Experiencing a traumatic event does not mean you or your loved one will go on to develop PTSD.

Fear and anxiety are common reactions during and immediately after a traumatic event. Fear is actually adaptive in these moments, helping the body to defend against danger or avoid it, known as the “fight-or-flight” response. These innate and adaptive responses help to protect us from harm by flooding our body with the stress hormones we need to respond appropriately. Over time, when the body realizes its safe again, those stress hormones will stop pumping through your body and you’ll begin to feel the symptoms dissipate gradually.

Those who continue to experience those symptoms long after the traumatic event has passed may go on to be diagnosed with PTSD. People with PTSD generally feel those same feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety even when they are no longer in danger.

Fortunately, only approximately 7 to 8% of people will experience PTSD in their lives. Considering most of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime, these rates are very low.

There are a large number of factors that play a role in whether or not someone may fall into that category and go on to develop PTSD. The National Institute of Mental Health has identified a number of factors that might make someone at greater risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event:

•            Living through dangerous events and traumas

•            Getting hurt during the event

•            Seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body

•            Childhood trauma

•            Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear during the event

•            Having little or no social support after the event

•            Dealing with additional stress after the event (e.g., pain, injury, loss of loved one, job loss)

•            Having a past history of mental illness or substance abuse

 

But there is hope! The National Institute of Mental Health also recognizes a number of important factors that may reduce the risk of going on to develop PTSD following a traumatic event:

•            Seeking out and utilizing social support from friends and family

•            Participating in a support group after a traumatic event

•            Learning to feel positive about your actions during the traumatic event in the fact of danger

•            Having a positive coping strategy (i.e., a healthy way of getting through the bad event and learning from it)

•            Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear

Fortunately, many of the factors that reduce the risk of developing PTSD are things that can be accomplished with the support of a therapist early on after experiencing a traumatic event. Perhaps the greatest two predictors of health after a trauma are good social support systems and maintaining a hopeful, positive outlook.

If you’re struggling after experiencing a traumatic event, there is hope! Treatment with an effective trauma therapist involves education about symptoms, teaching skills that identify the triggers of symptoms, and learning skills to manage and reduce symptoms. Get started on your path to restored health today!

When most of us think about trauma, we tend to think about war, physical or sexual abuse, terrorism, major accidents, and natural disasters. These catastrophic events are often profoundly devastating, and what some refer to as large ‘T’ Traumas. They are extraordinary events that leave survivors feeling powerless and helplessness.

The first criteria required for a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence; these are typically large ‘T’ Traumas. Fortunately, these events are relatively uncommon, and the majority of us will be spared from these experiences during our lifetime.

Even among those who are exposed to a large ‘T’ Trauma, only a minority will go on to develop PTSD. For many people, their natural coping mechanisms kick in and the immediate reactions that occur naturally after a large ‘T’ Trauma diminish over time.

How to Know Whether it’s Time to Seek Help for A Traumatic Event

However, individuals do not have to endure one significant large-T Trauma event to be affected. There are a variety of situations that exceed our capacity to cope and lead to an inability to function at our normal levels. While these kinds of events are not inherently life-threatening, they most certainly feel threatening to who you are, what you believe in, and what you think about the world. These kinds of events are small “t” traumas.

Some examples of small “t” traumas include:

  • Divorce
  • Infidelity
  • Severe conflict with your boss, supervisor, or colleagues
  • Having a child
  • Legal trouble
  • Abrupt or extended move or relocation
  • Severe financial difficulty

For some people, one of these events may be enough to overwhelm their capacity for a prolonged period of time. For others, the accumulation of multiple small “t” traumas, especially in a short period of time, can lead to significant distress and trouble with functioning at work, school, or home.

These kinds of events are often downplayed as common experiences, and those struggling to cope sometimes feel ashamed or “weak.” But the reality is, we all struggle from time-to-time with the obstacles life throws at us. Part of healing and recovering from these obstacles includes acknowledging the adversity, leaning on support systems, and taking steps with the guidance of an expert to reclaim the impact it’s having on your life.

The biggest enemy when facing a large “T” or small “t” trauma is avoidance. People engage in a wide variety of behaviors in an attempt to reduce the distress or avoid reminders of the traumatic event (e.g., avoid watching the news, avoid public places, and avoid meaningful relationships). But the longer someone engages in avoidance, the more the distress grows. The only way out of trauma is through it.

But you don’t have to suffer in silence or face the trauma by yourself! There are treatments and techniques that can help. While there are no quick fixes or “cures” for what you have already endured, many people are successful in eradicating the impact of the trauma on their lives with the help of a professional. Plenty more have reported a significant improvement in the quality of their lives.

Reach out for help today and get started on your journey to recovery and growth!

Experiencing a traumatic event does not always mean you will go on to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, it is completely normal to experience fear and anxiety after something traumatic has occurred. But over time, these symptoms should start to dissipate naturally.

If you or your loved one survived a traumatic event and any of the following statements are true for you, it is likely time to seek professional help:

  • When disturbing symptoms persist 1 month after a traumatic event
  • When symptoms seem to be getting worse over time
  • When symptoms begin to impair social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
  • When you start avoiding more and more people, places, or things so that you don’t trigger symptoms or a stress reaction
  • When feeling helpless or hopeless about your situation
  • If attempts to cope with the trauma lead you to engage in unhealthy behaviors (e.g., alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from friends and family, risk-taking behavior)

 

Treatment Options

The first step is finding the right trauma therapist for you. Your therapist should have experience working with trauma, specifically the kind of trauma you are looking for help with. Whoever you select should be someone you feel you can build a safe, trusting relationship with. Therapists are not one-size-fits-all! What will be the ideal therapist for your friend or partner may not be the best fit for you. It is completely fine to trial a therapist for a few sessions to find out if they are someone you can open up to. A good therapist will be supportive and create the environment you need to work through your struggles.

Once you’ve found the right trauma therapist, there are a variety of treatment options available that are evidence-based (i.e., well researched and found to be effective). Whether you want individual sessions or group sessions with others who have been through something similar to you, there is an approach that will bring symptom relief.

No single treatment is effective for everyone. It may take time to find the right fit for you. Talking with a professional that you trust (e.g., family doctor, local clergy, local mental health association) might help point you in the right direction.

Take one step towards reclaiming your health today and liberate yourself from the past events that may be haunting you. Make your health a priority. You are worth it.

Historically, trauma referred to exceptionally horrific events like torture or abuse that you personally experienced. But over the last few decades, mental health professionals have to come to recognize that trauma can include a vast continuum of experiences.

So how do you know whether you or a loved one is experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a related stress disorder?

The International Society for Trauma Stress Studies defines trauma as “shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threaten[ed] death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity.” As you can see by this definition, the mental health community now recognizes that witnessing violence or threats of violence towards others also meets the definition of a traumatic event. This reconceptualization means there are most of us will be exposed to at least one traumatic event over the course of our lives.

But if most of us experience a traumatic event at some point in our lives, why is it that only some people have PTSD?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5th Edition (DSM-5), a diagnosis of PTSD includes the following:

  • Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.
  • Intrusive symptoms following the event, such as flashbacks, recurring dreams, or strong bodily reactions when exposed to triggers related to the event.
  • Avoidance of things that remind you of the event.
  • A negative change in thoughts or mood following the event.
  • Feeling hypervigilant or highly aroused (e.g., easily started, feeling “on edge,” difficulty sleeping) following the event.

If you or your loved one does not experience all these symptoms, they most likely do not have PTSD.

But don’t be mistaken… someone may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, but they may still experience posttraumatic stress.

For example, Acute Stress Disorder may occur immediately after exposure to a traumatic event but generally resolves within 1 month. Symptoms that persist beyond that benchmark are likely to be more appropriately labeled as PTSD.

The key to appropriate diagnosis and treatment is time. Getting into treatment soon after a traumatic event may lead to a better prognosis. Whether you meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD or another stress-related disorder, there is always room to work on improving your health and liberating yourself from painful, traumatic experiences. So reach out to someone today and start your journey!