Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Growing up as a child, we often use to play “cowboy and crooks” or “robbers and police” or role-play being in a war (like in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”), or doctor-doctor, and so the list goes on.  We use to have toy guns, or long sticks, like bamboo rods which, in hindsight, could have poked our eyes out. We attacked each other with mud bombs and coloured our faces with old shoe or floor polish – red or black as camouflage.  In the innocence of a child, I never would have thought that our little “creative games”, which was the source of a lot of fun and excitement and sometimes a blue eye or bruised knee, was actually a real and big issue in the adult world.  Many years later, upon enlightening myself with more knowledge around issues in the adult world, I discovered that these little games of ours, actually had a much different effect when it was “played” in the real world.

I learnt that for adults, instead of experiencing it as fun and excitement accompanied by lots of laughter and sometimes embarrassment if you lose, it had a much deeper and intense experience than what I believed as a kid.  It was nothing so positive. In the adult world, I discovered there is even a name for it – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  According to experts in the field, PTSD develops when one is exposed to a traumatic event or if someone close to us have such a traumatic experience.

I remember that as kids we would go back to the same “rock of defeat” quite a number of times.  We would try to beat the winners over and over again until we were crowned the champions.  In the adult world, people may be diagnosed with PTSD, and I have learnt that it actually works the opposite way for many people. Some people respond in such a way that they refuse to revisit the place where the actual trauma happened or avoid it at all cost. It may even become extremely difficult to speak about the trauma for many years.  Normal reactions to trauma include feelings of anxiety, intense emotions, sleeplessness (insomnia) and intense anger.  When all of these symptoms are experienced for a duration of two weeks or more, and if it impacts on the daily normal functioning of the individual, we now know that there may be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which may need to be addressed on a serious level with professional help.

The Corona pandemic that hit the world so unexpectedly, has left many people devastated and reeling in shock due to the trauma and life-changing events many had to face. The long periods of isolation, fear and worry have come like the long bamboo rods once used for fun, and poked out our sense of hope and meaning to life.  Many faced their own death or the death of a loved one and people very close. Mental Health specialists advise that during this time, PTSD may develop and one should be aware of the symptoms in order to seek help.

The hope we keep is that PTSD can be treated with medication, therapy or a combination of the two.  When we see that someone has reached the “rock of defeat”, it is time to stretch out our arms and help so that we fight the battle and its aftermath together…like with little children throwing mud bombs and swinging sticks in their innocence, to be one day crowned the champions.

We see doctors and other health care professionals work tirelessly to save lives and care for those who face the reality of the impact of the pandemic.  This reminded me of the small pink sweeties we use to hand out as medication for those our fellow friends, who suffered the attack of a mud bomb or a bruised knee.  I still hold the memory that as kids, we just never gave up. We picked up our swords and off to battle we marched – time and time again.  I gain comfort in the knowledge that as humanity, we are actually more resilient than we think.  As little kids we already prepared for the battles of life. As adults we forget how many times we faced and conquered these many battles.  We forget that there are others to help us in the battles of life.  Then I draw hope when I realize I can face and overcome any illness, even PTSD. My heart feels warm because I also know that even as adults, we will be crowned as champions…

BREATHE…BREATHE…BREATHE…

Breath, Anxiety, stress, Vista Clinic Blog, mindfulmoment

The only time I took the word “mutate” or “mutant” seriously, was in much earlier years where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were of interest to my young mind.  These days, I observe how many times I encounter this word, and it has absolutely no goal like the Mutant Ninja Turtles had back in the day.  The focus now is on how slow or how fast viruses like the Corona can become more dangerous and deadlier.  With that being said, the “mutation” of the Corona virus has now led to the grim reality of facing waves similar to that which the Titanic sailed upon years ago.

In South Africa, we are facing a possible third wave according to many health professionals.  We are advised to be aware. And perhaps even get prepared.

“What do I do?”, “What do I buy?”, “Will I get it this time round?”, “Will I get it again?”, “Do I vaccinate?”, “Do I not vaccinate?”, “Will we go back to level 5 restrictions – or level 3 or remain on level 1?” The list of questions is endless.  All the while I stand in the isle of the supermarket and think… “baked beans?” or “toilet paper?” Which one will in this round be the winner of the most sought-after grocery item?  I start to panic and I feel the anxiety creeping under and into my skin like a lazy anaconda. I do not know the answers to these questions. Clearly, my mind has gone into survival mode. And it refuses to acknowledge that the overdo of the first mentioned grocery item could possibly lead to the over-usage of the latter mentioned grocery item.  I smile, because I saw the light (or was it the toilet paper, I wonder?)

DO WHAT MAKES SENSE – AND YOU WILL SURVIVE – BREATHE…BREATHE…BREATHE….

It is often suggested that anxiety caused by panic, can be extremely debilitating.  Experts sing from the same hymn sheet when they say that learning how to breath effectively in such circumstances, can be more constructive than robbing our bodies from oxygen or providing too much oxygen when in a state of panic and experiencing anxiety.  Here are some useful exercises on how to regulate our breathing in these difficult times to ensure that we give an “encore” to the experts:

ABDOMINAL BREATHING
Exercise specifically used to learn and maintain abdominal breathing

In an upright posture, inhale and exhale normally while holding one hand on stomach in order to feel movement and confirm abdominal use

GROUNDING
Grounding is used to alleviate anxiety

When a person gets “caught” in anxiety the brain is going along a thought pattern that is causing that anxiety. In order to alleviate that anxiety, the brain must be “bumped” off that thought pattern. In order to do that the brain’s focus must be changed. To do this the brain has to be forced to refocus on “something” else. This is done by doing an activity that requires cognitive focus and thought. This is where breathing is useful. Forcing the brain to focus on a specific method of breathing will achieve this.

CONTROL PAUSE
(checking your level of breathing)

This exercise is useful as a tool when shortness of breath, due to anxiety, is experienced

It can also be used as a grounding tool

This exercise will also alleviate asthma and sleep apnoea symptoms

This exercise is used to check on progress and to ascertain at what level breathing is taking place (Lower 10 bad – 10 – 20 acceptable – 40+ good, but will only achieve by including physical activity)

(short breath in – short breath out) hold and count until air hunger

PULSE
Taking of the pulse can be used as a grounding tool, as tangible element i.e., feeling how one calms down

With more practised or very light panic attacks, pulse taking can also be used for grounding

Gently place 2 fingers of your other hand on this artery

Do not use your thumb, because it has its own pulse that you may feel.

Count the beats for 30 seconds, and then double the result to get the number of beats per minute.

After discovering all of the above exercises (and so much more), I feel like a soldier – equipped and ready for battle.  I feel calmer knowing that a small thing like breathing can help me to choose: baked beans or toilet paper. I smile again…and I remember to BREATHE…