In many ways, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a normal response that has gone haywire.
The initial trigger situation might be: the explosion of a bomb alongside an Afghanistan road; severe farm financial pressures, such as loan foreclosure; getting hit on a highway by a drunk driver whose vehicle swerved into your lane; or any severe traumatic event.
Traumatic events are dangerous to our physical or emotional well-being and elicit distress.
In 1915, Dr. Walter Cannon, a Harvard University physiology professor, demonstrated how we deal with threatening situations by avoiding the threat or confronting it. He called this the “Flight or Fight Response.”
Later, Dr. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, added a third response — “Freeze.” Also called learned helplessness, to freeze is to become emotionally paralyzed and unable to do anything.
Stimuli that remind us of the threatening event (e.g., loud noises that remind the soldier of a roadside bomb exploding, a friendly chance encounter with a bank official that reinstates foreclosure fears or becoming upset when you are driving down the same highway where the drunk driver wrecked your vehicle and injured you) trigger alarm reactions.
Becoming alarmed is meant to protect us. But, when we over-react and become alarmed unnecessarily by non-threatening events only because they remind us of the initial stressor, we have developed PTSD.
Even bad dreams can trigger distress.
Our physiological and psychological reactions to stress comprise what is called the Arousal-Depletion Cycle. Also called the General Adaptation Syndrome, the phases of the cycle include:
Even our immune system can become compromised in its ability to ward off disease. PTSD, with its accompanying depression, contributes to an increased risk of suicide.
We can grow so weary of the repeated cycles that we want only to escape what seems like endless torment.
What can we do when we have developed PTSD?
PTSD seldom goes away on its own. The most effective treatments include relearning how to manage ourselves, usually with the assistance of a trained and experienced professional caregiver, so we don’t incorrectly interpret every reminder of the initial threat as dangerous.
Anti-anxiety medications often are needed to gain control over our physiological reactions. Relearning works best when we feel safe, understood by those who are assisting us and have others to coach us through rough times.
Next week, I will follow up with more information about resources for farm people dealing with PTSD, including returning soldiers, who originated from farm and rural backgrounds.
As you may know, soldiers who trace their origins to farm and rural life are disproportionately represented among our militia.
– By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.