Understanding the Stress and Trauma of PTSD
Nandita came from India less than a year ago and lives in the United States with her husband and two children. After moving here, her husband began demanding that Nandita dress differently in jeans and t-shirts. She felt uncomfortable and embarrassed showing her arms and wearing tight jeans. If she didn’t dress properly, he would criticize her and make fun of her in front of everyone. After work the husband would come home and yell at her for not keeping the house clean enough and demanding she remake the food since it wasn’t tasty.
File photo of some Indian women performing yoga exercises in a park on the outskirts of New Delhi which some say helps to deal with stress. In this article, writer Neha Shahpatel says it is a misconception that post traumatic stress disorder only affects war victims or those who cannot handle stress. PTSD affects anyone regardless of age, race, and gender, and studies have shown that PTSD is more common in South Asian communities than in western communities, she writes. (Getty Images)
Nandita cannot speak English and only knows Hindi. She feels alone at home when her husband is at work and the children at school. Many times, he has pushed her against the wall and has threatened to send her back to India. All day she keeps replaying these incidents of abuse. She becomes scared to pick up the phone in case it is him ready to criticize her.
Nandita feels scared, lonely, and hopeless. She cannot sleep at night and has nightmares. Her husband has noticed that she has stopped eating normally and has become irritable and moody. When a person experiences a traumatic incident like Nandita, their bodies and their minds go in shock as they try to cope and understand the effects. Other traumatic events, such as the tsunami in Sri Lanka or the earthquakes in India, manifest into ongoing emotional distress for South Asians.
South Asians have been known to face trauma of exceptional magnitude. Distressing news or disasters mentioned are examples of traumatic events that can lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a misconception that PTSD only affects war victims or those who cannot handle stress, however. PTSD affects anyone regardless of age, race, and gender. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that PTSD is more common in South Asian communities than in western communities. Fear, shame, and lack of awareness regarding the disorder continue to keep PTSD in the dark and have it go undiagnosed.
The symptoms of PTSD, specifically within the South Asian community, include experiencing painful memories, sweaty palms, having nightmares about the event or situation, struggling with concentrating, feeling worried or anxious all the time, emotional numbing, having constant headaches, feeling like your heart hurts and distancing yourself from other people, experiencing tremors, depressed mood and irritability. There may be times where a person may also feel angry, irritated, or overwhelmed due to guilt or shame that they cannot explain.
There are many ways to try to cope with the feelings and new sensations a person is feeling. Many South Asians go to their primary care physicians to seek support in treating their headaches, anxiety, or stomach aches that may be directly related to the emotional stress caused by the trauma. Signs of emotional distress through physical manifestations include pain, burning or heating up of the body, head steaming up, night fevers, collapse, sinking feeling in the heart (dil ghirada hai), etc.
According to Eastern viewpoints, the mind and the body are a unitary whole and work together to express emotional pain. PTSD turns warm and welcoming homes into confinements of solitude. Feeling like you’re imprisoned at home is painful, especially if you feel like you cannot talk to anyone about it. PTSD symptoms may leave you feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place and not having an outlet.
The condition is very treatable with counseling or therapy. If it goes untreated, PTSD can affect other areas of your life like your job, the relationships you have with your family and friends, your physical health, your daily activities, etc.
The most effective way to treat PTSD is through supportive counseling and therapy from a professional who can assess and help process emotional distress and painful feelings related to the trauma. The South Asian Network has several educated professionals who can understand where you are coming from and even speak the language of your choice. The staff is culturally and religiously mindful. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these feelings or symptoms and are concerned, contact South Asian Network for a free assessment to see if you are struggling from PTSD. We are here to help you learn, understand, and get better.
(The author is a clinical social worker.)