Vecna isn’t real but trauma is. Learn about traumatic stress and what you can do to stop it.
Have you ever experienced something really scary, damaging or threatening? Maybe you endured one terrible event, several different incidents, or years of abuse or neglect?
While your trauma probably isn’t as apocalyptic as in Stranger Things (we hope), it’s real, and it matters. You aren’t to blame and you have no reason to feel shame. Learn about the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and the treatment options that can banish it to the Upside Down (or at least make it stop haunting you).
What is Traumatic Stress?
Traumatic stress is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Fear triggers a “fight-or-flight” response and causes your body to release certain hormones and increase your blood pressure, heart rate and alertness.
Most people recover from this naturally. However, some people continue to feel frightened and stressed long after the trauma has ended. Certain risk factors, like experiencing prolonged trauma, make this lingering stress more likely to occur.
In some people, trauma symptoms don’t start right away and take weeks, months or even years to surface.
If you experience intense symptoms that interfere with your daily activities and don’t get better on their own, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms can vary over time and from person to person. They are grouped into four types:
Intrusive memories may include:
- Recurrent, distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to things that remind you of the event
Avoidance may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the event
Negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Feeling uninterested in activities you once enjoyed
- Having trouble experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
Changes in physical and emotional reactions (arousal) may include:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Feeling on guard for danger most of the time
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
For children 6-years-old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:
- Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of it through play
- Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event
Risk Factors for PTSD
- Your sex—women are more likely to develop PTSD.
- Experiencing trauma in childhood.
- Feeling extreme fear, horror or helplessness.
- Enduring a traumatic event that lasts a long time.
- Not having adequate social support after the trauma.
- Experiencing additional life stressors after the traumatic event (e.g., losing a loved one, losing your job or your home, enduring physical pain or injury, etc.).
- Having a history of mental health issues or substance abuse.
What Causes PTSD?
PTSD is probably caused by a combination of:
- Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression
- Inherited features of personality — often called temperament
- The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress
Why Seek Help for PTSD and Traumatic Stress?
If you have PTSD, it’s unlikely to go away on its own. Untreated PTSD can contribute to chronic pain, depression, substance abuse and sleep problems that make working and interacting with others very difficult.
Trauma-focused therapy gives you a safe space to process your feelings and address your fears. It gives you tools to challenge negative thoughts about yourself, your future and the world that may develop as a result of trauma.
Trauma-focused medical treatment (including medication and/or transcranial magnetic stimulation) can help your body stop reacting to misperceived “threats” and improve other symptoms related to PTSD.
There is no need to suffer through traumatic stress. With treatment, you can feel safer and live a happier, more productive life.
Treatment for PTSD
- Therapy – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are two evidence-based therapies for PTSD. These techniques can help neutralize things that trigger you and improve your symptoms.
- Medication – If you have PTSD, your brain may process “threats” differently and have an easily triggered “fight or flight” response, which makes you jumpy and on edge. Medications help you stop thinking about and reacting to what happened and can help you feel more optimistic about yourself and your life.
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) – TMS is a non-invasive treatment that uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in your brain to improve symptoms of PTSD.
As Max learned all too well in season 4 of Stranger Things, isolation is dangerous and often makes trauma symptoms worse. Don’t suffer in silence. If you have symptoms of PTSD, reach out and seek help.
If you or someone you love struggles with traumatic stress or PTSD, talk to your doctor or contact Athena Care, for mental health care in Tennessee.
One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.
Rachel Swan, MS
Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.