Stress disorders should be seen as part of a continuum ranging from short term acute stress related to one extreme traumatic event in which symptoms last up to four weeks, to long term chronic stress in which symptoms persist for at least three months to two years. The first is known as Acute Stress Disorder while the latter is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Symptoms of both of the above conditions have the following three headings:
• Intrusive recollection of the trauma
• Avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma
• Disordered arousal in reaction to concrete events, i.e. Extreme startle response
If these symptoms last for more than 4 weeks it is likely an indication that therapy is necessary in order to avoid a chronic condition often characterized by personality change.
Often stress related disorders are not the result of one extreme event but are a result of a series of negative life events such as divorce or unemployment or a series of traumatizing events such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. These are referred to as Disorders of Extreme Stress Not Otherwise Specified, which can have the same symptoms as Acute Stress and PTSD, along with significant symptoms of guilt and shame.
The presence of trauma is not so much related to the type of event as it is to the perception of the event by the victim. One person’s one time traumatic event may be another person’s source of motivation for change and growth. A series of traumatic events or the presence of a pre-existing condition, including previous trauma, or the lack of social support, will heighten the effects of the trauma. This is not a value judgment as to our ability to handle life so much as to say that if the trauma is truly debilitating the courageous and prudent act would be to seek help.
A Quick Screening Questionnaire (Brewin et al. 2002)
The following reactions sometimes occur after a traumatic event. Please indicate whether you have experienced any of the following AT LEAST TWICE THIS PAST ONE TO TWO WEEKS. (Please note that these symptoms persist even though the event or events occurred some time ago)
1. Upsetting thoughts or memories about the event have come into your mind against
2. Upsetting dreams about the event
3. Acting or feeling like the event were happening again
4. Feeling upset by reminders of the event
5. Bodily reactions (such as fast heartbeat, stomach churning, sweatiness, dizziness)
6. Difficulty falling or staying asleep
7. Irritability or outbursts of anger
8. Difficulty concentrating
9. Heightened awareness of potential dangers to yourself or others
10. Being jumpy or being startled at something unexpected
If you answered “yes” to experiencing 6 or more of the above at least twice in the past one to two weeks it is a strong indication you would benefit from further assessment. This is true even if the above symptoms have been triggered by recent events or reminders of a past event.
One of the more significant results of an unresolved trauma experience is difficulty in managing relationships. There may also be a significant sense of “being damaged” by the event or events. This is often accompanied by the unfortunate and distorted belief that the damage is irreversible.
Help is available. The first step is to become connected with a helpful process such as further assessment and an action plan that meets your specific needs.
Recovery Centre for Addictions, Trauma and Families will work with you as to take the necessary steps to recover what seems to have been lost and to become emotionally healthy again.