Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Comprehensive Guide

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a disordered response to an overwhelming event. A frightening or dangerous event or series of events will typically elicit strong feelings of fear, which create a physiological response in the body. This response is designed to enable someone to either fight or flee the situation. On the other side of the event, it’s natural to experience a range of emotions. If uncomfortable thoughts and emotions continue past the event and when no dangers are present, someone may be exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. In this situation, it may be necessary to seek help. Professionals in the social work or psychology fields can assist with PTSD symptoms to help patients recover.

Many different types of traumatic events can be catalysts for this disorder. Suffering an injury in an accident is one common scenario for the onset of PTSD. Someone who has been assaulted or attacked could also experience PTSD symptoms as they recover from the event. People serving in combat in the military often experience serious post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after they are removed from danger.

After a traumatic event or series of events, it’s natural to be aware of and think about the events for a period of time. Someone who is experiencing a normal reaction will usually reach out to a support network for help processing their emotions. Within a relatively short period of time, it will be possible to return to typical daily functions without residual difficulties because the mind recovers and heals from the trauma. However, with PTSD, the person experiences significant difficulty moving past the uncomfortable feelings associated with the trauma. Anxiety and depression will often ensue, which can cause significant disruptions in daily life.

People suffering from PTSD can exhibit a variety of symptoms, and not everyone will have all of the typical symptoms of this disorder. PTSD involves re-experiencing the trauma in the form of flashbacks, scary thoughts, and nightmares. Triggers for re-experiencing trauma can include sounds, objects, and words. Someone experiencing PTSD will also engage in avoidance behaviors, staying away from places and objects that serve as reminders of the trauma. Other symptoms include intense feelings of anxiety, startling easily, angry outbursts, and difficulty sleeping. Common mood symptoms include memory difficulty, negative thoughts, feelings of guilt and shame, and a diminished interest in enjoyable activities. Generally, PTSD symptoms will begin within three months of the traumatic event or events, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. For a PTSD diagnosis, the symptoms must continue for at least one month, and they must interfere with daily life.

While anyone can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, some people have an elevated risk of developing it. Women have a higher risk of developing PTSD than men, and researchers have found potential genetic links to developing PTSD. People who have experienced a childhood trauma or who have a history of mental illness have an elevated risk of PTSD. Those who suffer from addiction also have a higher risk for this disorder. It’s also more common for people who lack a strong support system to experience PTSD.

People experiencing PTSD symptoms often have sleep disruptions. This can be because PTSD causes people to feel hyper-alert, which prevents them from relaxing and resting. Excessive worry can also lead to problems falling and staying asleep. Nightmares are also common with PTSD and can prevent a restful sleep. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol will typically interfere with sleep as well.

Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder can involve both medications and various types of therapies. Antidepressants may provide relief from nightmares and anxiety. Psychotherapy can occur in both individual and group settings. A professional might also recommend exposure therapy, which involves gradually increasing exposure to reminders of the trauma in a safe environment, enabling the patient to confront their feelings. Cognitive processing therapy involves exploring the event to make sense of it, enabling the patient to work through any feelings of guilt or shame. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a type of psychotherapy that helps promote emotional healing. This treatment involves focusing on specific memories while moving the eyes back and forth. This process prompts a biological mechanism associated with REM sleep that helps to process the memory and the feelings associated with it. Stress inoculation training can assist patients with recognizing and changing negative thought processes. During this treatment, the therapist helps a patient recognize triggers that cause fear and anxiety and will then provide ways of managing the anxiety. Management techniques may involve deep breathing, muscle relaxation, role-playing, and positive self-talk to move past the anxiety.

Managing PTSD with complementary and alternative medicine is another option. Some patients use alternative treatments in conjunction with conventional treatments. Common alternative treatments include meditation, acupuncture, yoga, relaxation, and guided imagery. The effectiveness of alternative treatments varies, and many professionals suggest conventional treatments as first-line interventions to enable the most effective results.

Living a healthy lifestyle also can help patients who suffer from PTSD. Regular appointments with a therapist will likely be effective for helping to alleviate symptoms. Leaning on a support system of family and friends is also important. It’s also helpful to monitor symptoms continually, learning how to recognize triggers to avoid unpleasant feelings. Healthy distractions can also be useful, such as engaging in a sport or exercise, spending time with friends and family, watching a movie, or reading a book. Keeping a journal of thoughts and feelings may also be helpful. Maintaining a healthy diet is recommended as well.