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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Will I Ever Feel Safe Again?

The majority of the people on this planet yearn to feel safe - safe in our homes, safe in our jobs, safe in our schools, playgrounds and parks - safe in our relationships. We work very hard to protect ourselves.

We control our environment to the best of our ability to keep dangers at bay because we want to feel safe. It's a basic human need. We build storm cellars, install airbags, buy weapons, add security locks and yes...invest in insurance, just to feel safe.

But what happens to our mental, physical and emotional state when severe trauma or extreme danger invades our world? Usually, our bodies are made with coping mechanisms to aid in working through these types of experiences.

It's normal to feel shock, fear, disbelief, sadness or even anger after suffering some sort of trauma. Our minds go through stages of actually grieving this temporary loss of safety. We may relive the event and feel the need to talk with a trusted friend about it.

These are normal stages of healing, but what if you find that you are not healing? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as the psychological state of being "stuck" in the shock, fear and possibly angry feelings associated with a traumatic event. Experiences like a car accident, a violent crime, a natural disaster or an act of war are examples of situations that might cause PTSD. If you find that you continue to have flashbacks about the incident for longer than a month after the experience, this might be a symptom of PTSD.

In addition, if your levels of anxiety or anger continue to increase or you feel numb in relation to normal feelings of love and friendship or activities you used to enjoy, this might indicate a PTSD condition. Some scientists say that a predisposition to PTSD may be hereditary and may result from low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Other scientists say that low levels of serotonin play a part in PTSD. A part of the brain known as the amygdala reacts to fears of threat and can be overstimulated when under prolonged stress. This can result in PTSD. 

Some physical symptoms that can be associated with PTSD are nightmares, heart palpitations, extreme sweating, rapid breathing, nausea and other stress related digestive disorders. The reason for these symptoms may be because your mind and body are trying to feel safe again but it still feels out of control and unprotected. It's a very helpless feeling to feel like you can't protect yourself. It can be torturous to feel like you cannot control what happens to you.

For the PTSD sufferer, being safe may feel just out of their grasp. This is why the mind and emotions get "stuck". They simply do not know how to get past the experience and feel safe again. In effect, when the mind and heart can't cope, it's like putting a lid on a boiling pot in hopes of making the hot water disappear. But what happens? The water will continue to simmer until it boils over. Feelings of unrest won't be ignored. And trying to hold down the lid when it wants to boil over becomes exhausting over time.

We must realize that we live in a wonderful world that can sometimes be dangerous. We were designed with the skills to cope with stress and difficulty. With the right help, we can learn to tap into these coping skills when necessary. If you think you suffer from PTSD, you should seek professional help from a qualified therapist or counselor. Talking about the trauma, although painful, may help to gradually "vent the hot water".

Also, getting involved in positive, productive work can give feelings of control back into your life. Helping someone else through volunteer work can turn feelings of powerlessness into feelings of power. And feelings of power can lead you down the road to a safe place again.

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