The sudden onset of a panic attack can literally bring you to your knees, and leave you wondering why it happened – and if it might happen again. One famous person who has dealt with them is singer Ellie Goulding. Recognising the symptoms of a panic attack and how to mitigate them can help.
When you have gone through a traumatic experience, you want nothing more than to leave it behind you and move on. For people living with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, trauma leaves a lingering impact that can be triggered by a variety of situations, forcing them to relive the memory of that experience again and again.
Regardless of the type of trauma you have gone through, physical intimacy and sex can be a trigger for PTSD. The emotional and even physical pain of this can be jarring and disruptive to your sex life, and have impacts on your relationships. However, there are ways to manage PTSD and improve your ability to be present and relaxed during sex.
Understanding the Relationship between PTSD and Sex
Post-traumatic stress disorder impacts a variety of biological and cognitive functions, including sexual behaviour. While it was previously thought that only sexually-related trauma could impact subsequent sexual activity, studies of PTSD in combat veterans and survivors of nonsexual crimes proved otherwise.
This is partially due to the shared hormonal and neurological networks of fear and arousal. When you are turned on, the brain sends out a release of hormones like norepinephrine. This is the same hormone that floods the brain when you experience intense fear. If you have experienced trauma, it can be hard for the brain to separate the normal release of this hormone when you’re in an intimate moment from the memory of trauma, resulting in panic attacks or flashbacks.
For others, sex may be perceived as a relinquishing of control, a “letting go” that the brain considers dangerous due to a past trauma. This may result in during sex. While you may not be having a full-on panic attack, you might notice that you feel distracted, to the point of being physically or emotionally disconnected from the experience. Some people even feel as though they’re floating outside of their bodies.
Post-Sex Blues and PTSD
For some, acute feelings of upset or stress come on not during, but after sex. This is a recognised condition known as postcoital dysphoria, particularly common among survivors of childhood sexual abuse, as well as physical or emotional abuse or adult sexual assault. People with postcoital dysphoria often experience anxiety, depression, emptiness or despondency following sexual activity.
These responses can occur during any sexual experience, including masturbation or sex with a respectful partner who is supportive and understanding of your needs. While it is common to feel some reluctance in discussing your sex life with your doctor, it is important to do so in order to access treatment, which is critical in helping to manage and overcome symptoms of PTSD.
Managing PTSD in the Bedroom
A healthy, happy sex life can contribute to an increased quality of life, greater intimacy with your partner, and a positive connection with your body. Reshaping your relationship to sex after trauma can feel empowering, and represent an important step in your healing process. There are a few techniques that can help you manage PTSD symptoms and fully connect during sex.
Relaxation and Breathwork
PTSD responses often involve an involuntary tightening of the muscles as the brain anticipates pain. Though you may not be aware of this, consciously relaxing your muscles and slowing your breath can create a noticeable difference in how you feel. You can start by contracting and then relaxing your muscles, starting with your jaw and working your way down. Practising deep, slow breathing can also help send signals to your brain that this is a time to relax, not run.
Mindfulness meditation helps to let go of negative patterns of thought and refocus onto the present moment, a useful tool in overcoming symptoms of PTSD. There are specific exercises that you can do to help you be mindful during sex, such as drawing attention to the different sensations you are feeling in order to focus your mind and be fully present with your partner.
Being able to express and process your feelings with a supportive partner that you trust can be tremendously helpful in working through PTSD. This means talking before sex about how you’re feeling and whether you’re ready, as well as being able to communicate during sex about what is going on mentally and physically. Afterwards, processing what worked and what may have triggered a PTSD response is also key in continuing to overcome trauma.
This type of communication is difficult for many people, but necessary in order to improve sexual experiences. It allows you to set clear boundaries for yourself, helping you to regain control and establish a safe space both mentally and physically.
Professional Mental Health Treatment
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition with the potential for lasting effects on your physical and mental health. Professional treatment is a necessary and effective component of managing PTSD and thriving after trauma. Working with a mental health specialist allows you to discuss intimate details with complete confidentiality in order to develop a treatment plan that works for you. Some types of therapy that are effective in treating PTSD include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): One of the most common forms of mental health therapy, including for those with PTSD, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented type of talk therapy. It focuses on helping the client to become aware of negative responses, feelings, and behaviours and to learn how to respond to these situations in a more effective way.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is an interactive psychotherapy that targets traumatic memories. In this process, that client works together with a trained therapist who helps the client identify a traumatic memory. The therapist leads the client through lateral eye movements to process these memories, eventually alleviating the negative emotions and responses associated with them.
Working Your Way Back at The Dawn
At The Dawn Wellness Center and Rehab in Thailand, we understand how difficult and painful it can be to confront and work through trauma. We work with each of our clients to develop a personalised treatment plan designed specifically to your needs in order to maximise the effectiveness of treatment, and ensure that you are completely supported every step of the way.
The Treatment You Need, All in One Place
During your time at The Dawn, you’ll have access to the latest psychotherapeutic techniques, cutting-edge technology and scientifically-proven wellness practices, all under one roof in our beautiful, safe, and relaxing location in Northern Thailand. We use a blend of therapies to ensure holistic healing and instill healthy coping skills. Some of our main psychotherapies include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Tension releasing exercises
The Dawn caps client admissions at just 35 people to ensure you’ll have the personal attention from staff that you need as you move through the process of overcoming trauma. Everyone at The Dawn is on a first name basis, and clients have an all-access pass to our team for support whenever they need it.
Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help you confront, process, and ultimately overcome your trauma.