Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Who it Impacts
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; PTS is not a disorder in and of itself; if not resolved, however, it can meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD). If you are uncertain, please get in touch to see if crisis counseling would be helpful for you.
Trauma and Crisis Counseling
I received Advanced Certification by the International Critical Incident Foundation in 1998 and have responded to over 400 critical incidents around the United States. I have also trained new trauma specialists who have also provided international support to hundreds of trauma survivors.
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.
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.
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.
What to do
While some people may be able to effectively manage their traumatic stress without 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 a trauma do not have a “Disorder.” The Post Traumatic Stress (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 as well.
- 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.
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 often triggers 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 usually be managed with 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 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 is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, 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.