Burnout and PTSD
I am writing this week about PTSD, after attending the inaugural PTSD national conversation (conference) in Australia last week.
I went along because of the incidence of trauma history among my clients and my own personal experience. I felt that a deeper understanding of PTSD would help both me and others. In the event, I had a very moving and connecting experience and met a great group of people, as well as learning much about the science, causes and treatment of PTSD.
Sometimes people experiencing burnout also have a history of trauma, that may have resulted in PTSD. I must mention that if you think trauma or PTSD may be a problem for you, please see you family physician (GP) or for urgent help contact your local crisis support helpline.
Here is some basic information about PTSD.
What is PTSD?
I have seen a number of definitions of PTSD, which has a variety of causes and symptoms. Here is a definition I find useful:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder.
Some people develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. People affected may feel anxious and highly vigilant, and have intrusive thoughts and memories of the trauma. With treatment, people with PTSD can make a full recovery.1
Further, here’s a definition of CPTSD:
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape.4
Not all people who are exposed to traumatic events develop PTSD – statistically it’s around 25%1. Sectors of the community commonly at risk include first responders (such as police and firefighters) and war veterans, however adults and children exposed to physical, sexual or emotional abuse or domestic violence are also at risk, as are people involved in serious road accidents.
Neurobiology of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress has a neurobiological impact, such that traumatic memories don’t automatically resolve themselves in the body and mind. Trauma memories are typically re-triggered after the event and generally require treatment to resolve.
The signs and symptoms of PTSD, therefore, appear to reflect a persistent, abnormal adaptation of neurobiological systems to the stress of witnessed trauma. The neurobiological systems that regulate stress responses include certain endocrine and neurotransmitter pathways as well as a network of brain regions known to regulate fear behavior at both conscious and unconscious levels.3
Symptoms of PTSD
Signs and symptoms vary, but are grouped in to:
- reminders of the exposure (including flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares);
- activation (including hyperarousal, insomnia, agitation, irritability, impulsivity and anger); and
- deactivation (including numbing, avoidance, withdrawal, confusion, derealization, dissociation, and depression)3
What’s the difference between PTSD and…
Burnout is a condition characterised by chronic unmanaged workplace stress. It is not a medical condition according to the World Health Organisation.
Signs and symptoms include:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
PTSD can become apparent during burnout as increased anxiety, decreased performance/concentration, interpersonal relationship stress, withdrawal, difficulty controlling mood, anger and depression. It may be hard to detect the difference between PTSD and burnout as they share some symptoms. However, PTSD typically includes flashbacks, nightmares and troubling memories.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to demand or pressures. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. In many cases stress is a healthy reaction. It helps us cope with life’s challenges. However too much stress, or prolonged stress can affect our physical and mental health.2
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where we feel under pressure, they usually pass once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.
Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t go away – when they’re ongoing and happen without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard to cope with daily life. Anxiety is a family of disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobias, OCD, PTSD and panic disorder.5
How is PTSD treated?
If you are seeking help for PTSD, please see your family physician (GP) or if urgent call/text your local crisis support service.
The most common treatments include:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprogramming (EMDR)6
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Matrix reimprinting
I would encourage anyone who may have trauma-related symptoms to seek more information and if required, medical attention. PTSD can be treated successfully.
Coaching for PTSD
I use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in coaching clients to resolve life problems, by addressing the thoughts and feelings associated with the problem and re-framing the response. Coaching uses our understanding of neurobiology to help resolve any issue, including those associated with burnout and trauma. Coaching can help you deal with traumatic history, minimising the effect of traumatic past experiences on your present life. Some clients come to me having worked with a therapist, currently or in the past, and coaching can be an excellent complementary strategy, to support living a trauma-free life.