What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Why does it happen? What are the symptoms? Do you need to see a doctor? How is it treated? What’s good? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD ), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , is a mental health disorder triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms may include uncontrollable thoughts about the event, as well as replaying the event, nightmares, and severe anxiety .
Most people who have gone through traumatic events may temporarily have trouble adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If symptoms worsen, persist for months or even years, and interfere with daily life, the condition may be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) causes and risk factors
You may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , also known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , when you experience, see, or learn about an event involving near death, witnessing death, serious injury, or sexual abuse .
Doctors aren’t sure why some people get the condition while others don’t. As with most mental health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is likely caused by a complex combination of:
- Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve had in your life
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression
- Inherited traits of your personality – often called your temperament
- The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress
Examples of traumatic events
The most common events leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder include:
- witnessing the war
- Experiencing physical abuse in childhood
- Experiencing sexual violence
- Experiencing physical attack
- being threatened with a gun
- Being in an accident or witnessing it
Many other traumatic events such as fire, natural disaster, extortion, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and other extreme or life-threatening events can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Who is at risk?
People of all ages can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing this condition after a traumatic event, such as:
- experiencing intense or prolonged trauma
- Having experienced other traumas, such as childhood abuse
- Having a job that increases the risk of exposure to traumatic events, such as military personnel and first responders
- Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
- Having problems with substance abuse, such as excessive drinking or drug use
- Lacking a good family and friend support system
- Having close relatives with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fall into four categories, and the symptoms can vary in severity.
- Attacks: Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories, distressing dreams, or flashbacks of the traumatic event may occur. Flashbacks can be so vivid that people may feel like they are reliving the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
- Avoidance: Avoiding remembering the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects, and situations that can trigger distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what they are experiencing or how they feel about it.
- Changes in cognition and mood: Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts and emotions may be felt, leading to persistent and distorted beliefs about oneself or others. Distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the event that led to false accusation of self or others, continued fear, dread, anger, guilt, or shame, much less interest in activities previously enjoyed, a feeling of detachment or alienation from others, and an inability to experience positive emotions may occur.
- Changes in arousal and responsiveness: Arousal and reactive symptoms may include restlessness and angry outbursts. behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; suspiciously paying attention to those around them, being startled easily, difficulty concentrating, or trouble sleeping.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children
In children, especially very young children, symptoms may differ from those in adults and may include:
- Fear of separation from parents
- Losing previously acquired skills (such as toilet training)
- Sleep problems and nightmares
- Repetition of trauma in the mind
- New phobias and worries that seem unrelated to the trauma (such as fear of monsters)
- Recreating trauma with games, stories or drawings
- Aches and pains with no obvious cause
- irritability and aggression
When should you see a doctor?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) debilitating symptoms can make it difficult to experience, work, and interact. In fact, many people struggling with PTSD may turn to unhealthy coping skills such as substance abuse or self-harm to minimize or escape their emotional distress.
If you have been experiencing symptoms for more than a month, it may be helpful for you to speak to a professional. As you deal with nightmares, flashbacks to trauma, and a negative view of yourself and others, you may begin to feel that nothing will ever change.
Finding a qualified professional to help can make a positive difference by sharing your experiences and helping you learn healthy, effective ways of coping.
Diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In addition to using the DSM-5 guidelines to evaluate the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , or post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , a medical professional will most likely want to perform a physical exam to check for medical problems that may be causing or triggering symptoms.
A psychological evaluation may be recommended, allowing you to openly discuss with your doctor some of the events that caused you to experience these symptoms. During this evaluation, you should share with your doctor the symptoms you are experiencing, as well as the duration and intensity of these symptoms.
This aggregated information will help medical professionals and mental health professionals understand your treatment needs and provide you with the appropriate level of treatment.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment
Treatment for post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can relieve symptoms by helping you cope with the trauma you’ve experienced. A doctor or therapist will encourage you to remember and process the emotions you felt during the event in order to lessen the powerful influence of memory on your life.
During treatment, you will explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma, work through feelings of guilt and insecurity, learn how to deal with intrusive memories, and address the problems PTSD has caused in your life and relationships.
Various types of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can be used to treat children and adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some types of psychotherapy used in treatment include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
This type of talk therapy helps you recognize the ways of thinking (cognitive patterns) that are holding you back—for example, negative beliefs about yourself and the risk of traumatic things happening again. For post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy.
- exposure therapy
This behavioral therapy helps you safely face situations and memories that you find frightening so you can learn to deal with them effectively. Exposure therapy can be particularly helpful for traumatic flashbacks and nightmares. A different approach to this therapy uses virtual reality programs that allow you to re-enter the traumatized environment.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new treatment known to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It involves making rhythmic eye movements while remembering the traumatic event. Rapid eye movements are intended to have an effect similar to the way your brain processes memories and experiences while you sleep.
Medicines help you stop thinking and reacting to these, including having nightmares and flashbacks to the trauma. They can also help you have a more positive outlook on life and feel more “normal” again.
There are several medications that affect the chemistry in your brain related to fear and anxiety. Doctors will usually start with medications that affect serotonin or norepinephrine. These drugs include fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and venlefaxine.
Remember, your doctor will decide which medicine to take and how.
What is good for post-traumatic stress disorder?
Here are the things that are good for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
1- Get a healthy lifestyle
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms can be tough on your body, so it’s important to take care of yourself and develop some healthy lifestyle habits. Take time for yourself to relax. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, massage, or yoga can activate the body’s relaxation response and relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Stay away from alcohol and drugs. As you struggle with difficult emotions and traumatic memories, you may tend to console yourself with alcohol or drugs. But substance use worsens many of its symptoms, interferes with treatment, and can contribute to problems in your relationships.
Get healthy eating habits. Start your day with breakfast and keep your energy high and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day. Omega-3s play a vital role in emotional health, so include foods like fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts in your diet. Limit processed foods, fried foods, refined starches and sugars, which can exacerbate mood swings and cause fluctuations in your energy.
Get regular and adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can trigger anger, irritability, and pessimism. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual (listen to soothing music, watch a funny show, or read something light) and make your bedroom as quiet, dark, and soothing as possible.
2- Challenge your sense of helplessness
Recovery from trauma is a gradual, ongoing process. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, and memories of the trauma don’t go away completely. This can make life difficult at times. But there are many steps you can take to deal with the symptoms and reduce your anxiety and fear.
Overcoming your sense of helplessness is key to overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma makes you feel powerless and vulnerable. It’s important to remind yourself that you have strengths and coping skills that will help you get through tough times.
One of the best ways to reclaim your strengths is to help others. You can volunteer, donate blood, reach out to a friend in need, or donate to your favorite charity. Taking positive actions will be good for your mental health.
3- Take action
Exercise while you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can do more than release endorphins and improve your mood and outlook. By really focusing on your body and how it feels when you move, exercise can actually help your nervous system start to tighten up and come out of the stress response.
Rhythmic exercises that work both your arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming or dancing, are good. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on how your body feels. For example, pay attention to the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind touching your skin.
Spending time in nature is an effective remedy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Pursuing outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing will help you cope with symptoms and get back to normal life.
4- Reach out to others for support
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can make you feel disconnected from others. It can be tempting to withdraw from social activities and loved ones. But it’s important to stay connected with life and the people who care about you. You don’t have to talk about the trauma if you don’t want to, but the compassionate support and friendship of others is vital to your recovery.
Reach someone you can connect with for an uninterrupted amount of time, who will listen when you want to talk without judgment, criticism, or constant distraction. This person could be your lover, a family member, a friend, or a professional therapist. Not only is it a great way to connect with others, it can also help you regain a sense of control.
Frequently asked questions about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Are there physical problems associated with PTSD?
People with post-traumatic stress disorder may also experience physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension , nausea, joint pain, headache , backache, or other types of pain. The sufferer may not understand the connection between their pain and a traumatic event. For people with chronic pain, the pain can actually serve as a reminder of the traumatic event, which can intensify the symptoms. Some people who develop chronic pain may also experience problems such as depression, abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs. People who are chronically affected by post-traumatic stress disorder are also at risk of having a variety of health problems.
A loved one has been diagnosed with PTSD, what can I do?
A person struggling with exposure to a traumatic event may feel helpless and therefore people close to him may want to help him. Perhaps the most powerful approach is to be around him, accept him, show interest, and listen without judgment or advice. You can also suggest that your loved one get help from others about their trauma. This could be a religious community, spiritual communities, or group therapy. It is important to promote a healthy life for people with post-traumatic stress disorder to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use. It’s also a great idea to encourage them to plan relaxing and enjoyable leisure activities.
Why do some develop PTSD after a traumatic event while others do not?
Studies have found that most people actually recover after being exposed to a major traumatic event and do not develop PTSD. However, some people feel worse and experience PTSD symptoms as time goes on. Many factors before and after a traumatic event appear to increase the likelihood of PTSD. For example, the risk is greater when the traumatic event is more severe, occurs over a longer period of time, or causes physical harm. Being around reminders of the traumatic event can also increase risk. In general, women are more likely than men to develop PTSD, and younger people are more likely than older people. People are more susceptible, as are people with adverse childhood experiences and chronic medical or psychiatric illness.
What is the difference between a normal reaction to a traumatic event and PTSD?
People respond to the trauma experience in a variety of ways, including sadness, irritability, and confusion. Immediately after a major traumatic event, most people complain of stress, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, or not getting along with others. With PTSD, distressing symptoms worsen, affect social and work functioning, and persist for more than one month. If you or a loved one is having trouble coping with the effects of a trauma, it may be helpful to seek professional help.
Can children have PTSD too?
Years of research show that children are also vulnerable to developing post-traumatic stress disorder after exposure to a traumatic event, but symptoms can differ for toddlers, older children, adolescents, and adults. The loss of a parent due to death or separation can be stressful for a young child, especially if it is sudden. Physical and sexual abuse can also cause traumatic symptoms in children and adolescents.