What is Trauma & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, war, rape or other violent personal assault. The typical psychological response to a traumatic experience is shock or experiencing acute stress. However, people with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They relive the event through flashbacks and/or nightmares. They also may feel sadness, numb, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people.
Living with PTSD can create many emotional challenges, and in some cases, these may be so severe that your health is negatively affected. This makes it critical to address the issue immediately and work to find effective treatments and techniques. A typical PTSD symptom includes being disoriented and unable to comprehend the things that are happening around you. However, as the mind begins to process the traumatic situation, these symptoms typically become less severe and may potentially start to gradually lift.
However, when it comes to PTSD, it is possible for a person to remain in a state of mental shock for a long time. If this happens to you, there is a high potential for symptoms to begin to worsen. The good news is not every individual dealing with a traumatic event will develop PTSD. It is also possible for a person to develop PTSD many years after the trauma. In fact, there have been some cases where severe symptoms only start to develop several days or even years later.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD affects millions and may occur at any age, including childhood. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and there is substantial evidence that susceptibility to the disorder may even be hereditary. If you have family members with PTSD, this makes it more likely that you will also have PTSD at some point in your life.
One of the major concerns for most medical providers is that similar to many other mental health illnesses, PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, and/or anxiety disorders. This can negatively affect the quality of life for any person living with PTSD, so it’s important to treat all co-occurring conditions.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms can create significant problems for a person in their personal life. It’s possible for PTSD sufferers to begin to experience hearing loud noises, seeing a specific image, or smelling a scent that brings back memories of the traumatic event. Symptoms usually appear seemingly unexpectedly and suddenly. Below are some common symptoms shared by PTSD sufferers:
- Feelings of stress or fear when reminded of the traumatic experience that may even lead to panic attacks.
- Re-living the event in the form of flashbacks that merely appear at any time of the day or night.
- Experiencing nightmares of the event.
- Experiencing fear and worry that may impact your ability to complete daily tasks, care for your family, or hold down a job.
- Avoiding specific situations that are associated with the trauma.
- Not enjoying life as much as before the trauma and continually feeling detached or emotionally numb.
- Consistently having difficulty concentrating at work or doing simple tasks at home and being easily startled throughout the day.
- Showing out of control bursts of anger or becoming violent.
- Constantly being on the alert for danger.
- Frequently being more isolated due to fear of leaving the home and getting out into the world.
- Experiencing physical pain that tends to worsen as the day moves along. Some of these symptoms include headaches, migraines, nausea, racing heart, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and dizziness.
- Withdrawal from activities that were once pleasurable and added to your quality of life.
- Harming another individual.
- Loss of appetite may contribute to a significant amount of weight loss.
- Failing to take care of your health and body.
Finding Treatment for PTSD or Trauma
People with PTSD typically respond very well to treatment. Using the most effective treatment methods is key to being able to get back to your regular life. It’s common for either psychotherapy or medication to be used in treating PTSD.
There are a variety of medications you can select from, and your physician will be the best resource for guiding you to the right medication for you.
Below are some types of medications that are helpful in treating PTSD:
- Sleep medications
- Anti-anxiety drugs
Depression and anxiety are conditions that commonly accompany PTSD, and prescription drugs may assist you to better deal with the symptoms. However, keep in mind that any medication you take will not entirely relieve you of PTSD. Medication, with therapy, is the most effective approach to treating PTSD. It may take some trial and error before you find the best prescription drug to assist you in better managing PTSD.
There are three types of psychotherapy that are proven to be extremely helpful in overcoming PTSD:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): The most effective way to coping with the negative thoughts that commonly accompanies PTSD is with CBT. CBT will encourage you to change your thought process to a more positive way of thinking. Over time, this can help you be in a better mood and may allow you to have fewer PTSD symptoms. You can typically expect to enroll in a 12-week treatment program to enable you to get the most benefits from CBT. Sessions may last from 60-90 minutes, so you will want to prepare so that you can fully commit to your therapy.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET): With PET, you will work on confronting whatever has been bothering you due to the traumatic event. Doing this work to alleviate your symptoms will allow you to lead a happier and healthier life. During PET, you will make a list of situations that you fear and these are often situations that remind you of the traumatic event. Through guidance from your therapist, you will gradually begin to expose yourself to your fears. Your therapist will also encourage you to focus on your breathing to enable you to better cope while working through your fears.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT): This method of psychotherapy can last for a few months and can be very effective. It’s common to do SIT with a group of people who also have PTSD, this way you can share as little or as much as you’d like about the details of your experience. SIT will demonstrate techniques such as massage and breathing methods that may assist in alleviating your stress.
There are strategies that you can do on your own to help with PTSD. Incorporating various strategies into your daily life can be useful and enable you to feel better in both the short and long-term. Some self-care strategies that you can try include:
A Healthy Diet: The foods you eat every day have a tremendous impact on your health and well-being. Incorporating nutritious foods that are low in fat and sugar can be helpful in reducing depression and anxiety. Be sure to choose more servings of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats rather than sweets and foods that are highly processed.
Join a Support Group: Communicating with a group of individuals going through the same things you are, helps you feel like you’re not alone. Human connection is so important when you’re struggling. Find a community of people that you can reach out to and communicate with routinely.
Start an Exercise Routine: One of the best things you can do for your physical and mental well-being is to be more active. Taking the time to go for a long walk or making a trip to the gym can help release endorphins, and this is an efficient way to instantly boost your mood. Be sure to work towards a routine that you enjoy and that will help you stay active.
Keep a Journal: Working to identify your feelings and what may trigger negative emotions when living with PTSD is something you should consider doing. Regular journaling will give you the most optimal results from your efforts.
Create Daily Affirmations: Have a list of positive and affirming statements that you can say out loud each day. This may be helpful in becoming stronger and more able to cope with the symptoms of PTSD. You may find that you tend to say these affirmations to yourself as the day continues to progress. Repeating affirmations may feel forced or unnatural, to begin with, but can be very helpful over time.
Finding a Therapist for PTSD or Trauma
You can live a happy life, one that enables you to reach your full potential, even if you have PTSD. The key to doing so may largely rest in working with a licensed professional. Finding a therapist can be done with ease and efficiency on our website. There are numerous online therapists that possess the necessary qualifications to help you learn practical techniques and coping strategists to lead a better life with PTSD.
Don’t suffer needlessly when there are hope and help. You are worth the time and effort it takes to get to a more positive place.
If you feel suicidal at any point and need a person to talk to immediately, you can get assistance by reaching out to an online hotline and speaking to a professional. It’s essential to talk to the right professional that will allow you to get past this challenging time and enable you to have a better quality of life.
- American Psychiatric Association (2017, January). What Is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved March 31, 2009 from: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
- National Institute of Mental Health (2016, February). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved March 31, 2009 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
- Mayo Clinic (2018, July). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved March 31, 2019 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.