Can anyone develop PTSD?

Lindsay Percival

Lindsay Percival

UKCP psychotherapist Lindsay is a Transpersonal Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor. Essential to her work is a mind-body-spirit approach to healing trauma, which can be a pathway to profound personal transformation.

The term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) has become commonplace these days, appearing in the storylines of TV dramas and films, with characters typically experiencing a visual flashback of a traumatic event. Despite this, there is often a preconception among clients that PTSD does not apply to them because they have not served in a war zone or been the victim of a terrorist attack. PTSD awareness aims to address some of these misunderstandings as it is a condition that affects veterans and non-veterans alike. 

What is PTSD?

PTSD can include visual flashbacks to the event but essentially it occurs when the nervous system remains stuck in a response, commonly described as fight, flight, freeze or collapse. It may also oscillate between these states as a result of being frightened, helpless and overwhelmed. 

When might I develop it?

PTSD can arise from many other situations such as difficult childbirth, being bullied or excluded at school, being involved in or witnessing an accident, and as a result of the psychological trauma of COVID-19. Not only are medical staff at risk, but also those with protracted symptoms and long hospital stays, including patients who were ventilated or placed in a medical coma. Symptoms do not appear immediately and there may be weeks or even years until they fully emerge.

How does PTSD affect a person?

PTSD makes it difficult, often impossible, for people to relax and sit still, apart from when in a collapsed state where they can’t get anything done or even get out of bed. Small things become overwhelming, such as noises or smells which recall the traumatic event. Even a certain look on a person’s face or response can be a trigger. In addition to being hyperaware of surroundings, constantly scanning for hidden dangers (known as hypervigilance), a whole range of symptoms – including nightmares, feeling in danger, difficult breathing, churning stomach and digestive problems – can feel like a never-ending cycle which is so overwhelming and exhausting that it can lead to suicidal thoughts and upon which some sufferers do indeed act. There is also another form called Complex PTSD which arises when more than one incident of trauma has impacted a person over a period of time which can be common in cases of domestic violence, early childhood neglect or abuse.

How can psychotherapy help?

The best news about PTSD is that it is treatable and there are a range of therapies that offer a highly specialised approach including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) which saw some press coverage recently as Prince Harry revealed he had received it. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, but early treatment is highly advisable. Contact your GP in the first instance.

Self-care tips for healing trauma

Some days you may lose all hope that you can survive the trauma and heal. If you find it too painful to reach out at this stage, there are things you can do for yourself:

  • Start by reminding yourself that you’ve been through an extremely stressful time, but you’ve come through it and you’re still here. It’s OK to feel upset. It’s normal. Take each day as it comes.
  • Take care of yourself and don’t skip the basics. Drink enough, eat enough and try to get some sleep. If you can, get some fresh air and physical exercise. Simple things like a walk in nature or being around animals can help you recover.
  • Coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and cigarettes may seem tempting, but your nervous system is already overloaded, and these things will only add to it. To heal you need to relax.
  • Stay away from the news and upsetting stories about traumatic events. This can be triggering for you. If people are talking about terrible things around you, ask them to stop or walk away.
  • You might feel isolated and withdraw from friends and family but it’s important not to bottle your feelings up.
  • If you are not able to talk to anyone, write your feelings down. Upsetting thoughts, unpleasant dreams, memories and flashbacks are the result of trauma, and they do lessen over time.
  • Try to breathe properly. Shallow breathing puts the body and mind on high alert and increases fear, anxiety and panic.
  • When you feel really distressed try to calm yourself down by breathing: longer in-breaths and longer out-breaths. Relaxation and self-care can do wonders to help you recover.
  • When you start to struggle, tell yourself, ‘The danger has passed now’. ‘I am safe’. ‘It’s over now’.

Trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder can be treated. Be kind to yourself. Don’t give up. You’ve got this far.

Psychotherapy can offer a safe space to explore your feeling, YOU CAN LOOK FOR AN ACCREDITED THERAPIST ON THE UKCP WEBSITE

You can also find support by contacting:

In an emergency, call: 999

NHS (England), call: 111

NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47

The Samaritans 24 hour helpline, call: 116 123


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