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Are You Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can occur in survivors of traumatic events. While it is commonly believed to be something that only veterans experience, sadly, 1 out of 11 people experience these severe, life-changing occurrences.

There are many different ways that someone can be traumatized, but some common examples include:

  • Abuse or neglect

  • Sexual or physical assault

  • Divorce

  • Family or parental abandonment

  • Incarceration

  • Job loss

  • Natural disasters

  • Physical injury

  • Serious illness

  • Terrorism

  • Violence

  • Witnessing a crime, accident, or death

Some traumas, such as accidents or witnessing a crime, are one-time incidents. Other traumas are long-lasting and continuous, such as coping with a prolonged, chronic illness or recurring childhood abuse. There are also types of trauma often overlooked, such as trauma that occurs during childbirth or surgery.

These events and experiences trigger extreme fear and an overwhelming amount of stress. Some people can recover and accommodate over time. However, when we continue feeling like we're stuck in this state of fear without any presence of danger, we may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD is defined by 20 symptoms according to the DSM-5 and outlined by four categories. Symptoms may begin within three months after the event but may not appear until months or even years later. If symptoms last longer than four weeks or interfere with work/home life, you may have PTSD.

Categories of symptoms:

Avoidance: After a traumatic event, our beliefs about the world being a trustworthy and safe place are understandably shattered. Places or situations you once considered safe in may now feel intimidating or anxiety-provoking.

Intrusion: Feeling distressed by trauma memories, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares. This is exceptionally likely to happen when you face a reminder (a person, smell, sound, or image) of the traumatic event.

Thought/mood changes: Feelings of blame or guilt, loss of interest, or disconnection from others. This may also show up as:

Depersonalization: A feeling of being detached from or outside yourself, observing your thoughts or body like you're in a dream. You may feel emotionally or physically numb or a sense of unreality.

Arousal & Reactivity: It is also very reasonable to feel hyper-aware or on guard of your environment after a traumatic event. This is a very protective symptom as your body tries to keep you safe by alerting you of possible threats and vulnerabilities. This natural defense tool is more sensitive following a traumatic event and may look like:

  • Irritable behavior or angry outbursts

  • Reckless or self-destructive behaviors

  • Exaggerated startle response

  • Problems with concentration

  • Difficulty falling asleep

While everyone can experience these symptoms differently, symptoms of PTSD tend to show up as depression and other anxiety disorders. This is also one reason why PTSD is one of the most misunderstood disorders within the mental health field.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma, you may be diagnosed with PTSD. However, not all traumatic experiences will point to a diagnosis of a trauma-related condition. When you talk to a mental health professional, you'll be asked questions about your symptoms, how long you've been experiencing them, and how long ago the trauma occurred.

Treatment will depend on these symptoms and may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. You may benefit from:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy

  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)

A therapist can provide support and help you understand the impact of trauma and its symptoms. Remember, you are not alone, and healing is possible.

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