What Exactly is PTSD?
After any intense or upsetting event in life, it’s normal to be bothered by the memories of the event. Like when you have an almost car accident. You slam on the breaks. Grip the steering wheel and start to feel panic. Your heart is racing. You might even be shaking, but eventually, once you realize you’re safe and no one is hurt, you calm down. Remembering the almost accident for the next few weeks might be a little distressing, but little by little, you start to feel better.
The reaction you have after such an intense experience is a normal reaction by your body to extreme stress. To deal with the situation, your brain tells your body to release certain hormones that put your body into overdrive and turn on your fight or flight response. In a perfect world, after such an event, you can calm back down, whether on your own or with the support of someone else, and your nervous system goes back to homeostasis.
If you continue to have symptoms for weeks or months after the intense (or traumatic) event, however, you may have PTSD. Sometimes PTSD symptoms may not start until later on. They may come and go over time or they may persist throughout life to the point that living in trauma mode becomes your norm. That is often the case for adults who were repeatedly traumatized as kids or have been in long-term abusive relationships.
Not only are nurses at risk for experiencing trauma in their personal lives, but they are also often exposed to traumatizing events at work that includes things such as patient deaths, codes, abuse by patients, and bullying by coworkers.
Signs You May Have PTSD
- You re-live the trauma through nightmares or upsetting vivid memories, called flashbacks, that make you feel as if you are experiencing it again.
- You emotionally turn yourself off and avoid places, people, and activities that could remind you of the trauma.
- You have trouble sleeping. Concentrating can be hard, and you may feel jumpy or get easily irritated and angered.
- You may have trouble remembering the details of the event.
- You have negative beliefs and unrealistic expectations of yourself. Self-blame is a huge problem for survivors of trauma.
- You have trouble experiencing any positive emotions.
- You may begin to engage in reckless behavior – drinking to an extreme, taking drugs, unsafe sex practices/multiple partners, or other dangerous activities. Because you become disconnected from yourself and your body, and you want to avoid thinking or feeling, you can make poor choices that will help you escape facing your pain. Unfortunately, all those things do is make your life even harder to manage.
Help for PTSD for Nurses
PTSD can make life very difficult to deal with, but with the right help, you can learn to manage it and break free of its hold on you. Some people even completely overcome it.
Recovery from PTSD usually requires multiple forms of treatment and support. Usually, this needs to include:
- Care with a trauma-informed therapist who is skilled at treating PTSD.
- Processing the trauma in a way that helps your brain file it away, so it no longer causes distress.
- Support from other nurses. Connecting with other nurses can help you see that what you’re experiencing is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You will learn that we have so much in common, and together we can help each other heal.
- Leaning how to re-regulate your nervous system so it’s not stuck in a trauma response.
PTSD doesn’t have to run your life. Yes, it can scary to reach out for help, but when you finally do get help, your world can change dramatically. You will learn to calm your nerves and manage your triggers so when PTSD wants to suck you back into the past, you will look it right in the face and say, “No more! That was then. Now, I’m in control, and life is good!”