Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help
If you went through a traumatic experience and are having trouble getting back to your regular life and reconnecting to others, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you have PTSD, it can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But help is available – and you are not alone. If you are willing to seek treatment, stick with it, and reach out to others for support, you will be able to overcome the symptoms of PTSD and move on with your life.
PTSD is a response by normal people to an abnormal situation
The traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone. When your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb – and most people do. The only difference between people who go on to develop PTSD and those who don’t is how they cope with the trauma.
After a traumatic experience, the mind and the body are in shock. But as you make sense of what happened and process your emotions, you come out of it. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.
Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful or numb, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. But for most people, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift.
If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse. But PTSD doesn’t always develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event, although this is most common. For some people, the symptoms of PTSD take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms, as listed below.
Re-experiencing the traumatic event
- Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
- Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
- Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
- Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
PTSD symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing
- Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
- Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
- Loss of interest in activities and life in general
- Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
- Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
PTSD symptoms of increased arousal
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
Other common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
- Anger and irritability
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Substance abuse
- Depression and hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
- Feeling alienated and alone
- Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
- Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain
If you suspect that you or a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s important to seek help right away. The sooner PTSD is confronted, the easier it is to overcome. If you’re reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.
It’s only natural to want to avoid painful memories and feelings. But if you try to numb yourself and push your memories away, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will only get worse. You can’t escape your emotions completely – they emerge under stress or whenever you let down your guard – and trying to do so is exhausting. The avoidance will ultimately harm your relationships, your ability to function, and the quality of your life.
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