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After a traumatic experience, it's normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious and disconnected.  But if the upset doesn't fade, you may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Most people associate PTSD with rape or battle-scarred soldiers.  However, any event, or series of events, that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leaves you emotionally shattered, can trigger PTSD- especially if the events feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.  PTSD can affect people who personally experience the traumatic event, those who witness the event, or those who pick up the pieces afterwards, such as emergency workers and police. Whatever the cause of PTSD, with treatment and support, you can learn how to manage your symptoms, reduce painful memories and move past the trauma. 

There are four main types of PTSD symptoms:

  1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event through intrusive flashbacks, nightmares, or intense mental or physical reactions when reminded of the trauma.

  2. Avoidance and numbing, such as avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, being unable to remember aspects of the ordeal or a loss of interest in life and being detached emotionally from others.

  3. Hyperarousal, including sleep problems, irritability, hypervigilance, feeling jumpy or easily startled, angry outbursts or reckless behavior.

  4. Negative thought and mood changes like feeling alienated and alone, difficulty concentrating or remembering, depression, feeling mistrust and betrayal, an feeling guilt, shame or self-blame.

The process of overcoming PTSD is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as part of your past.  The process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist.  Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy is beneficial in gradually "exposing" yourself to feelings and situations that remind you of the trauma and replacing distorted and irrational thoughts about the experience with a more balanced picture.  EMDR incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds.  These techniques work by "unfreezing" the brain's information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress. 

It is important to seek out a therapist who specializes in the treatment of trauma and PTSD.  The goal is for you to eventually get over the pain, feel safe again and to move on with your life.

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