As many psychologists and therapists will tell you, stress is unfortunately an inevitable, inescapable part of life that we must endure. However, for some, managing stress is considerably more challenging than for others.
When a person witnesses or experiences one or more traumatic events such as a death, serious injury or threat of death or serious injury, there is the potential to experience Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) in the following weeks as the nervous system attempts to cope with the sudden shock to its processes. These symptoms can last for several weeks or even months.
When a person has been forced to endure repeated or severe trauma, it can become to overwhelming for the nervous system to process which can trigger a ‘frozen’ physical reaction. Unlike the fight or flight responses, frozen physical responses are unable to discharge and recover. This is what commonly causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When a person encounters a similar situation, or a reminder of the trauma, the body reacts to it like it was the original traumatic event. This can be seen by others as an overreaction and find the behaviour particularly puzzling; however, this is a normal symptom of PTSD and the result of a dysregulated nervous system.
The basis of ASD or PTSD is the perception or realisation of serious harm or death with no ability to escape. Although some people will be more susceptible to the impact of PTSD and ASD if they have a pre-existing condition such as depression or anxiety, it can affect anybody, at any time in their life.
Most people will attribute this to people serving in the armed forces, witnessing serious, inescapable events with sometimes no ability to recover from what they have experienced. However, there are also high proportions of domestic violence and rape victims who show symptoms of PTSD as a result of repeated violence and violation, with no means of escape.
Furthermore, people can also develop secondary stress disorders, most commonly known as vicarious trauma; which can be caused by front line professionals, friends or family supporting those that are suffering with trauma. It is important that those who are working in these roles practice self-care and attend supervision and that friends and family pay attention to their psychological wellbeing.
Each person will respond to stressful events and trauma differently; some might react immediately to the situation and others may report feeling numb or completely fine for weeks or months following a traumatic event.
Both of these are normal, there is no prescriptive way to respond to stress. However, some general symptoms of acute stress include;
Feeling unusually angry, sad, anxious or low and finding these emotions rapidly change out of your control
Feeling numb, emotionless and unable to connect with others
Wanting to withdraw, spending more time alone, finding the company of others irritating or overwhelming
Adverse reactions to loud noises, sudden movements or smells
Experiencing flashbacks of traumatic events which can be so intense it feels like the event is happening
Using alcohol or drugs to block out feelings or flashbacks
Hyper-vigilance; always being alert and ready to respond to danger
Suicidal thoughts or self harm, in the form of cutting, or other self-destructive activities
Living with PTSD and ASD can be distressing and lonely. People may think that over time symptoms will go away and life will return to normal, but for some people this is not possible and symptoms can even worsen or become far more difficult to treat once particular behaviours and thinking patterns become engrained.
Orchestrate’s home mental health care has been designed to meet the needs of those who may find it further traumatising to enter into an inpatient treatment programme, or travel to a facility to attend appointments. We understand how difficult it can be to talk about traumatic events and so we believe it can be hugely beneficial to do so with a trusted professional in a familiar environment, where you feel safe.
Taking the first step can be the hardest, but the most rewarding. Orchestrate knows that there is far more to people than their traumatic experiences and strives to help support people to a future where they are in control, not their symptoms. So, get in touch today to find out more about how we can help.
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