A person may develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after having experienced a terrifying or traumatic event. Or they may have witnessed a harmful event happening to a loved one or strangers, or heard about a loved one experiencing such an event. They may develop PTSD after the event or years after the event has passed.
This experience triggers the fight or flight response in their body. The fight or flight response is designed to be triggered when we are faced with a danger, mobilising all our bodily resources to cope with that danger. Some of the usual bodily symptoms of our fight or flight response are: cold sweating, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, hypervigilance…. Our body feels that it is under attack.
If you have PTSD, you probably recognise some of these symptoms. This is so because you go into fight or flight long after the danger has passed. The memory of the traumatic event is in your body, even though your may not cognitively remember the traumatic event or some of the feelings attached to it. Your fight or flight response is started because you may have come in contact with a trigger that reminded you of the event, such as a smell, a person, a look, etc. But you may not be aware of what the trigger is. For example, a person may be triggered by a perfume because it was the same used by his or her abuser, even though his or her mind doesn’t cognitively remember the abuser’s perfume. When the person smells the perfume, she or he will go into fight or flight with the symptoms mentioned above, even though the danger is no longer there. When the fight or flight symptoms become chronic, they can result into sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, sexual dysfunction and difficulty concentrating.
Understanding this is the first step when looking for help for PTSD. If you suspect that you may have PTSD or have been diagnosed with PTSD, you may benefit from working with a professional psychotherapist. Because your nervous system is hyperaroused, your therapist will generally provide you with some tools to calm down your nervous system. The tools usually include meditation, relaxation or mindfulness exercises. After learning that you can control your nervous system activation, there is usually a sense of relief.
Once your body becomes more relaxed, you can start looking at your symptoms as messages from your body to discover what triggers your fight and flight response. When you find professional help for PTSD, your therapist will help you to listen to these messages and they may start making sense to you. This may enable you to process your traumatic event in a safe environment and get rid of the emotional charge and symptoms that accompanied it.
Multicultural Counselling and Psychotherapy in Exeter, Teignmouth, Skype
Alda Gomez BA PGCEd GCCI HDIPCP MA Psych (Psychotherapy) MBACP
01626 778048 – 07437 332032