Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

01 March, 2020
Posttraumatic stress disorder can be very disabling. Consult a doctor if you recognize some of these symptoms in you or someone close to you.

Posttraumatic stress disorder, also called PTSD, is a mental disorder that some people experience after exposure to a traumatic event – this may include natural disasters, wars, accidents, assault, kidnapping, abuse, etc.

Almost everyone develops some kind of reaction after experiencing a traumatic situation. Thus, a person is a lot more alert in the weeks after the event and also afraid and anxious about it. It’s an acute reaction to high stress. Fortunately, most people recover naturally after they process their trauma. However, some don’t manage it properly and continue to be anxious even after they’re safe.

What are the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder?

Each person reacts differently to a traumatic event, but there are many common symptoms. Therefore, the following signs must be present for at least a month and must produce significant discomfort to diagnose someone with PTSD:

  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidant behavior
  • Cognitive and mood disorders
  • Reactive behavior

Next, we’ll take a look at each of these symptoms in more detail.

A woman crying.
Going through or witnessing any traumatic situation can be the trigger for posttraumatic stress disorder.

Flashbacks

  • Recurring distressing memories
  • Nightmares
  • Intense chronic psychological discomfort
  • Physiological reactions such as hyperventilation, digestive discomfort, extreme tiredness or muscle soreness

Avoidant behavior

  • Ignoring memories, thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of any person, place, activity or situation that arouses memories of the traumatic experience

Cognitive and mood disorders

  • Difficulty remembering important details about the traumatic event
  • Distorted feelings of guilt
  • A negative emotional state
  • Loss of interest in activities a person used to enjoy
  • Feelings of detachment

Reactive behavior

  • Exacerbated irritability
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Jumpiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances

Also, a person with PTSD may have the following dissociative symptoms:

  • Depersonalization: A person feels like they don’t belong in their own body.
  • Derealization: A person has the feeling that what they went through isn’t real.

Read also: Physical Pain and Anxiety, and Their Relationship

Why do some people experience PTSD and others don’t?

As we stated at the beginning, most people recover from a traumatic experience on their own. Thus, the reasons why some people develop posttraumatic stress disorder and others don’t vary. However, there are many predisposing factors.

Overall, these are the most significant:

  • First, being a woman. This is because PTSD affects twice as many women as it does men.
  • Second, a history of mental disorder or drug use.
  • Also, having experienced one or more traumatic experiences during childhood.
  • Having low levels of serotonin.
  • Witnessing wounded or dead people
  • Also, a panic attack during the event or shortly after.
  • Having to deal with the loss of a loved one, physical pain, injury, loss of work or housing as a result of the incident.
  • Living near the traumatic event.
  • A lack of emotional support.
  • Finally, feeling helpless or extremely afraid.

As you can see, a combination of any of these factors will increase the intensity of posttraumatic stress in a person. Thus, it isn’t the same to experience one of the above symptoms as experiencing most of them.

Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment

As with most mental disorders, there’s a treatment for PTSD. In fact, there are different methods to improve the lives of a patient.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most recent proven solutions for treating posttraumatic stress disorder. Overall, it’s always best to seek this treatment from a trained professional.

However, here’s a basic outline of some of the most common aspects of this type of treatment:

  • Cognitive restructuring: A person learns to identify their irrational beliefs about what happened and replace them with more accurate ones
  • Training in relaxation methods: These techniques are essential for a person to better manage their anxiety. Thus, they can learn to practice deep breathing, Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, Tai Chi and visualization, among others
  • Exposure therapy: When a patient regains some control for their anxiety, it may be time to expose themselves to some of the stimuli responsible for the trauma
A distressed woman.
Generally, cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most recommended treatment options to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

Support groups

These types of groups can be very helpful to people with PTSD, especially if they’re in an environment where they lack support and understanding. Thus, it becomes easier to verbalize pain when people get together and share similar experiences. This is because it’s easier to put it in perspective and learn from other people who’ve been through similar experiences.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Next, this technique was developed in the 80s by neurologist Francine Shapiro. Overall, it’s been very helpful to millions of people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Essentially, the method consists of causing a series of eye movements and auditory stimuli. What’s great about it is it helps reduce the effects of trauma by better processing the experience. Also, it helps to replace negative thoughts and feelings with more appropriate ones.

Drugs for posttraumatic stress disorder

Finally, if necessary, SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants) can decrease the intensity of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and relieve depression. However, you must remember that these must be prescribed by a professional and that you must follow a specific protocol when you stop using them.

Read also: Selective Mutism – What it Is and What Causes It

Final notes on posttraumatic stress disorder

Finally, even though the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are often difficult to manage, most people who attend therapy manage to overcome the trauma. Thus, they’ll eventually be able to remember what happened without feeling overwhelmed by fear and anguish.

Overall, the memory of a traumatic event will never go away and therapy won’t make a person forget it. However, it’ll allow them to let go of the past and integrate the traumatic memory as a learning experience.

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