“I felt that being stressed was normal, and I would just have to move on and deal with it. I really had no idea what PTSD was until I was diagnosed.”
We are all likely to experience or witness something shocking, scary or dangerous at some point in our lives. Each of us is unique in the ways we respond to and recover from these traumatic or stressful events.
The symptoms of trauma may range from shock, anxiety, and fear to anger, aggression, and deep sadness. You may also notice numbness, a lack of feelings or emotions, or have intense flashbacks.
But what if many months have passed since the event and you still feel overwhelmed, or find it difficult to cope with things that were once easy? This could be a sign that you have a trauma- or stressor-related disorder, or are at risk of developing one.
To find out if you have this diagnosis, you will need to have an assessment with a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. The resources below can give you ideas on how to get started.
A closer look
The stress reaction is also known as the “fight, flight, or freeze” response
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the second most common mental health disorder
It can be traumatic for a young child to be neglected or have many primary caregivers
Taking action for change
You may already have your own healthy self-soothing or calming strategies such as breathing, relaxation exercises, or fun activities. If you notice they are not effective since your traumatic experience, you may need to find new ways to cope. Be aware that unhealthy self-soothing through addictions or excessive use of alcohol and other substances can lead to more problems.
The first step can be talking to someone about what you're going through. Whether it's someone you're close to, an anonymous phone counsellor, or someone who's had a similar experience, you're starting the process of your recovery. You can also connect with others who are going through, or have gone through, similar experiences. There are resources further down the page that can point you in the right direction.
Self-care is an important part of recovery. Improving the quality of your sleep and food, exercising regularly, and connecting with supportive people are some of the actions you can take towards positive change. You can find out more about self-care and wellbeing on our meaningful life pages.
If you decide that you need professional support, there are some great online resources that can help you get started. You can find some of them at the bottom of this page. Or you can talk to a GP or a mental health professional who has specialised in talking therapies in trauma to find out more about the treatment options available.
My psychologist described PTSD like a bottle: when I start, my bottle's pretty much empty, and every job is represented by a drip of water in that bottle. And my bottle had just overflowed, hence why I just couldn't manage anything.
I was diagnosed with PTSD at the age of 14. I wasn't given any information about what it meant or how to help myself. It was only later that I learned more about the condition and how I could recover. It was really amazing to find out there was a way to deal with how I felt.
I was very resistant to medication in the first 18 months of therapy. I believed that I needed to be stoic, that I needed to march along. I resisted suggestions for me to take antidepressants as I felt that it would make me weak or alter my thinking in some way. I'm so glad now that I was persuaded it would help.
Helping someone with this condition
There is a lot that family and friends can do to support a person who has been affected by trauma or stress. It helps to recognise that they have been through a tough time and may be reluctant to admit they are not coping well, or to talk about it at all.
Learning what you can about the specific trauma or stress-related disorder that the person might be going through is a good start. Allowing time and space for them to talk and open up about their experience, if they want to, can be helpful. Encourage their self-care through diet, exercise, and making time to relax. Help them to plan at least one enjoyable activity each day.
If you are in a close relationship with the person, it’s especially important to be patient and let them know that things can get better. Ask how you can help, encourage treatment, and accept that progress will take time. In helping someone with trauma- or stressor-related disorders, it is crucial to look after yourself as well. Find out more about caring for someone with a mental health condition.