What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a psychiatric condition that evolves after a person suffers a traumatizing event in which they were harmed or came close to harm. Common causes of PTSD include rape, abuse, car accidents, natural disasters, or experiencing war. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, post traumatic stress disorder affects approximately 1 in 10 people. Patients often suffer post traumatic stress disorder flashbacks, characterized by recurring images and thoughts of the traumatic event, recurrent nightmares of the event, or re-experiencing the event caused by an internal or external cue. An exaggerated startle response is also a common symptom. A post traumatic stress disorder flashback may cause a sufferer to enter a dissociative state, lasting anywhere from seconds to days. Patients may also be hypervigilent, subconsciously scanning interally and externally for threats. Anniversaries of the event or any specific reminders can often trigger PTSD flashback symptoms. A person suffering from flashbacks may make frantic efforts to avoid stimulating factors and may suffer from comorbid depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Prescription antidepressant medications are often given to a patient suffering from flashbacks as a result of post traumatic stress disorder to help reduce the frequency or severity of comorbid symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. According to HelpGuide, “while antidepressants may help you feel less sad, worried, or on edge, they do not treat the causes of PTSD.”
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) targets PTSD flashbacks and other symptoms by desensitizing the patient with gradual “exposure” to the traumatic event. A licensed therapist slowly exposes the sufferer to stimuli in a safe setting with the goal of reducing the exaggerated response. CBT also focuses on replacing irrational thoughts with more rational or balanced ones.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy that utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy techniques in conjunction with rhythmic stimuli in a left-to-right order, often in the form of sounds. According to HelpGuide, “Eye movements and other bilateral forms of stimulation are thought to work by “unfreezing” the brain’s information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress, leaving only frozen emotional fragments which retain their original intensity.” It is thought that once some of the trauma is reduced, the brain can then more effectively process the trauma.
According to a study at Oxford University, playing Tetris may help reduce symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder flashbacks. The study exposed 30 individuals to a 30-minute film where they witnessed real scenes of death and injury. After a 30 minute break, the individuals were then exposed to a “no-task or visuospatial (Tetris) condition” for 10 minutes. The results of the study concluded that playing Tetris reduced PTSD flashbacks from the traumatic film.
Things You Can Do To Help Reduce PTSD Flashbacks
There are some efforts you can make in your life to help reduce post traumatic stress disorder flashbacks in conjunction with therapy:
- Avoid using alcohol and drugs, which are depressants and can interfere with your treatments
- Remind yourself that you are not in danger and are not weak during particularly vulnerable moments. PTSD flashbacks may leave feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Combat these thoughts with more positive ones.
- Seek support through trusted family and friends or join a support group
- Practice a regular form of relaxation, such as yoga or guided meditations
- Educate yourself on PTSD to better prepare yourself and understand what is happening within your body