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Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress

As we observe National PTSD Awareness Day on June 27th and are days from turning the calendar page to begin July, it is crucial that we remember that nearly 8% of the U.S. population will experience post-traumatic stress (PTS) at some point in their lives.

We all know that PTS can affect veterans, but it is not something that affects only those who have been on a battlefield. Anyone, adults and children alike, who have been through a traumatic experience can experience PTS symptoms including but not limited to:

· Serious injuries

· Car accidents

· House fires

· Natural disasters

· Victims of crime to include assault

· Victims of sexual abuse and child abuse

The psychological and physical impacts of trauma can cause feelings of distress, fear and anxiety, long after the event has happened. Individuals who are receiving treatment and successfully managing their PTS can experience another traumatic event which can result in renewed or intensified symptoms even years later. Managing and healing from both of those experiences can come together and result in significant mental health challenges.

As a military veteran who has been through some difficult things, it is strange admitting I have experienced PTS - because the event that occurred had nothing to do with my military service.

On a run nearly three years ago, I was attacked by a very large breed of dog, resulting in deep puncture wounds in three areas of my body that needed stitches. Whenever I would encounter another dog, especially if it would quickly approach me, immediate hot flashes would surge through my body, my heart would race, and I would freeze where I stood. I suffered from re-experiencing symptoms of reliving the attack, seeing the dog lunging toward me when I closed my eyes, that caused sleeplessness for weeks. These bodily reactions truly shocked me, not understanding why I feared all dogs for a while after the attack, when I was a dog lover and owner my entire life. I shared these feelings with a close friend, who had been managing her own PTS symptoms for a few years and she encouraged me to speak to a therapist.

I initially laughed off the notion that I was experiencing PTS symptoms. I thought that what I went through was much less emotionally painful than those who have endured “real” traumatic events – whatever I attempted to convince myself that meant. I continued to work with a therapist, to talk through every detail I could remember about the incident, so I could speak comfortably about it. I gained positive coping strategies and realized the effectiveness of the actions I took that day despite the dangerous situation. I was out pounding the pavement again as soon as my injuries healed. Admittedly though, I no longer run the route near my house where I was attacked. I still don’t feel ready for that yet but run a different out-and-back route where we live multiple times a week.

Traumatic experiences can have an impact on our everyday lives. They do not define who we are and they do not have to emotionally cripple us. By recognizing the symptoms and proactively asking for help, anyone that experiences PTS can live a resilient life, filled with the activities and events that make our life meaningful and purposeful.

Mental health challenges are a human experience, not strictly a veteran experience.

Your trauma is no less important than that of another.

There is no shame in asking for help and seeking treatment.

You do not have to suffer alone. There is always help available.

If you do not know where to begin, here are some helpful links:

The Network is a program of America’s Warrior Partnership that serves as a national coordination platform connecting veterans, their families and caregivers to their local communities and local veteran-serving organizations with a connection to national resources when a veteran’s request cannot be met locally.

Any veteran who is experiencing an urgent crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line enables veterans to reach caring and qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Self-Care Mobile Apps provided by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be used by anyone to support recovery. These apps feature education, self-assessment, skill development, personalized tools and links for support.

Sarah Holzhalb

Director of Marketing and Development

America’s Warrior Partnership


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