PTSD is also known as post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can occur after you have experienced a major trauma. Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder include re-experiencing the traumatic event, which can come in the form of nightmares or flashbacks about the trauma. You also become hypervigilant and you start to scan your environment for any danger frequently. PTSD is a major anxiety disorder that occurs after a life-threatening trauma. So here’s an example of the negative cycle of post traumatic stress disorder:
Here you have the trigger, which is any reminder of the trauma. So maybe you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, and maybe you drove past the accident scene, and then this in turn triggers the re-experiencing of the trauma. So what happens is you start to re-experience the trauma via flashbacks and nightmares, as if the trauma were re-occurring. So it might bring you back to recall the accident, and the details of the accident scene, and that plays back through your mind via flashbacks and nightmares. And then these thoughts and images about these past traumas induce anxiety. So in addition to anxiety and terror, you have the physical sensations of the adrenaline response, otherwise known as the fight or flight response. And then what happens is that you re-experience the feelings of anxiety that you felt when you were going through the trauma.
So the anxiety is very uncomfortable, and it makes you avoid. And then it forces you to escape the situation, avoid future triggers, scan the environment for danger, and you become hypervigilant and are always on guard. So the avoidance maintains the belief that the trauma is still occurring, and this continues the negative, vicious cycle of PTSD.
So although the avoidance decreases your anxiety over the short term, the behaviors actually maintain your overall anxiety from the feared stimulus. So the avoidance then maintains the belief that the trauma is still occurring. This then continues the vicious, negative cycle. Your feared stimulus induces thoughts, which induces anxiety, which then compels you to avoid. So instead of just exposing yourself to the trigger and finding out nothing bad will occur, you avoid the trigger, and this maintains the belief that the trauma is still occurring. So with avoidance, you never get to find out that the anxiety will go away naturally if you just stay with your trigger.
So the solution is cognitive behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT. So CBT helps to break the negative cycle of PTSD by changing how you think, and what you do. It’s difficult to change the way you feel, so the focus is on changing the way you think and the way you do things.