as drugs or alcohol
- Lacking a stable support system of friends and family
Once it has started, the war within relentlessly takes over your whole life. And that is also when you begin to fully see its signs and effects on you.
Symptoms of PTSD
While it may be difficult to see and neutralize the signs of PTSD at first, with time, learning to recognize what triggers an assault can help you to counter it more quickly and balance the terms of engagement for the war within.
The problem is the unpredictability of the enemy. In some cases, symptoms may start within a few months of the traumatic event. For others, it can be years after the incident until something suddenly brings it on.
Symptoms of PTSD are usually organized into four groups:
- Re-experiencing intrusive memories – recurring flashbacks, upsetting dreams, nightmares, severe reaction to something that reminds you of the traumatic incident (such as sounds, sights, smells)
- Avoidance – refusing to talk about the event, avoiding places and people that are reminders, suppressing thoughts and feelings about the incident, major changes in personal routines
- Negative thinking and mood – hopelessness about the future, negative thoughts about yourself or others, memory lapses, feeling numb and detached from those closest to you, lack of interest in what you once enjoyed, few positive emotions, guilt and shame
- Physical and emotional reactivity or arousal – easily startled and scared, always on guard, trouble concentrating and sleeping, irritability and aggression, self-destructive behaviors, inability to function on a daily basis
Over time, all these symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency. In general, though, when you feel more stressed or when you encounter a trigger, symptoms will be more severe.
What can you do about it?
Treatment Options for PTSD
Winning the war within not only depends on knowing what you’re up against and watching out for signs, but also on good defense strategies. Outside support is crucial to help you reduce symptoms and improve daily functioning.
As for many other mental health problems, the main treatment approach for PTSD is medication and psychotherapy—often a combination of both. However, just as unpredictable as its assaults and effects, different PTSD treatments may work for one person but not for another. The secret is to find what works for you.
Treatment with medication most often includes taking antidepressants. They may help you control such symptoms as anger, sadness, worry, or feeling numb and detached. It’s important that you work closely with your doctor to find the best combination.
Treatment with psychotherapy can be done on an individual basis or in a group. Having the support of family and friends can be very beneficial for recovery. A therapist may use various therapies in combination or by themselves, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, EMDR, and more.
Whatever combination of medications, psychotherapy, or both you decide to pursue, it should:
- Educate you about trauma symptoms and effects
- Teach you skills to recognize triggers of symptoms
- Equip you to manage symptoms and use relaxation techniques
- Provide instructions to improve sleeping, exercising, and eating habits
- Help you identify and cope with shame and guilt
- Change how you react to your PTSD symptoms
- Instruct you how to reach out for and utilize your support network
Of course, it may not be easy for you to take the first step and seek help, but it’s imperative that you do. While it may take some time, with the right treatment, you can win the war within and conquer your PTSD.