Stress is a person’s emotional and physical response to problematic stimuli. It is a normal physiological process, and is necessary for some events. However, when stress overwhelms a person’s ability to cope, it is considered pathological stress. This type of stress damages nearly all bodily systems: cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, digestive, circulatory, nervous, muscular, endocrine and reproductive systems. The problem with this is that pathological stress both stems from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and aggravates it.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by trauma. Following a traumatic event, patients with PTSD experience intrusive recollections of the traumatic event, especially in one or more of the following ways:
- Recurrent or intrusive thoughts
- Recurrent distressing dreams
- Acting or feeling as if the event is recurring
- Intense psychological distress from situations that resemble the traumatic event
Pathological stress can cue distressing PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, PTSD patients have a reduced ability to cope with stress, which increases the likelihood of experiencing pathological stress.
Coping with Pathological Stress
Learning to cope with and reduce stress can reduce your PTSD symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that taking care of yourself is the starting point to dealing with stress. This may include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep and taking a break when feeling stressed. Another way to reduce stress is to avoid what causes it. Once you identify the issues that cause you stress, you can avoid, alter, adapt or accept those stressors. You can also minimize stress by allowing time for relaxation, from reading a book to playing with a pet.
Treatment for PTSD
Many people with PTSD self-medicate their symptoms with drugs and alcohol. While substance abuse may initially reduce stress, it inevitably complicates the symptoms of PTSD. As a result, PTSD patients who self-medicate their symptoms with drugs have a higher risk of depression, suicide attempts, interpersonal problems, legal problems, medical problems and inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. To combat these issues, specialized treatments utilize the following services:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Family therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on how a person’s thoughts about a traumatic event cause stress and worsen symptoms. Then it teaches patients to change those thoughts to reduce stress. Also, family therapy is essential to foster communication in relationships, especially problems that result from PTSD. Lastly, EMDR is a form of therapy that uses eye movements and sounds while patients talk about their traumatic events. It can help change how a person reacts to her memories.