What is PTSD?
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common reaction to an uncommon event.
Those who develop PTSD have experienced something that humans were not originally created to experience.
It is normal to be affected negatively by combat, atrocity, pain, horror, and gore. When you go through an experience that nearly kills you, it is normal to feel shaken and anxious.
Facing death changes a person. It would be abnormal if a person wasn’t affected. This reaction shows that a person is human, and that what they experienced matters.
PTSD sufferers are not cowardly, weak, or broken. They are very literally wounded.
Everyone who has experienced a trauma great enough to produce PTSD has – to varying degrees – been wounded physically, psychologically, and spiritually. This means that any approach taken to heal this wound must also address all three realms. If we don’t involve all three, it’s like trying to sit on a three-legged stool that has a leg or two missing. It can be done, but not very easily, and it’s nearly impossible to establish stability that will last long term.
What Causes PTSD?
When a person experiences a traumatic incident – or a series of incidents – we employ an amazing automatic defensive mechanism which God has created within us enabling us to respond to the threat with increased effectiveness, thereby keeping us alive. Our brain sends out a signal to dump a cascade of hormones into our bloodstream from several organs, causing our hearts to beat faster, our lungs to pump harder, and getting our bodies ready for a fight, flight, or freeze response. We get tunnel vision so we can focus on the threat. Our perception of time may compress or telescope out.
Thousands of small muscles in our arms and legs constrict, sending blood away from our skin into our major muscle groups for powerful, quick movements – and so that if our extremities are wounded, we won't bleed as badly. Our blood sugar and free fatty acids instantly ramp up, giving us more energy and endurance. Brain-bound oxygen is released to our muscles so we can run, kick, or punch like never before. Our creative, emotional, alarm-oriented right brain drowns out the logical analysis of our analytical left brain, screaming, "Less thinking! More action!"
These are all good things – they are designed to help us survive a life-and-death situation. But when we get "stuck" in this high alert/critical response mode, it's not so good any more. Post-traumatic Stress is something that everyone experiences in the immediate aftermath of life-threatening trauma. It is absolutely normal. It is frequently resolved within a few hours, days or weeks. But if a person continues to experience the classic symptoms of trauma for more than a month, it is an indication of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
These traumatic events don’t have to be connected to combat. They could also be:
- A life-threatening accident
- Childhood abuse
- A natural or man-made disaster
- Viewing any of the above
- Receiving news about a loved-one experiencing any of the above
According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of PTSD will fall into one of four "clusters:"
1. Intrusion or Re-experiencing symptoms, such as…
- - Nightmares
- - Sleepwalking, sleep fighting
- - Flashbacks
- - Troubling day-dreams
- - Dissociative episodes (their mind thinks they are back at the place of trauma)
- - Panic attacks
2. Avoidance symptoms, such as…
- - Avoiding anyone, any place, or anything that reminds them of their trauma
- - Self-isolating
- - Anxiety in crowds, traffic
- - Reluctant to talk about the traumatic event
- - Substance abuse to "numb" themselves
3. Cognitions and Mood Alterations symptoms, such as…
- - Reduced cognitive ability (slow thinking, confusion, poor memory)
- - Persistent, negative, trauma-related emotions (fear, anger, guilt, shame)
- - Persistent, negative, distorted self-image ("I am bad.")
- - Persistent, negative, distorted view of the world ("The world wants to kill me.")
- - Persistent, distorted blame of self or others for the trauma
- - Lack of interest in employment, recreation, sex, hobbies, exercise
- - Neglecting relationships that were formerly close
- - Neglect/abandon personal care
- - Emotional numbness, flat
- - Inability to trust others
4. Arousal and Reactivity Alterations symptoms, such as…
- - Anger, irritability, fits of rage
- - Hypervigilance
- - Easily startled
- - Substance abuse to "un-numb" themselves
- - Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep; insomnia, night sweats
- - Spontaneous acceleration of heart rate, breathing
- - Physical fatigue
- - Question/abandon faith; feeling betrayed or abandoned by God
- - Becoming violent, provoking fights
- - Homicidal thoughts
- - Suicidal thoughts, attempts
- - Adrenalin addiction
- - Self-mutilation
It's important to understand that when a person experiences a traumatic event, they won't necessarily develop full-blown PTSD. Depending on a number of factors, they could land anywhere along a spectrum of stress reactions. At the "Mild" end of the spectrum would be relatively simple issues such as reintegration stress, duty/home transitional stress, etc. at the "Severe" end would be PTSD.
If a person's stress falls on the spectrum closer to the Mild end, the anxiety he or she is experiencing usually resolves without much trouble in a relatively short period. But if it's closer to the Severe end, without taking an intentional approach the sufferer will continue to drift further toward PTSD.
The Way Out
As mentioned earlier in this article, PTSD is a three-part condition: physical, psychological, and spiritual. They are interrelated, and so all three must be addressed.
It's important that someone suffering with PTSD pay attention to proper nutrition and sleep. If these are inadequate, anxiety is magnified. Unaddressed substance abuse issues will cause a hard-to-reverse downward spiral. If physical injuries are present, proper medication, surgery and physical therapy will lead to a better physical condition, which prompts a more healthy and optimistic emotional attitude, and allows a person to function more efficiently regarding spiritual issues.
There are many benefits to engaging with a trained trauma counselor. Several evidence-based therapies have been shown to help people cope more effectively with the emotional roller-coaster ride of PTSD. If nothing else, a counselor will know how to help a PTSD sufferer talk about their traumatic events – which is the opposite of "stuffing it" and very therapeutic. Simply trying to repress the symptoms of PTSD is like cutting off the bad fruit of a diseased tree in order heal the tree. It is much more effective to deal with the root of the problem.
God is called "The Healer" in the Bible (Exodus 15:26). Sometimes God heals a person through a miraculous, direct touch. But more often, we experience healing when we cooperate with Him to create a personal environment that allows His Spirit optimal access to our body, mind and spirit for the purpose of healing. He can be vitally involved in all three realms, which will accelerate and deepen healing of PTSD.
Some key elements of that healing environment are:
- A vital, personal relationship with Jesus Christ
- Spending time studying the Bible and applying its truths to your life
- Prayer – alone and with others
- Connecting to a positive, Christ-oriented community
- Forgiveness – from God, of yourself, and others
- A positive mindset, involving courage, intentionality, and optimism
- Volunteering service to others