Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been a name for trauma under different names throughout historical times to our current date. Currently, it has an official classification under anxiety and the diagnostic and statistical model version #5.
But I would like to unpack and expand an understanding of PTSD to include not only formal full-blown PTSD conditions but also look at individuals who experience partial or limited symptoms of PTSD and the related effects of traumatic stress.
Let’s examine the Post in PTSD as an individual who is still having reactions and responses to an event or situation which has happened in the past. It could be 30 days, months ago, or even years ago.
If your response is negative, unpleasant, and disruptive to your overall life, joy, and wellbeing, then you are meeting the criteria under my model and version for a form of PTSD.
Let’s look at the term Traumatic. This is when and where it gets complex and unclear at times. What makes an event, or an exposure to that event, traumatic? Are we talking about a single event or multiple events? Are we talking about a series of interactions over a course of time, either in childhood or in a life circumstance? So, I basically expand the definition to any exposure, to any single event or cluster of repeated or not repeated events which are disruptive to one’s overall ability for self-regulation.
My view is that if it continues to haunt you – pop up in your thoughts, your dreams, your worries, and your experiences as disruptions in your social, emotional, and physical world, then that in itself is traumatic.
The third designation or element is that of Stress. I look at stress as a syndrome. The word stress comes from a Latin word, constriction, which means tightening. And, so, I look at the stress related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as an individual who is stuck, potholed, or frozen at some point in their life. They are stuck in a non-creative, non-expressive mode and unable to engage in the rhythm and flow of their daily lives in one or more areas of their wellbeing.
The last part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is that of the Disorder. And what exactly is the disorder? The disorder means, out of sorts, out of balance, disruptions, waves of disruptions, and sleep patterns, motivation, feelings, or the ability to deal with stress. The sense of being off balance, not in sync with the flow of life I think is critical and essential to the sense of the disorder in my definition of Post-traumatic Stress.
So, what is one of the first steps in a pathway to self-regulation, health balance and re-engagement in the balance of life?
Here is my four-part plan suggestion:
Awareness. Without awareness, without being tuned in to what is going on in your body and in your mind, one is unable to focus and target the changes that they would want to be able to address and improve in their life. What is the old expression? You’re in the room, but there are no lights on. So, awareness is critical to the first step in dealing with whatever your experience of trauma may happen to be.
Acceptance. Acceptance is the acknowledging of what is happening in your present moment, again, in your body, your mind, your thoughts, your body sensations – pleasant or unpleasant. And it is critical to be able to accept and, as the Buddhist’s say, “sit with whatever’s going on in order to change it in any way”.
Avoiding the Avoidance Trap. Some common avoidance traps, often in the ability or belief of making changes in his life are the following:
a. Make a resolution.
b. Planning not to do something that causes this distress again.
c. Telling yourself you don’t have time to work on this.
d. Failing to plan or set reminders.
It helps me recall that old Dwight Eisenberg quote, “It’s not about the plan. It’s all in the planning.’
Active steps you take towards bringing about change in your life. Up to that, I used my own re-organization of the SMART acronym for effective goal setting.
However, I changed SMART in the following ways:
Simple – Keep it simple. If it’s complicated, you probably will not get it done.
Manageable - It must be manageable. It must be under your control.
Actual - It must be something that has actual. Meaning can you see it, hear it, feel it; What would it look like if it were happening on a video camera?
Resourced & Researched - It must be resourced and researched for you to know what you have to do. And this can be done through reading, literature, seminars, therapy, coaching, or participation in a group with people with life concerns or interests.
Time - You need a time, a target, and a place.
Change is never easy. Approaching change and the challenge of change is a starting place if you intend to improve your life and your wellbeing.