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Thursday, August 5, 2010

When Stress Becomes Unbearable

 By: Tony Robinson

A soldier, just back from the war in Iraq, is haunted by
nightmares of bodies on the battlefield. A woman keeps replaying
in her mind the day that she was brutally raped. A man has
flashbacks of the time that he was beaten by his step-father.
These incidents are the result of stress--a special kind of
stress. It is a stress so overpowering, so overwhelming that it
is known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The important thing to remember about post-traumatic stress
disorder is that it is far more common than one might think.
First brought to the public's attention following the Vietnam
War, post-traumatic stress disorder afflicts everyone from
earthquake victims to survivors of kidnapping. Often, PTSD, as
it is known, occurs when an individual's life has been
threatened, or the life of someone close to him or her has been
jeopardized. More than five million people are believed to be
affected by the disorder.

There are a number of tell-tale signs of post-traumatic stress
disorder. For instance, an individual might experience continual
flashbacks or nightmares. He or she may experience feelings of
irritability or frustration. He or she might have an exaggerated
startle response, such as jumping when hearing a noise in an
otherwise quiet room. He or she may lose interest in work,
relationships, or other things that used to be enjoyed. The
symptoms may become especially pronounced when the anniversary
of the traumatic event rolls around.

Although stories of soldiers with PTSD are well-known, women
are actually more susceptible to the disorder. Also, there is
evidence that there may be a genetic predisposition for PTSD.
PTSD can lead to major depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse. If
a specific person was responsible for the trauma--say a husband,
boyfriend, or neighbor--the after-effects may be particularly

It is interesting to note that a specific sound or smell can
trigger a flashback for an individual suffering from PTSD. This
is part of the reason that the disorder is so troubling. In
essence, the individual has difficulty escaping the memory of
what happened to him or her. The recurring nightmares and
flashbacks are signs that the individual has not been able to
process the memory appropriately.

An individual afflicted with PTSD may feel a sense of
hopelessness. Since his or her ordeal seems to be repeating
itself, he or she may find it difficult to come to terms with
the event. This is why PTSD is such a debilitating condition.
However, it is important to recognize the fact that there is
hope for those struggling with this disorder. Through talk
therapy and medication, an individual can learn how to properly
process the traumatic memory. The nightmares and flashbacks
eventually disappear, as the individual receives a new leash on

It should be pointed out that there is no instant fix or cure
for PTSD. It can haunt people for months, if not years. It is a
mental condition that is still shrouded in a great deal of
secrecy. There are also many misunderstandings about the
disorder. It may cause someone to miss work, or to lose his or
her job entirely. It can wreck marriages and other close
relationships. A great deal of additional research needs to be
done in order to adequately address the problem of PTSD.

In the meantime, there are specific steps you can take to
lessen the likelihood that you will suffer from the disorder. If
you have become the victim of a traumatic event, seek help
immediately. Discuss the incident with your family doctor and
ask him or her for a referral to a therapist and psychiatrist.
Don't wait until your symptoms are out of control before you
seek help.

While this type of stress is not curable, it is entirely
treatable. The important thing for you to remember is that you
are not alone, that there are a number of mental health experts
who stand ready to help you. Also, try to think of yourself as a
survivor rather than as a victim. You may find you are better
able to cope with the stress that way. Also, recognize the fact
that the incident, though traumatic, has passed. Once you
realize that you are unlikely again to go through such a horror,
you may be able to put the incident into the proper perspective.

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