Identify PTSD Symptoms

Edited by Sobi, Grimm, Eng

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that manifests itself both mentally and physically. It occurs after a traumatic event that threatens your safety and makes you feel helpless, whether real or imagined.

It is not only battle weary soldiers that become afflicted with PTSD, even though wars are the most common cause of it. Unpredictable and uncontrollable life experiences and events that are overwhelming may also trigger PTSD. In fact, sometimes PTSD may also affect those who are indirectly affected by the trauma, such as bystanders, friends, and family members.

Understanding When PTSD Can First Start

PTSD may develop within hours or days of the trauma, or it may not appear until years later.

Sometimes the trigger of PTSD symptoms may not even be related to the initial event. This is because each person is unique, and this can be seen in how each person's mind and body reacts to PTSD and their individual circumstances.

There are many factors that influence the length and severity of PTSD. For instance, childhood abuse may affect an adult that is exposed to a traumatic event, later leading to PTSD. This can make treatment complex, as the underlying cause is not immediately apparent based on the more recent event. Some studies have also shown that a family history of mental health issues may make a person more susceptible to PTSD.

Often, when a person has little or no social support after a traumatic event, they may not know how to, or even be able to process the event in a healthy manner, leading to the development PTSD. People who undergo chronic life stresses are more susceptible to PTSD, as the chronic stress takes a toll on the body and mind. This includes most first responders, and many in medical professions, especially those in trauma or intensive care wards. It's also one of the reasons all police officers are required to undergo mandatory counseling any time they are involved in a shooting.

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There are Four Main Symptoms of PTSD

Each of these symptoms is divided into collateral symptoms.

According to the [Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD [1], it's perfectly normal to experience stress reactions following any traumatic event. This can often be displayed with outbursts, or other generally unacceptable behaviors that a person may find upsetting. However, these reactions to stressful events often subside with time, and anyone experiencing them gets better in a relatively short time. Not so with PTSD, as the four main symptoms below explain.

  1. 1
    Re-Experiencing Symptoms
    Memories of the traumatic event and/or memories of the emotions and feeling you felt during the traumatic event may resurface. Sometimes these feelings can seemingly come out-of-the-blue.
    • You may have nightmares, and sometimes even hallucinate: Nightmares may have the same association to the trauma and may cause the body, during sleep, to react in the same manner it did during the traumatic event. Some may hallucinate, during the time between sleep and full wakefulness or during a psychotic break.
    • You might experience flashbacks: Flashbacks are where you feel you are again experiencing the traumatic event. They may involve mental images, odors, noises or emotions and can be triggered by normal sights, sounds, or smells.
    • You may experience a trigger: This is where an unconscious thought, smell, or sound can set off the body's reaction. This can make you feel as if you were again experiencing the traumatic event.
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  2. 2
    Avoidance Behavior
    Some memories are emotionally painful and you may avoid people or situations that may trigger those emotions. These are behaviors that a person with PTSD does to help them cope with the painful memories.
    • Some may avoid crowds, where others avoid being alone. Being surrounded by strangers may have a feeling of danger, or the opposite may be the case where being alone has no safety.
    • A roller coaster may make some fear rides and they avoid them. Car accidents may cause fear of riding in a car or driving.
    • Another type of avoidance people use is ignoring or burying thoughts of the traumatic event. For some, thoughts of the traumatic event may be overwhelming and you may unconsciously forget all or parts of the event. Some people do not acknowledge that the traumatic happened.
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  3. 3
    Changes in beliefs and thought processes
    The traumatic event causes a change in how you perceived the world around you. How you view others may change too.
    • You may alienate yourself from others to try and protect yourself from further trauma. Some people don't want to inflict their friends and loved ones with the horrors of the traumatic event and feel very alone and isolated by the experience. Some people alienate themselves in fear of the traumatic event recurring.
    • You may not have a conscious memory of the event or parts of it. You may not be able to talk about the traumatic event. Some traumatic events are so overwhelming that the mind will block recollection of the event or parts of it until you are able to process it. For some people, just talking about the event may bring back the same bodily response and they try to avoid it by not speaking about it.
    • You may have lost faith or trust in other people. When a traumatic event is inflicted deliberately or you believed others should have supported or helped you and did not, may cause you to loose trust or faith.
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  4. 4
    Your body may feel as if it is always on alert and that danger is at every corner. You may be easily irritated for no apparent reason or become suddenly violent. 
    • You may have difficulties getting to sleep or waking up. For some, recurring dreams of the traumatic event or dreams alluding to the traumatic event may cause sleep disturbances, where you have difficulties falling asleep or wake several times at night and/or may have difficulties returning to sleep. For some, they sleep for long periods of time and do not feel rested.
    • You may have difficulties with concentrating on the simplest tasks. You may experience sudden thoughts or flashbacks of the traumatic event that interrupts what you currently are trying to concentrate on.
    • You may have an exaggerated startle reaction in response to a loud noise or surprise. You may also experience outbursts of aggressiveness, anger or irritability at what may be trivial issues.
    • You may be constantly watching for danger, you may sit with your back to the wall to view the whole room; you may repeatedly check doors and windows for safety. Your mind and body are constantly on guard, watching for danger.
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Tips and Suggestions for Identifying PTSD and Coping

  • Educate Yourself: If you or someone you know has PTSD, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of PTSD so you can learn about the condition and treatment modalities.  PTSD encompasses both body and mind. Resolution requires that you participate.
  • Treatments: There is no single modality that works, all the time, for every trauma or for every person. Sometimes you need to try different treatment regimes or a combination of modalities to find one that helps you.
  • Relaxation: Learning different relaxation techniques lowers the heart rate, and decreases the flight or flight hormones. Participating in hobbies or other things you may enjoy also decreases the stress hormones.
  • Exercise: Mild exercise, like walking, has been shown to decrease stress hormones and enables you to deep breathe, which further relaxes the body.  
  • Nutrition: It is important to eat a healthy diet of a variety of foods. Talk to your health care provider about daily vitamin and mineral supplements if you are not eating a well balanced diet, or think you might need to make some dietary changes.
  • PTSD professionals: It is important to seek out professional support for guidance and interaction. Professional support and guidance has shown to be effective in the treatment of PTSD, utilizing more than one type of therapy has shown improvements in the symptoms and coping of PTSD.
  • Depressants: Avoid illegal drugs and alcohol. While they may decrease your PTSD symptoms temporarily, they often intensify your symptoms long term, and can contribute to bad decisions, which only make things worse. Illegal drugs and alcohol are also often depressants, and can seriously impede your recovery.

External Resources and Citations for PTSD Help

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


Article Info

Categories : Mental Health

Recent edits by: Grimm, Sobi

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