Most of us have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is associated with a traumatic event that often gets triggered by some experience that brings up the intense emotions associated with that trauma. Symptoms include agitation, anxiety, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and obsessive thinking.

But what if there is ongoing or chronic stress? It may be what is called Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD typically arises when the trauma has happened over a significant period of time.

In addition to the symptoms of PTSD, those with Complex PTSD can experience the inability to regulate emotions (especially anxiety), distortions in thinking and perception, relationship challenges, severe depression, and the inability to function normally.

According to Medical News Today, there are a number of types of trauma that can lead to Complex PTSD, including the following:

  • Childhood neglect
  • Other types of abuse early in life
  • Domestic abuse
  • Human trafficking
  • Being a prisoner of war
  • Living in a region affected by war

It sounds bleak; however, giving it a name relieves some of the pressure, allowing those who are suffering to take steps to treat it. In addition, there are some promising treatment modalities that offer significant relief. The most well-known one is EMDR.

According to the EMDR Institute: "EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma."

Other forms of treatment include one or more of individual, group, and family therapy; cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT); the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT); meditation; hypnosis, and medication.

There have been some studies that have shown that expressive writing can help those with PTSD. This poem by Frank Ochberg, MD, is a wonderful example.

Overall, the goal with any form of PTSD is to significantly reduce the amount of stress that is occurring. Prolonged stress impacts the immune system, leading to illness and disease, complicating things further.

If you or someone you love is experiencing chronic stress, perhaps these resources will help: