Category Archives: PTSD
Christmas is the season of fun and good will, but having PTSD at Christmas means the reality is often very different. The Christmas countdown can be one of the worst times of the year. The reasons for this are many: an expectation of the perfect day, having to shop in packed malls, thoughts of entertaining… all these things can lead to feelings of being out of control. This is especially true when there is already constant overthinking going on in your brain. Christmas often feels too much. For those with hyperarousal, the run up to Christmas usually increases trauma triggers. A rise in triggers is associated with more frequent acts of self-harm and increased suicidal thoughts. This is very frightening.
For those with PTSD at Christmas, the season can and does ramp up perceptions of powerlessness. This may lead to increased numbing and depersonalisation. At worst, it can feel as if the Amygdala can’t and won’t take any more. In these moments, you may feel like fighting, running like hell or freezing. Sometimes, it’s all of these things together.
It’s also common for those with PTSD to increase their alcohol or substance use as triggers rise. This not only hurts the person with PTSD, it causes unintentional pain to loved ones. It is crucial that you put some control into Christmas to prevent feelings of helplessness escalating.
Your Action Plan to Deal with PTSD at Christmas
- Limit engagements. Accept invites only to those events that you really want to attend. Make sure you know what the set up will be. If there is a strong feeling of not wanting to go, listen to yourself. If you want to stay at home, allow yourself to. Banish negative self-talk about being weak by not going.
If you do attend and feel the need to leave early, do just that. The people that matter will understand. Disregard the views of others.
- Structure plenty of downtime during the celebrations. Listening to music, walking or jogging are three undervalued and powerful tools. Recent research findings are clear – activities that involve a strong rhythmic focus are proven to reduce hyperarousal in the Amygdala. These activities calm the hyperarousal element of PTSD much more effectively than the use of talking therapies which often do little to reduce core feelings of rage and distress. It is thought this maybe one reason why EMDR is so successful in treating PTSD.
- Maintain a routine of meditation, progressive relaxation, yoga and visualisation. These tools can be truly lifesaving in an emergency, which may happen if you’re dealing with PTSD at Christmas.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. It might feel as if it makes it easier to get out of the door. The reality is hyperarousal and depression are increased after the initial buzz goes. If you don’t want to go out, stay home and do something genuinely calming. Things will get better as hyperarousal reduce.
- Lower expectations. Having PTSD is very hard. Most people haven’t a clue what you are living. You are a survivor and a warrior. Allow yourself to be discriminate in your wishes. You are your ultimate cure. Respect that.
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard PsychD, MSc, BSc Chartered Consultant Psychologist and Chartered Scientist. Dr Tizzard has over 20 years experience working with the emergency services, the military and civilians who have experienced PTSD in their lives. She has researched, lectured and developed training programmes pertaining to PTSD vicarious traumatisation and post traumatic growth.
It had been a perfect day, despite PTSD.
You were having fun. All of a sudden the fear, the flashbacks, the avoidance and the panic of PTSD returns. Why now?
This is the question often asked by patients in clinic. There is a simple answer: panic frequently re-appears in PTSD. When it does, it often reduces sufferers to jelly.
This often happens suddenly and without warning. It is all to do with PTSD triggers – things that resemble or remind the brain of the original traumatic incident.
Big triggers and small triggers can both cause a massive panic response
Most people are aware of the big things connected with a trauma. Some people consciously make a list of things that were connected with the traumatic incident – these lists become their conscious trauma triggers. They believe that they can then anticipate the ‘hot spots’ and take action to manage the uncomfortable scenarios. However, this doesn’t often work. The problem is, it’s the unconscious and unknown triggers that knock us off balance and onto our knees.
For example, Gill* is a successful career woman. She was raped six months ago, on her way home from a nightclub. Gill is very aware of certain triggers: she is scared of being alone in town at night, particularly in a certain part of town. She also jumps at the sight of a certain make of car, and freezes if she hears any door slam.
Gill recalled that recently she was hosting a presentation at her gallery in Geneva. All was well. There were many high-profile clients attending. Naturally, she wanted to make a great impression. Instead, she suddenly found her mind racing, her heart pounding, and a pressing desire to sprint right out of the room.
At that moment, she felt that her very survival depended on escaping. She lurched to the ladies room, where involuntary shaking gave way to floods of tears. The presentation now seemed a threat. She was unable to regain her composure. Instead, she called a friend to collect her and left by the back entrance.
Hidden PTSD triggers
It was the following week, during treatment, that she suddenly recalled that she had registered a strong smell of a particular masculine fragrance at the gallery presentation. She remembered that her attacker had smelt the same. She hadn’t been aware of that hidden piece of the jigsaw previously.
Suddenly it made sense: it had been an unconscious trigger, that had remained below consciousness until the evening of the presentation. Now she is aware of a new trigger, she is able to use techniques learnt in therapy to tolerate her acute sense of fear. She is able to use learnt strategies to reduce that trigger’s effect on her.
PTSD set-backs are temporary
The point is that, for as many triggers we are aware of, there are also just as many that remain out of range. These are like rocks under the water. It is so important to recognise this fact.
It is tough to accept that, even where fantastic progress is made during treatment, there are likely to be temporary set-backs. But these set backs are exactly that: temporary ones. This is the nature of PTSD.
*Client’s name and occupatiation has been changed due to client confidentiality.
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, BSc, MSc, PsychD, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Find out about EMDR treatment for PTSD at Christine Tizzard Psychology here.