Monday, 12 September 2016

What is PTSD?

For numerous people, stress is a part of life, and most of us have experienced it at some point, but depending on the circumstances, the intensity of the stress may vary. Sometimes, following a trauma, someone can become overwhelmed by stress, and this can lead to a lack of ability to cope. Anything that reminds us of the trauma, even ordinary day to day experiences, can trigger off symptoms like nightmares, anxiety and flashbacks (feeling as if you are reliving the trauma).

First of all let's look at that word trauma. Most people understand a trauma to mean being involved in a very serious event such as war, torture, a tsunami, the London bombings, a car accident or being attacked, and the National Institute of Mental Health says that 'PTSD is a disorder that develops in  some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.'

However, the DSM IV, which is used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illnesses, says that we don’t always need to experience these things ourselves. Just witnessing or hearing about them can sometimes be enough to trigger PTSD. So even though we tend to think of this as being a problem for the military and emergency services personnel, who often experience extremely  upsetting things, it can easily affect other people too.

The flashbacks experienced by someone with PTSD can trigger feelings of anxiousness and panic. These 'flashbacks', and the feelings that come with them, can be physically exhausting, but ironically also lead to trouble sleeping, ultimately causing difficulties focusing and functioning psychologically at work and home. A constant state of anxiety can also lead to physical symptoms, such as palpitations, stomach issues and throbbing headache. Lack of sleep and the frequent triggering of stress and anxiety feelings over the long term can lead to depression, or angry outbursts over small incidents.

If you think you have PTSD, the first thing is to go to your GP for a proper diagnosis. The medical treatments offered will usually involve some sort of anti anxiety medication like anti-depressants and/or beta blockers. You might be referred for  some kind of counselling. However, EMDR, stress coaching and some hypnotherapy strategies are also useful to reduce symptoms and give you back a feeling of control.

I would always begin by checking that you have a proper diagnosis and that your doctor has no objection to you seeing me. It's not a great idea to take two kinds of talking therapy at the same time for the same problem, so if you are currently undergoing counselling you may have to wait till this has finished.

Once we meet up, I will ask you about what's happened to you so I can understand your experiences and the symptoms they are creating. We'll work together then to come up with a plan for how to proceed. Generally I use EMDR first, to desensitise you to the triggers that set off your symptoms. 
You can learn more about this HERE. We then move on to using stress coaching or hypnotherapy, whichever you prefer, to help you develop long term coping strategies.

On the whole, the key aim of treatment for PTSD is to help you to safely process the traumatic memory so that it doesn't have the high levels of raw emotion linked to it. The goal is to make certain you can eliminate (or at least reduce the regularity/intensity of)  'flashbacks' and other symptoms so that you can get on with normal life again.

If you think you or someone you know may have PTSD please email me with some information, I’d be happy to advise if I can help.


Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from
Find out more about Debbie's services on  or phone 01977 678593

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