Feeling anxious, frightened and disconnected are perfectly normal reactions if you experience a traumatic accident. These unsettling feelings and emotions should fade over a period of time but if they do not and you constantly feel that you are in danger and the memories of the traumatic event will not go away, you could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A traumatic accident can leave you with the impression that your life will never be normal again which is why reaching out for support when you need it the most and developing specific “coping” skills, you can get on the road to recovery which in turn will help you move on with your life.
- What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- The Difference Between a Normal Response to a Traumatic Accident Versus PTSD
- What Are the Symptoms and Signs That I May Have PTSD?
- What Are the Symptoms of PTSD in Children?
- What Are the Risk Factors Associated With PTSD?
- What Are the Most Common Causes of PTSD?
- How to Help Yourself if You Suffer From PTSD
- How to Seek Professional Help For PTSD
- Treatments and Therapies for PTSD
- Further Resources
Any traumatic accident that leaves you fearing for your life or safety can lead to you developing post-traumatic stress disorder. A lot of people imagine that if a person has PTSD, they were either the victims of rape or have been in combat in a war torn area of the world. The truth is that an event or series of occurrences that leave you with overwhelming feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, can leave you emotional scarred which in turn can trigger for PTSD.
It is not only the person who is directly involved in a traumatic accident that may be left with PTSD, witnesses to the incident can also develop symptoms associated with the condition and can find it almost impossible to get their lives back to normal. People who work in specific jobs are more at risk and this includes paramedics and other emergency workers.
Almost everyone who experiences a traumatic accident will show some signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. If you think you are in danger, it can leave you feeling numb, disconnected and unbalanced. You start having bad dreams about the incident and you may be constantly fearful which are quite normal reactions to a traumatic event that most people do through immediately afterwards.
These feelings dissipate over a relatively short period of time whether it is a few days or several weeks. However, if these feelings of insecurity, bad dreams and anxiety do not fade but seem to be getting worse, then you may be suffering from PTSD as a result of having experienced a traumatic accident that left you badly marked. Without help and support, these feelings may spiral out of control.
The signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that can manifest themselves following a traumatic accident differ from person to person. The reason being that everyone is unique and therefore have their own way of dealing with things like anxiety and trauma.
On top of this everyone’s stress tolerance is different. With this said, the symptoms that you may be suffering from PTSD could begin a few hours or days after the accident, but you could find that the signs of there being something wrong could only manifest themselves weeks, months or even years after the traumatic accident occurred.
You may find that the symptoms start up for no apparent reason much later on whereas at other times, specific things, situations, people or places are the triggers. It could be an image, a noise, smell or specific words that trigger memories of the traumatic accident you experienced. With this said, there are four main symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder which are detailed below:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic incident over and over again. This could include having flashbacks, experiencing intense reactions to things that remind you of the traumatic accident you experienced and having nightmares
- Avoidance and numbing which includes not wanting to confront anything that it is a reminder of the incident, not being able to remember specific things about your ordeal, a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, feeling numb and detached from things and people around you
- Hyperarousal which describes not being able to sleep, being constantly irritable, constantly on the alert, being easily started and jumpy, having angry outburst and being aggressive as well as being self-destructive and displaying a reckless behaviour
- Negative mood swings and thoughts which includes having the feeling of being alone and alienated, finding it hard to remember or concentrate, a feeling of hopelessness and depression, not being able to trust anyone and having a feeling of betrayal, shame, guilt or self-blame
When children develop and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms that manifest themselves are different to those seen in adults with PTSD as detailed below:
- A fear of being apart from a parent
- Experiencing nightmares which leads to sleep problems
- Reliving the traumatic accident through games, play and drawings
- Developing new types of anxiety which includes being afraid of perceived “monsters”
- Experiencing aches and pains for no apparent reason
- Displaying aggressive and irritable behaviour
It would not be possible to predict whether you would develop post-traumatic stress disorder if you are involved in a traumatic accident because as previously mentioned everyone reacts to this type of incident in a different way. However, the common thread as to whether a person would be more at risk of developing symptoms associated with PTSD is when the accident puts them in fear of their lives and their safety.
In short, the greater the trauma and the longer a threat lasts, the more likely it would be that you develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result. Other considerations are whether the traumatic accident was uncontrollable, unexpected or inescapable.
With this said, studies have established that other risk factors which could put you more at risk of developing PTSD could include the following:
- Having experienced previous traumatic accidents – more especially when you were younger
- Having a family history of depression or PTSD
- Having a history of sexual or physical abuse
- Having a history of substance abuse
- Having a history of anxiety, depression or other mental issue
There are many traumatic accidents that can leave you suffering from PTSD which includes the following:
- A road traffic accident
- An accident in the workplace
- An extremely stressful accident or series of accidents
- Witnessing traumatic accidents on a constant basis whether you a paramedic or other emergency worker
There are things you can do to help yourself if you have PTSD and this includes the following:
- Challenging your sense of helplessness – the recovery process when you suffer from PTSD is a gradual one and nothing should be rushed because it is an ongoing process. The memories of a traumatic accident do not even completely go away and healing does not happen overnight. At times, it can make your life seem that much harder so it is important to do your best to cope and to reduce any feelings of fear or anxiety you may be experiencing
- Overcoming any sense of helplessness that you experience is key to recovering and overcoming the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A traumatic accident can leave you vulnerable with a feeling that you are powerless so it is essential that tell yourself that you boast specific strengths as well as strong coping skills which can ensure that you cope and get through the tougher times you are faced with
A really good way of reclaiming the sense of “power” that you lost, is to help others by doing the following:
- Volunteering your time
- Giving blood
- Reaching out and helping a loved one or friend in need
- Donating to a favourite charity
If you start “doing” positive things, it directly challenges any sense of helplessness which is one of the more common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This includes doing the following which helps cope with PTSD:
- Learn as much as you can about PTSD and trauma
- Join a local PTSD support group
- Start pursuing outdoor activities
- Start practicing relaxation techniques
- Confide in someone you can trust
- Spend as much time as you can with people who have positive attitudes to life
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs
Get Moving and Doing Exercise
Exercise is known to do more than just get you physically fit. When you exercise your body it releases endorphins which are known to improve your outlook on life and your mood. It helps your nervous system get “unstuck” from the natural stress response of being faced with a traumatic accident. Good types of exercise if you have PTSD include the following:
- Rhythmic exercise which includes walking, running, swimming or even dancing. This type of exercise helps you place your focus on specific “sensations” which includes when your feet hit the ground, your breathing or the sensation of wind hitting your face
- Spending time in the great outdoors which includes hiking, camping, biking in chosen areas that you enjoy because they are peaceful and relaxing
Reach out for support from others
Some of the symptoms associated with PTSD can make you feel disconnected and apart from other people which can lead to you withdrawing from social life. You might start avoiding your loved ones but it is essential to remain part of the things that go on around you. Spending time with loved ones and people close to you does not mean you have to talk about the traumatic accident you experienced, just being around people offers the kind of support you need to get you back on track emotionally. If you find it hard to reach out to a member of family but want to talk to someone, you should discuss your concerns with your GP who would refer you to a professional therapist.
Live a healthy Life-style
Having been subjected to a traumatic accident you would feel vulnerable both physically and mentally and if you are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, your body can suffer. As such, it is vitally important that you take good care of yourself by adapting a healthy lifestyle which includes doing the following:
- Taking the time to relax by doing something like meditating, deep breathing exercises, having a massage or taking up yoga all of which can help you relax your body while at the same time, easing the symptoms you are experiencing of PTSD
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs which would only succeed in worsening the symptoms of PTSD and could interfere with any treatment or therapy you are undergoing. It could also create more problems you may be having with relationships
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet by starting your day off by having breakfast followed by nutritious meals at lunchtime and dinner. Foods that contain Omega-3s are a good choice because they are known to enhance your emotional health. Avoid eating processed foods, anything that is fried, sugars and refined starches all of which can make your mood swings worse
- Make sure you are well rested by getting enough sleep. If you do not get enough sleep, it can trigger moodiness, irritability and anger in you. You should try to get anything from 7 to 9 hours sleep every night and if you find it hard to relax and go to sleep, try setting a bedtime ritual that will encourage relaxation
If you think you are showing the signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or you know someone who you think is showing symptoms, you should seek support as soon as you can and encourage the person you believe may have developed PTSD to talk to their doctors. It is important that you remember that suffering from PTSD does not mean you are weak in any way and that the best way to overcome the symptoms you are experiencing is to confront what happened, to learn to accept that the traumatic accident is going to be part of your history.
With the help and support coming from the right people, the process of recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder can be made a lot easier to cope with. If you attempt to numb yourself against awful memories, the symptoms you are experiencing would only end up getting worse over time and although certain emotions and feelings will not go away, receiving support and guidance can help. Avoiding anything whether it is people, places or your emotions would be exhausting and would ultimately harm your overall health and well-being as well as your relationships with family and friends. In short, it could negatively impact the quality of your life.
The earlier you seek help with your symptoms of PTSD, the sooner you would be able to get your life back on track. By dealing with them straight away could prevent things like your feelings and emotions spiralling out of control. Seeking guidance and support sooner rather than later, can help improve every aspect of your life which includes relationships with your family, friends and work colleagues.
It is also worth noting that some symptoms associated with PTSD can negatively impact your physical health and could make existing conditions that much worse. An example being that research has shown that having PTSD can make an existing heart condition worse.
By undergoing therapy and treatment for PTSD, it can relieve the symptoms you may be experiencing because it can help you cope with the memories of the traumatic accident you had. A therapist or a doctor would encourage you to relate your experience and to process the emotions you experienced at the time which is a good way of reducing how your memory deals with the trauma. The various treatments and therapies that have been effective in treating people with PTSD are as follows:
- Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy
- EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing a treatment that helps you “unfreeze” your nervous system
When seeking a therapist if you have PTSD, you should discuss things with your GP first who would then refer you to someone. The therapist would recommend the right sort of treatment for you with an end goal being to get your life back on track bearing in mind that nothing is going to happen overnight. The reason being that recovering from PTSD following a traumatic accident can be a long process.
Support, help and information for those with anxiety disorders including PTSD.
Information and specialist help for people with PTSD and anyone supporting them.
Treatment and support for British Armed Forces Veterans who have mental health problems
.Information and support for people affected by major disasters in the UK and overseas.
The professional association of EMDR clinicians and researchers in the UK and Ireland. Provides extensive information about EMDR.
A supportive online community which provides online peer support for anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
Provides direct clinical services to survivors of torture who arrive in the UK. Has access to interpreters.
Information for adults who were abused in childhood, including an online support forum.
Telephone counselling, support and information for survivors of sexual abuse and anyone supporting them.
Free online self-help guide from the NHS which includes some self-help resources for PTSD.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
Provides information on PTSD and complex PTSD, including local talk therapy services
Helps veterans, reservists and their families with trauma and distress.
Information and support for those seriously injured by road crash and bereaved families.
The Survivors Trust – Lists local specialist services for survivors of sexual violence, including advocates and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs).
An independent charity for people affected by crime and traumatic events in England and Wales. Provides emotional and practical help to enable people to cope and recover from the effects of crime