Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) describes a series of predictable symptoms that take hold once a patient has survived – or in some cases witnessed – a severely traumatic or life-threatening event. Because the brain becomes overwhelmed by the pain and fear of the trauma, memories of the event do not fully process, causing the individual to re-experience the trauma as if it were occurring in the present.
The 17 Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Signs of PTSD can range from flashbacks to nightmares, panic attacks to eating disorders and cognitive delays to lowered verbal memory capacity. Many trauma survivors also encounter substance abuse issues, as they attempt to self-medicate the negative effects of PTSD. Most mental health professionals and diagnostic manuals agree on 17 major signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Just as not every trauma survivor will develop PTSD, not every individual with PTSD will develop the same signs – and rarely do all 17 exist in one individual. Experts have created three categories (or “clusters”) of PTSD symptoms, falling into the categories of re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event and responses of hyperarousal. PTSD symptoms will generally persist for at least a month and for many survivors, these signs represent their first struggles with anxiety.
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- Intense feelings of distress when reminded of a tragic event
- Extreme physical reactions to reminders of trauma such as a nausea, sweating or a pounding heart
- Invasive, upsetting memories of a tragedy
- Flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening again)
- Nightmares of either frightening things or of the event
- Loss of interest in life and daily activities
- Feeling emotionally numb and detached from other people
- Sense of a not leading a normal life (not having a positive outlook of your future)
- Avoiding certain activities, feelings, thoughts or places that remind you of the tragedy
- Difficulty remembering important aspects of a tragic event
Signs of Re-experiencing Trauma in PTSD
Everyday occurrences can “trigger” memories of the traumatic event. When the brain becomes reminded of the trauma, survivors with PTSD may re-experience the event itself, as if it were occurring in the present. Flashbacks cause the survivor to have a waking, conscious and often sensory experience of the traumatic episode, usually accompanied by visual or auditory immersions. Intrusive thoughts can also represent the re-experiencing of trauma, as the survivor’s natural efforts to switch mental focus or block the experience fail. Another sign of re-experiencing trauma in PTSD is extreme psychological stress when triggers occur. Physical cues of re-experiencing can also be identified, such as muscles freezing, profuse sweating, racing pulse or heartbeat, yelling, or running away when psychological or physical cues trigger the traumatic event. Finally, persistent nightmares represent re-experiencing the trauma and in some cases, nightmares that cause the survivor to relive the event can be as traumatic as flashbacks.
Trauma Avoidance Signs of PTSD
Some signs of PTSD are avoidant, as the survivor attempts to find safety from harm. Most commonly, survivors will avoid locations, people, or even topics of conversation that remind them of the traumatic event itself. Trauma avoidance signs of PTSD include an aversion to emotions, cognitions or conversations about the traumatic experience, avoidance of places that cause reminders of the trauma and avoidance of hobbies or activities due to fear surrounding the trauma. Dissociative behavior symptoms also can set in during the brain’s attempts at avoidance, including sensations of depersonalization (“out of body experiences”) and derealization (feeling detached from the world), as well as general emotional detachment and social alienation.
Many PTSD survivors also find themselves detached from positive feelings, as the brain attempts to build an emotional wall, leaving them with feelings of “emptiness” or “flat” demeanors. Many PTSD survivors will also begin to ascribe to the belief that they will not live a full life due to their near-death experiences, causing a host of lifestyle issues as they may avoid long-term planning around jobs, careers, relationships or families.
Hyperarousal Signs of PTSD
Some signs of post-traumatic stress disorder have to do with the brain and body’s hyperarousal in the wake of a traumatic threat. Because the brain interprets the traumatic event as a present danger, natural fight-or-flight reactions become engaged – and sometimes prolonged during re-experiencing of the event. In combination with general hypervigilance that so often accompanies PTSD, these signs of hyperarousal can amount to an exhausting and stressful experience for the survivor.
One PTSD symptom associated with hyperarousal is insomnia. Many survivors with PTSD have significant difficulty falling asleep and staying in a deep sleep throughout the night. Due to persistent fears, many individuals with PTSD also sleep with the lights on, making it difficult to obtain a restful, REM-level of sleep. Another symptom of hyperarousal is irritability, where survivors become prone to angry outbursts over slight issues. Many survivors also experience short-term and verbal memory difficulties, making focus, expression and cognition a struggle. Others experience constant hypervigilance, seeking to interpret virtually any slight physical or psychological cue and assess the possibilities of further danger. Finally, many survivors experience a strong “startle response,” causing the PTSD patient to suddenly run, shake or scream when unexpected sensory input occurs, such as unwelcomed touch, loud noises or unexpected visual events.
Many people are unaware that untreated post traumatic stress disorder can have a devastating effect for sufferers’. It not only effects relationships with your family, friends and others, it can trigger serious emotional problems and even cause health problems such as memory loss.
PTSD not only affects adults and elderly people, it can effect children and teenagers as well. In fact, it can even effect an unborn baby. Pregnant women who suffer from abuse or other traumatic events can experience PTSD. This can effect the health of a baby by causing a chemical reaction to their body which may cause them to develop post traumatic stress disorder later in life. This is why getting treated for PTSD is imperative.
After you experience a traumatic event, the chemicals in your bran can affect the way you feel. For instance, when a person experiences depression after a car accident, they may not have a sufficient supply of a chemical known as Serotonin. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help increase the level of serotonin in a person’s brain. This type of antidepressant drug can help a person feel less worried and sad. Here is a list of common SSRIs:
- Celexa (citalopram)
- Prozac (flextime)
- Paxil (paroxetine)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A mental health therapist helps a person realize that negative thoughts about a traumatic event can cause one to stress and intensify their symptoms. The general ideal is to recognize thoughts that are causing a person to have fear or to feel sad.
Therapy enables a person to replace negative thoughts with thoughts that are less distressing. If a person is experiencing guilt or anger, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help a person cope with their feelings.
After a person experiences tragedy in their life, they may blame themselves for things they couldn’t have changed. For instance, a person who purchases plane tickets for a loved one may blame themselves if the person is killed in a plane crash. They may think …if I didn’t purchase the tickets, my loved one would still be alive — it’s my fault.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will help a person cope with their feelings of guilt and help them realize that the outcome of a tragedy it is not their fault.
In addition, another form of therapy that is very effective is psychotherapy. Your therapist is the best person to decide which for of PTSD Treatment will help get your life back on track.