Added 8 December 2022

PTSD – how to support people who have collided with traumatic situations?

In a traumatic situation, when one witnesses or participates in a threat, there is terror, fear, paralysis, a sense of losing control – these are reactions that may (or may not) lead to post-traumatic disorder.

The strong sensations associated with the experience of a traumatic situation usually last for several days, but fade with time. Distraction, insomnia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, recurring images of the event can be bothersome and severe, but they are the normal workings of the nervous system.  If we are functioning better and better over time, we have less and less frequent images of the event (so-called flashbacks) that evoke weaker and weaker emotions, we have probably activated our defense mechanisms and dealt with the situation using our natural competence. If we have someone to talk to, chances are good that we can handle these difficult situations on our own.

After a difficult event that surpasses one’s ability to cope, triggering a great sense of helplessness, destabilization and the following symptoms can occur:

  • Stronger than usual ruminations, inability to let go of thinking about what happened, analyzing the situation, blaming others or oneself, confusion,
  • Difficulty concentrating, with memory, difficulty making decisions,
  • Tension, anxiety, restlessness, waking up during the night, frequent irritability, feeling that one has lost control over emotions, outbursts of anger, crying,
  • Nightmares, sudden images of action are basically normal reactions to a difficult situation.
  • Change in daily activities – you do not enjoy what you did before, you do not finish the activities you started, you cut off contacts.

Sometimes, however, the events experienced are beyond our ability to cope. Sometimes coping with symptoms is not possible without the help of a specialist. The inability to let go of thinking about what happened, analyzing the situation, tension, anxiety, restlessness, waking up at night, nightmares, suddenly appearing images of the rescue operation are basically normal reactions to a difficult situation. This reaction of heightened tension and re-experiencing can last for several days or even longer. At this stage, it is helpful to seek support and talk to people who do not offer advice. Accepting the memories that arise and finding some activity that lowers the tension (such as sports, walking, cleaning, sleep, hobbies, or going out). An emerging sense of guilt can be disturbing. If we resent ourselves that we could have done something differently and these considerations make us feel guilty – we should consult a specialist.

When the period of experiencing a traumatic event is prolonged and the emotions are still at a similar level and it lasts more than a month, we are already talking about post-traumatic stress, known as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

Traumatic events can trigger very strong emotions, and basically any of them is possible – from paralysis, crying, hysteria to cold composure on the verge of feeling like a psychopath, to paradoxical laughter. The basis is acceptance of what one is experiencing at any given time.

Let’s also remember that one thing that protects through PTSD is social support. If we have someone to talk to who is able to accept our natural reactions – fear, guilt, sadness – there is a good chance of coping with difficult situations on our own.

Coping in the first days after a trauma is really about getting rest, sleep, limiting coffee and alcohol, talking to people with similar experiences, planning tasks or other favorite activities. Some solitude doesn’t hurt either. However, when someone isolates themselves and avoids talking about the past event altogether, this is a worrying symptom of avoidance, and in such a situation it is advisable to consult a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for a more detailed diagnosis.

Untreated PTSD leads to depression and severe personality changes, attacks of aggression, addictions and even suicidal tendencies.

At Mental Health Center, we have a lecture package, “Facing Suffering – Good Support in Illness and Loss,” for companies that want to help employees face suffering, loss, illness or bereavement. If you would like to raise such topics in your companies – let us know by email –

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