What is Post Traumatic Stress and PTSD?
PTSD Part 1: What is Post Traumatic Stress & PTSD?
Estimated watch time: 7 mins
Trauma is an event that’s life-threatening or makes you feel unsafe. Trauma can stem from something that happens directly to you, or you may witness an event that’s traumatic. Trauma affects the brain and how you process the world.
This video explores how trauma can impact people in different ways, and potentially lead to PTSD.
During this workshop, there will be a series of lessons with accompanying exercises that you will be able to access through our recovery portal, Swell.
- Types of PTSD & Related Conditions
- Prevalence of PTSD in Men and Women
- What Does PTSD Feel Like?
- 8 Common Myths About PTSD
What is PTSD?
Hi and welcome to our online PTSD workshop. During this workshop, there will be a series of lessons that you’ll be able to review to help learn about post-traumatic stress, how our body and brains react to difficult situations, and then how we can help manage it better in the future. There will be exercises that are associated with each lesson that you will be able to access through your portal.
Before we talk about PTSD, let’s really explain what constitutes trauma. Trauma can be an exposure to any event that is life-threatening or compromises the feeling of safety that an individual has.
This could be an event that happens directly to you. It could be an event that you have witnessed happen to somebody else.
You may learn that something traumatic, violent, or accidental has happened to someone close to you, or perhaps you’ve just been experiencing repeated or extreme exposures to events and or their details. Say, for example, you’re a first responder, so you are often exposed to the details of difficult situations that other people have faced.
Once you experience a traumatic event, what happens next is basically what we call post-traumatic stress. It’s not the same thing as post-traumatic stress disorder when I’m talking about post-traumatic stress. Post-Traumatic stress is your body and mind’s reaction to experiencing a traumatic event.
These characteristics are very similar to what someone with PTSD may experience, but that may not necessarily mean they last as long past the traumatic event, nor does it interfere with daily functioning for a prolonged period of time.
Let’s look at how the brain functions differently when exposed to trauma. We’ll go over this in a little bit more detail in a later part of the workshop. But let’s just get the basics down.
So, let’s talk about how our brain works when we feel like the world is a safe place. Even when we’re in a safe environment, the human brain is still going to be looking out for us and helping us survive. It’s going to interpret its environment according to safety and advantage. For instance, we’re going to look for patterns in our environment that let us know we’re safe or how to stay safe.
Are we at home or are we with friends? Are we with strangers? How comfortable we feel is going to be based on how much we know about where we are. Similarly, we process the familiar quickly and presume the familiar will stay consistent, our brain notices it, files it, and we move on.
Additionally, we’re going to engage with others and invest in relationships as a means of social security and support. Humans are social creatures, we are going to look at how we connect with others to decide our standing in a situation.
Additionally, we’re going to avoid what we perceive to be dangerous. If we see something that doesn’t feel safe, we tend not to go and do it.
Now let’s look at how our brain reacts and perceives the world after we experience a traumatic event. There are some similarities, but there are some shifts that you’re going to notice compared to what we just discussed.
When we experience a traumatic event, we will automatically react and go into survival mode. In other words, our sympathetic nervous response is going to kick in. We’re going to be in fight, flight or freeze. That state can continue for some time after a traumatic event as we continue to process the experience.
Additionally, after the event, we are more likely to avoid situations that are similar to the one that led to our trauma. If that road looks a lot like the road we went down when we got into the car accident, we’re less likely to want to go down that road.
Socially, when someone we care for is exposed to trauma, it will affect us as well. Because what’s going to happen is we’re going to see that our own world is no longer safe because theirs was not. If they can get hurt, then we can’t rely on their safety to be guaranteed.
Finally, we’re going to start looking for patterns in our environment that identify risks and danger more often. Our brain already does that but now the shift is to look for the dangers and not to look for the familiar, as we previously discussed.
Let’s talk about what happens when we are in a threatening situation. Something happens that we perceive as a threat and then our body reacts and our brain changes its reaction. And we go into a fight or flight response. There’s a lot of different things happening all at once. Our heart rate is going up. Our breathing goes faster and we’re breathing less deeply. Our energy is up. We’re hyper focused on the situation. We may not really be able to think things through because we’re just being ready to react in the moment to this threat.
It can get complicated, but there’s a lot that you’re experiencing in the moment and that affects what we do over the long term.
When our brain has experienced a traumatic event and starts processing the world differently, these are the things that we may experience as part of that response. It can be nightmares or flashbacks. It can be having a lot of difficult feelings of anxiety or anger and sadness. Feeling like we couldn’t keep ourselves safe. Blaming ourselves, feeling guilt, criticizing ourselves or just seeing the world as a dangerous place. And having a hard time trusting people.
As a takeaway for this lesson, what I would like you to understand is post-traumatic stress is a natural and appropriate response to a difficult experience. Not everyone reacts to trauma the same. And some of us are affected longer and more intensely than others but we all react. Like grief, our experiences of trauma are going to be very personal, and it’s when it affects our ability to function in daily life that we need to seek help.
If you’ve experienced trauma, please know that you’re not alone in your struggle. Though this is difficult for you, there are ways that you can learn to move through these experiences effectively and recover.
In the next lesson we’re going to build on the concept of post-traumatic stress.
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