Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Who it Impacts
Video: What is PTSD
Crisis Counseling helps you overcome the difficult symptoms of the Post Traumatic Stress Response, and the more intense Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress is very real and can impact soldiers and civilians alike. Things like combat, terrorism, and natural disaster are not the only ways to experience it. Major life changes like job loss, divorce, and loss of loved ones often result in PTS symptoms (sometimes mistakenly referred to as PTSD . . . the ‘D’ stands for ‘Disorder,’ but PTS is not a disorder in and of itself, it is a normal set of experiences people go through after a tragedy; if not resolved, however, it can meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, which is more intense and persistent). If you are uncertain, please get in touch to see if crisis counseling would be helpful for you.
Trauma and Crisis Counseling in Austin
I received Advanced Certification by the International Critical Incident Foundation in 1998 and have responded to over 450 critical incidents around the United States. If you have been through a traumatic event, you want somebody who has specific training and a great deal of experience to help you through this difficult time.
The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll get back to feeling normal again. Working through trauma does not involve re-living your tragedy; this means that you will NOT have to re-tell the traumatic details. Our focus will be on recovery and returning to normalcy in the here-and-now and in the future, not on the past tragedy.
Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress
While we all experience trauma in unique ways, there are several trends that are consistent across traumatic experiences. Beginning with shock and denial, symptoms of traumatic stress also include cognitive, behavioral, physical and emotional symptoms. Appetite and sleep fluctuation, irritability, depression, fear and recurring images (flashbacks) are common. More severe symptoms include chronic depression, phobic reactions to traumatic triggers, job loss, physical decline, and major personality changes. Once these symptoms persist for more than one month, we begin to consider PTSD (vs PTS).
Cognitive symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress
- Flashbacks (recurring invasive images)
- Repeatedly thinking about the traumatic event
- Being very wary of typically non-threatening people, places or situations
- Being easily distracted
Emotional symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress
- Difficulty connecting with loved ones and friends
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors. This may sometimes look like “high risk” behaviors like driving too fast and not wearing a seatbelt, or otherwise taking unusual risks
- Feeling emotionally numb
Behavioral symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress
- Avoiding the location of the trauma
- Avoiding people or things that remind you of the trauma
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Lashing out in anger at people
- Difficulty performing well at school or work
- Social and/or romantic isolation
Physical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress
- Appetite changes
- Insomnia (sleeplessness) or Hypersomnia (sleeping too much and/or excessive daytime tiredness)
- Pain and soreness: headaches, stomach pain, tightness in the chest, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, muscle cramps heartburn, low back pain, sweating, having the “jitters”
- Constipation or diarrhea
What to expect from Post Traumatic Stress
When tragedy strikes, it is rarely expected or planned for. Usually, it comes in the form of unexpected trauma ranging from natural disasters to the unfathomable tragedies of terrorism. But all too often, seemingly “minor” traumas get ignored; like being traumatized by a fender-bender in Austin traffic. Another very common traumatic experience in a dog-loving city like Austin is the loss of a pet. The grief can be absolutely devastating, and getting help is not an overreaction at all.
We survive tragedy, but we must understand that the distress that follows tells us we need help. If not addressed, these symptoms (often referred to as Critical Incident Stress or Post Traumatic Stress) may linger for months or even years, needlessly complicating our lives, and worrying our loved ones who may feel helpless when trying to ease our pain.
There is help: Crisis Counseling helps you regain control over your mind and body so that you can return to normal.
What to do
While some people may be able to effectively manage their traumatic stress without crisis counseling or traumatic stress management/debriefing, it is always best to talk to a professional if you have any hesitation at all–it is worth the time and expense to put your mind at ease; remember, some of the manifestations of traumatic stress can be subtle as they stay inside and fester only to show up later as more distressing symptoms.
In order to deal with traumatic stress effectively, it is suggested that you contact a credentialed Critical Incident Stress Management professional within the first 24-72 hours. Your healing may involve both group debriefings and individual counseling, as well as ongoing aftercare for a few weeks, or as long as you feel is necessary.
If you know somebody that has been through a crisis or trauma
First, please understand that people who have been through trauma do not have a “Disorder.” The Post Traumatic Stress response (PTS) simply becomes a part of their survival. They can, and will, work through it. Helping them heal from this “invisible wound” involves:
- Following their lead. Be there if they ask for help.
- Do NOT ask for details; this can traumatize you (called Secondary Trauma, or Vicarious Trauma) and re-traumatize them by bringing the pain back up for them.
- Be reassuring, help them remember what they can do: exercise, be social (careful about alcohol though), play music, read a book, anything that helps them unwind. Even offer to do this with them.
- If they would like to talk about how they feel, or about the situation, be sure that you are clear about your limits. They will be appreciative that they know you will be honest with them. If you do feel upset by anything, be sure you reach out for help.
- Offer to bring them something they need: a meal, a book, yourself, etc. However, do not treat them as if they are incapable of caring for themselves.
- Just love them by being a good friend and/or family member.
Helpful tips when Post Traumatic Stress impacts you
Here are some suggestions for things to try after surviving a tragedy:
- Try to remember, it is OK to feel rotten about a rotten situation.
- As you feel ready, begin to bring normalcy back to your life by doing things that you used to do before the trauma.
- Exercise and follow a healthy diet (talk to your doctor!).
- Talk to your friends and family.
- Talk with a professional counselor (preferably Critical Incident trained).
- Practice meditation, relaxation, gentle, relaxed breathing.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Attempt to find something that you can learn from the trauma (i.e., how to prepare for a tornado, how to perform 1st aid and CPR, learn self-defense).
*Use the above as suggestions for loved ones that are struggling as well.
Crisis Counseling and Post Traumatic Stress FAQ’s
Do you have to be a combat veteran to experience PTS or PTSD?
No. And remember, dealing with PTS does not automatically mean that you have a disorder. Relationship loss, major life changes, or even just hearing about a traumatic situation can trigger Post Traumatic Stress. The key lesson is that traumatic stress can be dealt with and should not be ignored.
Is PTS or PTSD permanent?
Not usually. Being the more extreme of the two, PTSD can become a lifelong struggle for some, usually when the nature of the trauma is very extreme or long-lasting (some combat veterans, somebody that was imprisoned and tortured, etc.). With proper help though, PTS and PTSD can be managed with crisis counseling and some specific techniques like EMDR, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing/Management; sometimes people will get additional recovery from medication to moderate related depression and anxiety.
Should I try and get somebody dealing with PTS/PTSD to talk about what happened to them?
If they want to talk about it, they will, but generally speaking, it is not a good idea to get them to re-live the experience by describing it because it can re-traumatize them, and you may be traumatized by just hearing about what they went through. If somebody does want to tell you about their struggle, please be honest with them about your limits . . . it is ok to tell them that you’re concerned about them re-living it. You may consider directing them to a trauma specialist or crisis counselor. Most of the time, this will not be an issue as folks typically do not want to get into details; they may, however, want to talk about how they are feeling and how they are trying to move forward. This is a great place to support them.
Crisis and PTSD Resources
PTSD information from the Veterans Administration – Videos, articles and resources relating to PTSD
National Institute on Health – Coping with Traumatic Events
National Institute on Mental Health – Information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms and treatment
Helping Children and Teens with Trauma – How to help kids cope with traumatic events
International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) – Jonathan is recognized by the ICISF as an Advanced CISD/CISM professional
Wounded Warrior Project – Information for veterans on healing the emotional wounds of traumatic stress
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine Live Chat – 1-800-273-8255 is the 24/7 hotline
(512) 472-HELP – 24/7 Texas Crisis Line
Learn about dealing with trauma and PTSD: Trauma and PTSD Articles
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.