So – while we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s talk about crowds. From what I gather, most of you are not big fans of crowds.
Like I keep saying, PTSD is basically your brain’s threat-alert system, kicked into high gear without an “off” button. So – you’re constantly trying to size up all possible threats.
Say you’re in a room with one door, one window, and one other person. That’s not bad; you can scan window-door-person, to look for possible threats.
Now say you’re in a bigger room, with ten people. Keeping track is much harder, and it’s easier to get overwhelmed.
It goes up to a whole new level if you’re in a grocery store, a mall, or a football stadium. Now, there’s just no way to keep track of it all. Just thinking about it, you might start to feel your heart rate speeding up a bit – that’s your reflex, getting ready to fight or flee.
Take a moment. Breathe. You’re not there right now.
See what just happened there? That feeling started, even though you were just thinking. Thinking is not dangerous – but your survival reflex is so strong, that just thinking about it makes the danger feel SO real.
When we start to feel like that, we interpret that feeling itself as a sign that there’s danger. If we can’t quickly scan our entire environment, we start thinking the danger must be real, only we can’t see it.
Feeling tense/nervous/uneasy does NOT mean that you’re in danger – it just means that your threat-detection system is reminded of danger.
…That little fact right there folks – that is the key to the universe.
When you’re dealing with PTSD, having that feeling that tells you, “Oh no, major danger is coming” does NOT actually mean that anything is coming.
It just means that your threat-response system was reminded of danger.
Remember Dave the Zebra, and his red flowers? Well – crowds are sort of like your red flowers.
So – how do you cope?
Remind yourself that, as soon as you start to think about crowds, your PTSD will start to act up. This is not because thinking is dangerous, or because crowds are dangerous; it’s because PTSD reacts to reminders of danger.
Heading into a crowd, you’re going to feel anxious/tense/wound up. You may even start imagining all kinds of horrible things that could go wrong, and all those things might feel very, very real. Feeling and thinking this way does not mean that you’re in danger, or that awful things will happen. This is a normal part of PTSD; it is to be expected. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous.
Repeat this information to yourself frequently; with consistent practice, it will get easier. (You’ll probably still not like being in crowds, but it will get easier to cope with it.)
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.