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Post Traumatic Stress: Help for Women

By Shatyra Williams, MSW, RSW
Post Traumatic Stress
One of the most challenging mental health issues experienced among women is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be described as the chronic emotional distress that follows a traumatic experience. DSM-IV-TR describes the setting event for PTSD as "exposure to a traumatic event during which time a person feels fear, helpless, or horror" (Barlow, 2006). 

PTSD has various impacts on the lives of individuals experiencing the disorder. These impacts can be classified by four main components: Cognitive Re-experiencing, Avoidance, Emotional Numbing, and Somatic Hyper Arousal.

Cognitive Re-experiencing 

Cognitive re-experiencing refers to an individual re-living a traumatic event through intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or recovered memories. This can also involve both emotional reactivity and physiological reactivity to these re-experiences.


Individuals experiencing PTSD often attempt to avoid all thoughts of the traumatic experience. They also seek to avoid all reminders of the traumatic event. Individuals may also experience the inability to recall details, or facts surrounding the trauma; or completely lose all memory of the entire traumatic experience.

Emotional Numbing 

Emotional numbing can be displayed as loss of interest, detachment, and restricted affect. Individuals experiencing emotional numbing may experience a loss of interest in activities which they once considered positive and important. Individuals may feel distant from others such as friends and family. They may also have difficulties experiencing positive feelings such as

love and happiness. Emotional numbing can significantly impact an individual’s ability to maintain interpersonal relationships.

Somatic Hyper Arousal 

Somatic hyper arousal can include sleep disturbances, increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilence, and excessive startle. Individuals experiencing PTSD are likely to have difficulties sleeping. Difficulties in both falling and staying asleep can be associated with the hyper arousal symptom of PTSD. Nightmares and recovered memories can also significantly impact an individual’s ability to sleep adequately.

Gender & Mental Health 

Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD during their lifetimes (Olff, M. 2007). Women may be more likely to experience PTSD as a result of greater exposure to specific types of trauma with the highest probability of resulting in PTSD, these include: interpersonal assaults such as rape and sexual abuse in both adulthood and childhood, and intimate partner violence

Along with gender differences in exposure to types of traumatic experiences, males and females also differ in stress-regulating coping strategies.

Women’s coping styles have been found to be more emotion- and avoidance-focused than that of men (Olff, M. 2007). Cultural upbringing and socialized gender roles also have a significant impact on coping behaviours and risk of PTSD. As males are socialized to use more active, instrumental coping strategies, women are often socialized to use passive and emotion focused coping strategies. 

If you are a Woman Suffering from PTSD

If you have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, keep in mind the following tips for healing from your symptoms of PTSD: 
Every aspect of your lifestyle has the potential to impact your healing progress. Your physical health status, nutrition, bed time routine, television shows watched, company you keep, spiritual engagements, and even occupation may impact your mental wellness.
Be mindful of where you are using your energy and which types of energy you are allowing into your life at this fragile time.
Unresolved emotions and feelings about your traumatic experience can result in "flashbacks" or other mental disturbances. Confronting your pain through the help of a counsellor or supportive other is one step towards peace of mind.
Explore healthy coping mechanisms such as: grounding techniques, positive affirmations, art-based/creative healing, journaling, speaking with a counsellor, or group therapy.
Recognize that Avoidance is a temporary solution. In order to overcome some of the discomfort and anxiety that comes along when reminders of the traumatic event are encountered, it is important for the roots of these feelings to be addressed.
Emotional Numbing can leave you unable to experience happiness and joy in things you once loved. You can regain these beautiful senses by nurturing your spirit through mindfulness activities and meditation.
You may be experiencing increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance, and excessive startle. Regulating your rate of personal arousal can be achieved by regulating the pace of your physiological reactions to the external environment. Breathing techniques can help to control your physiological pace and help you to concentrate on maintaining control of your mind, body, thoughts, spirit, and soul.


Barlow, D., Durand, M. Stewart, S. (2006) Anxiety Disorders Abnormal Psychology: An integrated Approach First Canadian Edition. Thompson Nelson. 5 -145

Olff, M., Langeland, W. Draijer,N. Gersons, B (2007) Gender Differences in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association 2007, Vol. 133, No. 2, 183–204

About the Author

Shatyra Williams MSW, RSW is a Toronto-based Social Worker with a passion for women's wellness. As Program Manager of RWRJ's Artistic Healing Group, Shatyra teaches healthy coping strategies to women survivors of trauma. Through a variety of creative educational techniques Shatyra helps women to challenge themselves, to embrace their imperfections, and to love their journey. 

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