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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-Traumatic Stress disorder is the body and brain's reaction to an extremely stressful and frightening circumstance.

Have you or someone you know experienced a traumatic event? When you experience a trauma, it can disrupt your brain's normal functioning. You may begin to notice symptoms right away, or days and even months later.

What is a Traumatic Event?

A traumatic event is something that, typically, puts you in fear of your very life itself. For this reason, many combat veterans have PTSD. However, there are other situations that cause the same kinds of fear and trauma as being on the battlefield.

Some other situations that can cause PTSD are:

  • Car Accidents

  • Other Accidents

  • Assault

  • Rape

  • Abuse

  • Neglect

  • War Refugees

  • Chronic Harassment

  • Bullying

  • Emotional Abuse

  • Poverty

Any situation that causes intense or prolonged fear responses can lead to PTSD symptoms.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.

When you experience PTSD symptoms, it is because your fight-or-flight response has been activated, and hasn't gone back to a normal baseline. You are constantly alert for danger even after the traumatic situation has passed.

PTSD Symptoms

There are several different types of PTSD symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these, it is a good idea to talk to a medical or mental health professional right away.

You may have trouble sleeping and have disturbing dreams about the traumatic event. Or, you may feel like you are irritable for seemingly no reason and constantly on edge. Simple things can cause you to "flip out" and lose your cool. Or, you may feel like you are constantly preoccupied, and think back to the traumatic event frequently.

These are just some examples. See the diagnostic criteria for more information on the variety of symptoms you may experience with PTSD:

According to Psychiatry,

Symptoms of PTSD fall into the following four categories. Specific symptoms can vary in severity.
Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
Avoidance: Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that may trigger distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
Alterations in cognition and mood: Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts and feelings leading to ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the event leading to wrongly blaming self or other; ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; feeling detached or estranged from others; or being unable to experience positive emotions (a void of happiness or satisfaction).
Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being overly watchful of one's surroundings in a suspecting way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.

These are the different types of symptoms that you may experience.

For a full list of the diagnostic criteria according to the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual used in Psychology, you can check out my other postings about PTSD.

If you experience any of these symptoms, they can be very disturbing and disruptive. You may feel like you are reexperiencing the traumatic event over and over again, even in your dreams.

You may begin to feel out of control of yourself, and your life. You may find yourself becoming angry, irritable or upset quite easily. You may have panic attacks or flashbacks of the event.

When you have these troubling PTSD symptoms, it can feel like PTSD is completely taking control of your life.

These out of control feelings can be extremely upsetting, and you may spend all your time wondering what happened to the way you used to be before the trauma took place.

In some cases, you become hyper-aware of everything that is around you and scanning for threats. In other cases, you may feel like you are constantly zoned out.

PTSD Changes Your Brain

When you have PTSD after a trauma, it is because your brain and nervous system are functioning differently than they did previously to the traumatic event. Trauma actually rewires the connections in your brain.

According to Brainline,

Your brain is equipped with an alarm system that normally helps ensure your survival. With PTSD, this system becomes overly sensitive and triggers easily. In turn, the parts of your brain responsible for thinking and memory stop functioning properly. When this occurs, it’s hard to separate safe events happening now from dangerous events that happened in the past.

Since there have been changes in your brain in reaction to the traumatic event, it follows that your thoughts, feelings and behaviors will change as well. You may feel like you are "not the same person" as before the trauma occurred. This is because you, quite literally, aren't the same.

Since you have changed in a fundamental, physiological way, it is important to be gentle with yourself. Give yourself kindness, and have acceptance of the idea that things in your life have changed. Don't beat yourself up over having symptoms.

Getting Treatment

If you are experiencing PTSD symptoms and need to get help, it may be a good idea to start by speaking to someone you trust. This can be a family member or friend, initially. They can help you sort out what you are feeling, and make a plan of action about what to do next.

You can get a referral to therapy from your primary care doctor, a school counselor, your employee assistance program, an Emergency Room, or a crisis center.

When you go to therapy for PTSD, you will likely have a combination of treatments, such as talk therapy, medications, group therapy and EMDR.

As you work with your mental health providers, they will do their best to make sure that you can reprocess the trauma so that you feel less triggered by day to day events, and that you are able to function normally again.

Treatment can take some time, since there have been changes to your brain and nervous system due to the PTSD. This is also why EMDR is so helpful, because it helps you to reprocess the trauma, so that it doesn't feel like you are constantly reexperiencing it, and react to triggers differently.

Read More About PTSD on Millenial Mom

You can also visit the Resources tab for additional information about PTSD.

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