For the roughly 8 million people in the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), quality of life can be greatly affected. To raise awareness of this mental health issue—and to educate about the effective treatment options available—the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder has designated June as PTSD Awareness Month. The organization notes that most people who have PTSD don’t get the help they need, but a range of treatments can help.
Many of you know that traumatic stress was part of my upbringing in a tumultuous home, as I described in my memoir, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child. Living through the murder of my uncle, fending off sexual abuse, and simply surviving in chaotic and unstable environments all led to me experiencing adverse health effects, both as a child and later as an adult. The good news is, we can take steps to push past PTSD and emerge on the other side of our pain, shedding those old emotional shackles and finding freedom and healing.
What Exactly Is PTSD?
PTSD is not reserved only for veterans of war. It affects plenty of civilians and survivors of all types, including those who have experienced sexual assault, a serious accident, a natural disaster, or any other traumatic event.
Though these kinds of circumstances are likely to shake up anyone in the short term, PTSD is associated with symptoms that stretch out for lengthy periods (a month or longer) or create significant amounts of stress, even possibly interfering with everyday life and functioning. These symptoms may include being hypervigilant (feeling jittery or on edge), reliving the event, or experiencing an increase in negative thoughts and feelings.
Left unchecked and untreated, PTSD can lead to a variety of harmful outcomes for those affected: depression, anxiety, fearfulness, numbness, sleep issues, anger, irritability, or self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse. Since these kinds of events trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol, past trauma can even lead to more serious health issues later on in life.
Finally, traumatic events don’t have to be one-time affairs to cause PTSD. Repeated exposure to violence can lead to the phenomenon of Complex PTSD (CPTSD). This type tends to occur after prolonged trauma that feels inescapable, such as instances of childhood or domestic abuse, as well as neglect or maltreatment.Left unchecked and untreated, PTSD can lead to a range of harmful outcomes for those affected: depression, anxiety, fearfulness, numbness, sleep issues, anger, irritability, and self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse. Click To Tweet
4 Steps to Push Past PTSD
Ever hear the phrase, “The only way out is through”? Basically, after suffering trauma, our emotional brains are wounded. If it doesn’t heal, the wound can, metaphorically speaking, become infected—in other words, manifesting a host of other ongoing symptoms that can interfere with your life. Therefore, taking steps to face and overcome past trauma is paramount. Here are some ideas that can help you work through it:
- Seek professional help. Therapy can guide you in talking through some of your past experiences—and explore how they’re affecting you right now. Therapy modalities that have shown to benefit those with PTSD include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which offers a strong mindfulness component. I did EMDR therapy and found it extremely helpful. I wouldn’t call it a shortcut to healing, but it does help you get to the core of the trauma really quickly. Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Find an artistic outlet. Making something creative—a painting, collage, movie, or poem—can be a cathartic experience and help you come to terms with a traumatic event and your feelings around it. If nothing else, it gets you out of your head for the moment, shifting your focus. Artistic endeavors can be especially helpful with PTSD: One study, for example, showed that art therapy in conjunction with cognitive processing therapy was found to improve trauma processing in veterans after combat.
- Think outside yourself. Helping others can help you heal, too. Telling my story was scary at first—naturally, it can be difficult to dredge up painful details of the past. But if doing so helped one person, the process was worth it. Alternatively, you can volunteer with or donate to an organization that benefits trauma survivors or research. Giving back is always a surefire way to feel better.
- Reclaim your power. Sharing my experiences with sexual assault and so many more traumatic events, in both my memoir and speaking engagements, illustrated the importance of finding my voice. Speaking up has helped me unload so much of that past baggage. If you want to remain anonymous for now, you can still tap into the healing powers of writing—try starting a personal journal to help purge your unresolved feelings and take control of your own story.
With the right combination of professional intervention and self-healing practices, many find that the symptoms of PTSD can be reduced or eliminated completely. The bottom line is, help is available, and it’s often effective. To conquer this widespread mental health issue, this is a reminder we all need—during PTSD Awareness Month and year-round.
If you’re struggling with PTSD and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.