Are you a woman or young lady suffering due to having a traumatic experience or a history of very troubling experiences? Have you witnessed someone else in a traumatic event? Are you trying so desperately to forget about all that happened? Do you find yourself avoiding the place or places where it all started or ended up? Were you ever faced with a sexual assault (rape) or sexual abuse that left you scared, vulnerable and angry or even hardened and closed off from others? Ever get reoccurring dreams or nightmares somehow related to the experience? Do you have feelings of helplessness or hopelessness due to what you experienced? Does it seem like you feel like a walking zombie numb to the whole thing? Do you battle with trying to move on in life but feel stuck? Have the feelings of sadness and grief crushed your dreams, self-esteem and femininity? You are not alone. Many women we have counseled who experienced trauma or horrific events have found hope and courage to work through them to health and wholeness in their lives. We are here to help you overcome. You may doubt or fear that there is any hope or help for you. Stay tuned…you may find answers that will bring the hope and courage you need.
Let’s start with being aware of how unresolved traumatic experiences may drag and keep a good woman down…but will not keep her there with help. It’s very important that you know and recognize the most common signs. PTSD signs and symptoms in women tend to manifest themselves in several distinct ways.
Here are the 4 most common clusters of symptoms
It may seem obvious but being exposed to a traumatic event or events whether it happened directly to you or you witnessed it is the first thing to recognize. Some women exposed to trauma may not recognize it at first as they were (or are) in survival mode. Here are some of these events:
- A life threatening accident such as automobile, sporting, hunting, hiking, skiing or boating accident
- Near drowning
- A shooting or stabbing
- Violent attack
- Rape, physical or sexual assault
- Being faced with a deadly threat
- Being exposed to continual cruelty
- Being confined against your will such as being kidnapped or tortured
- Working in a very dangerous work environment
- Learning that death or a threat of death happened to a loved one
- Experiencing repeated or intense exposure to repulsive or nauseating details of a traumatic event or events (these are generally associated with first responders, investigators, reporters, and / or emergency medical, or crisis workers)
- Secondary trauma stress is another form of exposure which is related to those who hear about the traumatic experiences over and over again from women (or men) who have experienced or witnessed firsthand the trauma.
You get so overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts and you feel like you are going crazy or it’s like chaos in your head. These memories may occur at any time after the experience or experiences and ramble through your head impacting your thoughts and feelings in upsetting ways. Here’s a list of what may be going on…
- Disturbing memories popping up out of nowhere that are related to the trauma
- Repeated dreams or nightmares where the theme of the dream has to do with your traumatic experience/s
- Flashbacks (as if the experience is happening all over again)
- Having intense mental distress when actually seeing, hearing, touching, tasting or smelling things that are reminders of the trauma. These reminders may be either inside yourself (generally visual) or occurring around you (for example: hearing a loud or sharp sound, screeching tires, screams, images that resemble where you experienced the trauma, event related smells, people that look like those who were part of the experience as well as other reminders).
- Getting physical reactions when triggered by the memories of the trauma. Some women experience nausea, vomiting, muscle tension, nagging headaches, leg shaking, flinching, crying spells, and possibly other medical conditions.
Avoidance mixed with snippy mood
It’s those times of running away or shutting down in some kinda way to try and get rid of the stuff associated with the trauma. So here’s some things that you may have done in order to cope…some are helpful while others are potentially harmful…
- You want these darn feelings gone, but you don’t know how to make ‘em go away — so, you simply don’t go there…you run, avoid them altogether
- Escape any reminder: sights, sounds, images, tastes, or smells
- Barricade yourself against any painful memories. You let nothing in or out
- You may find yourself buried in work, cleaning and re-cleaning your home, exercising and then more exercise, maybe drinking or smoking
- Avoiding any people, places, or activities that may trigger those ugly memories
- You may even have an inability to remember important facts of the trauma
- Interests, enjoyable or important activities have wasted away – are lost
- You may ignore, avoid or just plain detach from others
- Negative emotions persist such as anger, fear, horror, sadness, guilt, shame
- You may have a limited number of positive or happy emotions
- Considering your future, goals, or life span may be dried-up or faded away
Persistent or Hyper Arousal
This is where you find yourself keyed up and on edge though you may not always know why. You may find yourself frazzled and nervous. Your body and mind seem to be always tense and alert. Here are some things to be aware of.
- An intensified startle response is the most noticeable external sign
- You may be shaken up by small or simple environmental or situational changes that others in your life may overlook (stuff laying all over the house, seeing a wrecked car, missing a shoe, threat of a storm, etc.)
- The “startle response” is typically triggered when something or someone around you reminders you of the trauma
- This “startle response” doesn’t go away fast but may prompt panicked or traumatic recollections.
Now let’s look at 3 entangling conditions associated with PTSD in women
Your life may feel too heavy and too broken to face alone. The sadness, guilt, shame, worries, and dark moods of depression may be intermingled with PTSD making it challenging with everyday decisions. The combination of depression and PTSD becomes more common than one might imagine. Here are some indicators of depression and PTSD which really get so entangled with each other making it a ratty mess. The most common signs are:
- Erratic eating or disrupted sleeping patterns
- Cocooning — withdrawal and isolation
- Despair — hopelessness
- Lack of interest in once enjoyed activities
- In severe situations, there may be risk of self-injury, suicidal thoughts, or suicide which are very real concerns with women experiencing the emergence of both depression and PTSD. This is where you must seriously get immediate help.
Panic and Social Anxiety
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, PTSD is twice as likely to occur in women then in men and is associated with other mental health issues. For example, women with PTSD symptoms might also arouse symptoms of a panic disorder as well as trigger agoraphobia (the fear of being in open places such as a market, store, park, etc.).
For many female PTSD sufferers, panic is roused by their other symptoms or it can feel like something that pops up out of nowhere. The panic incites thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma, which may in turn activate more avoidance or hyper-arousal, and thus feel like a swirling effect. PTSD also makes it difficult to communicate well, may prompt unnecessary or unintended arguments, cause poor connections with others, and includes feelings of shame and embarrassment concerning the panic that others somehow notice. This may lead to worry and the fear of dealing with anyone socially.
Body Issues and Eating disorders
In 1999, the National Women’s Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), linked an increased risk of women developing an eating disorder (predominantly bulimia nervosa) while also having PTSD. PTSD symptoms in women also show a parallel between body image and food consumption which strikingly is not commonly associated with male PTSD suffers.
Women with eating disorders often have had a history of traumatic experiences (starting in childhood including teen years). Thus, food addictions can arise which may be an attempt to reestablish a sense of control in a woman’s life.
When it comes to PTSD, listen to yourself – your thoughts, feelings and body. In our years of experience, we have witnessed what toll PTSD and other mental health conditions have taken in women’s lives impacting their emotional well-being, relationships, and self-esteem. Through counseling, we have seen great results where women have gone through counseling and have experienced newness, wholeness, positive change, joy, hope, peace and have gained internal security, and have reclaimed value and self-worth in their daily lives. Take your life back! Get the help you need. You are worth it! We can help.
We invite you to ask us any questions you may have…don’t hesitate to let us know here at Pathways either by phone (520-292-9750) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call a specific counselor directly (see their webpage for more details). Feel free to check out our blog and other articles here on our website. Thanks.