Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a dangerous or frightening event. We often associate PTSD with combat veterans, but most people who suffer from the condition are civilians. PTSD can be caused by a physical or sexual assault, an accident, such as a car wreck, a robbery, or the unexpected death of a loved one. Normally, when faced with a threatening situation, we experience a brief period of fear and stress as we prepare to deal with the threat. When the threat has passed, the fear subsides and disappears. However, for people experiencing PTSD, the fear keeps returning without a threat. This can happen months or years after the traumatic event. Here are the warning signs of PTSD.
Re-experiencing the event
Re-experiencing the event means you have flashbacks, nightmares, or frightening thoughts about the event. You may experience the same feelings, such as panic, racing heart, sweating, and shaking. These may be triggered by something that reminds you of the trauma. For example, if you were in a car accident on a rainy night, you might re-experience the event while driving on a rainy night. However, sometimes you can re-experience the event for no apparent reason.
Avoidance simply means you avoid situations that remind you of the trauma. If you were in a car accident, you don’t want to drive, for example. You may also try to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the trauma. While avoiding places or things can be disruptive and inconvenient, trying to avoid thoughts and feelings is dangerous. For one, it makes it hard to process the trauma, making it more likely to persist. Also, many people start using drugs and alcohol to escape thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event. That’s why more than half of people with PTSD have a substance use issue.
Arousal symptoms are not usually triggered by specific things related to the trauma. Instead, you are just generally more jumpy. Arousal symptoms include being easily startled, feeling on edge, having trouble sleeping, and having angry outbursts. You may feel stressed and angry most of the time. These symptoms can take a toll on personal relationships, causing more fights and arguments.
These are symptoms that aren’t caused by substance use or physical trauma, such as a head injury. You may have trouble remembering important aspects of the traumatic event. You may have persistent negative thoughts, feelings of excessive guilt, and loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. For an adult to be diagnosed with PTSD, all of these symptoms must persist for at least a month. If you have experienced a traumatic event and think you have PTSD, see a doctor or therapist. PTSD is typically treated with talk therapy, medication, or both.
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