By Dr. Arthur Chen, PsyD
As we turn to the calendar to June this year, 2020 has been by all accounts, a difficult and challenging year. It is safe to say, “Most people are more stressed than normal.”
So, you may as the question, why should I care that June is PTSD Awareness Month?
The “diagnoses” of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is when a set of automatic physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions which interfere with a person’s life functioning. However, as with any diagnosis, it is better to prevent PTSD from developing than to try to treat PTSD, once it is already developed.
Let us take a moment to talk about what stress is.
Simply put, stress is the body and mind’s reaction to danger. This danger may be something that happens at the moment, such as a car accident or assault. Or it may be something witnessed, such as seeing a car on fire or seeing a loved one with COVID-19 suffer. However, the stress reaction can also occur when we learn of some traumatic happening to a loved one or close associate like a neighbor’s home being broken into or simply repeatedly hearing of life-threatening or dangerous situations as we often do from the media. This is especially true if we repeatedly hear or see graphic details of the traumatic event.
Returning to our earlier statement, “Most people are more stressed than normal.” The keyword in that statement is “more.” How much “more stress” a person can handle before becoming overwhelmed is individualized to the person. It is hard to make a blanket statement on where everyone would be overwhelmed.
Think of swimming as an analogy. Everyone’s swimming ability is unique to them, to their experience, and their training. Some people cannot swim at all, while others can swim safely in a pool. Additionally, some can swim in the calm open ocean, and a select few can swim in rough seas for miles. That limit where a swimmer would become overwhelmed is unique to them. Where a swimmer would start to panic and possibly need help is different for each person.
The development of PTSD or a sub-clinical level of PTSD is much the same. (The term sub-clinical refers to a situation where a person is close to developing a diagnosis but has not met the full diagnostic criteria. However, being sub-clinical is still a concern. Much like a swimmer starting to swallow water would be a concern, even if they were not drowning “yet.”) Each person has their emotional limit on how much stress, the types of stress (i.e. financial, health, violence, etc..), and the number of stressful events they can take before they start to become overwhelmed and feel like they are in too rough of seas.
As the world becomes more stressful and more dangerous, for some individuals this increased stress and puts someone at risk for developing PTSD. Just like as any storm that approaches a beach, the increased roughness of the water is enough to put some swimmers in danger of drowning. The key element for each person is to know when they need to take a break and “get help.”
What does this mean for mental health?
In terms of mental health, this means to know where your limits are. Knowing when you are starting to feel overwhelmed and addressing the stress at that moment. Sometimes the ways a person addresses their stress level may put them in danger of developing other problems. For example, some individuals may turn recreational alcohol or drug use into a coping mechanism and start to abuse substances regularly. Others may lash out at loved ones, doing damage to their relationships. While others may completely withdraw from life and their environment.
For some, the waters were already rough, and life was already fairly stressful before June. With the increased stress and tension of world events, they may feel like they are metaphorically drowning. Often, this leads to panic behaviors which can be more problematic. In either case, if you are feeling like you are starting to get overwhelmed with stress or you feel like you are already drowning in stress, it’s important to reach out for help.
At Lifeskills South Florida, we offer a range of evidence-based care catered to each person’s ability and skills. For someone feeling like the water is starting to get rougher and they are having a hard time staying afloat, we offer our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). This allows clients to live at home, stay working, and still “be in the water” while learning to cope and manage stress more effectively.
For those who are feeling like they are about to be overtaken by the water, we offer a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). Some of our clients at PHP chose to live at home and spend the day at Lifeskills Outpatient Center in Delray Beach, Florida. Other clients choose to move into Osceola House, our transitional living homes where they can receive support in the evening hours.
Finally, for those who feel like they are drowning in their stress, we offer residential treatment in Deerfield Beach, Florida. No matter what level of support a client needs, the goal is the same. To help clients develop a stronger, more robust, and more effective means to handle stress and life, we focus each level of care to meet the needs of the client where they are in their journey.
In swimming lessons, the goal is to help increase a person’s ability to handle rougher waters. Our holistic treatment environment provides the same; we strive to offer a safe environment for our clients to develop their ability and natural talents. We offer support, therapy, and education to help clients develop new abilities and new skills if needed. Lastly, we give each client a chance to practice their newly developed skills in a controlled and safe environment. All in the service of helping each person sharpen their abilities, become more adaptive, and improve their overall happiness, even during those stormy times.