PTSD and Pain

PTDS is usually thought of, not a physical problem, but one that affects us mentally and emotionally. However, it may well begin with a series of physical symptoms: headaches (possibly migraines), dizziness, exhaustion, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or stomach or digestive issues. Many veterans who suffer from chronic pain also have PTSD. In some instances, the individual may believe she or he deserves to suffer, although this may not be something of which they are consciously aware.

Lack of sleep can intensify feelings of pain and discomfort and cause an increase in anxiety that feeds into the emotional aspect of PTSD. The result can be a “round-robin” of physical pain related to emotional pain that intensifies physical pain.

Veterans suffering from PTSD may experience depression or anxiety from flashbacks and nightmares. Anxiety may lead to severe depression, withdrawal, or indulging in risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse or thrill seeking. Severe depression can also affect the ability to withstand pain.

PTSD has both physical and emotional components to how it manifests itself. While we tend to think of it as a mental health issue, it often is expressed in physical symptoms and physical pain.

Numbing the Pain

I have always felt it was easier to handle physical pain than emotional pain. I have had my share of both, and find physical pain is much easier to tolerate than emotional pain. When we hurt physically, we often use medications to numb the pain. While drugs can be quite effective for physical pain, they are not as good at reducing emotional pain.

If our pain is the result of grief, we can take medication, but all it really does is postpone the pain, not cure it. We will still go through the psychological anguish of the loss even if it is years later after we stop using medications. The other bad thing about using drugs to ease emotional pain is that when we stuff our pain inside it festers and builds until it explodes and hurts those we love most.

Using drugs to numb physical pain works because the drug goes to the source of the pain, not to the pleasure center of the brain. Using drugs to numb emotional pain doesn’t work because the pain is simply masked, not healed.

If you are using drugs to numb your emotional pain, you may want to reconsider. Facing the pain is the best and only way through it. The perspective from the other side of healing is that it is worth going through the pain to be released from it.

Frustrating Statistics

When looking at statistics for PTSD in veterans, it can be very confusing to try to decipher the data. There are so many variables that need to be considered: when should it be diagnosed, at 3 months, 6 months, or longer?   How much of a negative impact must it have on your life? How many symptoms must someone have before it is considered significant? Should you include those who also have a traumatic brain injury, or is that separate? Added to the problem is the fact that it is estimated that about 50% of those who have PTSD actually seek treatment, so how accurate can the estimates really be?

According to a RAND Study, as of September 14, 2014, there were about 2.7 million American veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who were diagnosed with PTSD. This same study found that at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or depression, but the actual figure is considered to be much higher if you ask any military counselors.

Whatever the statistics really are, it seems there are an extraordinary amount of veterans who suffer from the disorder. As time goes by, perhaps we’ll find betters was of defining and measuring how PTSD affects us.

Reducing Stress Through Problem Solving

Solving your problems is a skill you can learn, and there is little that will reduce your stress levels as effectively. According to the PTSD Coach Online, there is a process you can follow to improve your problem-solving skills.

  1. First, define the problem. Put it into your own words and be clear about what is really bothering you and what needs to change to make the situation better.
  2. Next, identify the barriers. What is keeping you from resolving the problem? Make a list of those barriers, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Try to come up with as many different solutions as you can.
  3. Next, evaluate your solutions and select the most promising idea you have. Examine the pros and cons of your top solutions, then choose the one you think has the best chance of working out.
  4. Finally, list the action steps you will be taking to resolve the problem. Keep the steps small enough that you know you can actually follow through on them.

Practice makes perfect, as they say. The more you work with the above plan, the better you will become at it and the more likely it will work when you are really stressed over an issue.

Moving From Status Quo

It can be difficult to challenge ourselves into making changes in our lives, especially in those areas that are most uncomfortable to change. It is more comfortable to just let things ride and not make an effort to expand our comfort level, but trying new things allows us to continue growing, and that is a good thing.

Sometimes it is fear that holds us back from making progress in our healing. We don’t like facing those fears or challenging the reality that we’ve associated with them for so long, but things change and those things we were once afraid of may not be a true danger today. It is good then to push back and ask if it is realistic to continue being afraid. If it is not, then it is a good time to begin to challenge those fears and try to overcome them.

Status quo is certainly more comfortable. It is what we know. It is something we are familiar with responding to on a regular basis. Change requires allowing new experiences and that can be frightening on its own, but status quo does not allow for growth. That takes change. Embrace the changes that allow you to grow and heal. While it may be difficult to do, it is the best way to move from wounded to healing, and that’s what it is all about.