Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops after one experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Examples of such traumatic events include natural disaster (such as flood, fire, or earthquake); rape; war; terrorist attack; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; assault, torture, automobile accident, frightening airplane flight, or getting a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.
People can experience symptoms from a recent trauma or one that happened decades ago.
PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
There are three categories of symptoms: reliving symptoms, avoidance, and arousal response.
- Reliving symptoms includes flashbacks of the event, nightmares, intrusive recollections of the trauma, and emotional distress whenever exposed to anything having to do with the trauma.
- Avoidance includes avoiding places, things, or people that remind one of the trauma; avoiding talking about the trauma; feeling numb or detached; and a lack of interest in doing one’s normal activities. A person may also experience depersonalization or derealization. Depersonalization is a feeling of watching oneself, like having an out-of-body experience, and derealization is the perception that one’s world seems unreal.
- Arousal symptoms include hypervigilance (which is an excessive awareness of one’s surroundings), irritability or sudden anger, difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, extreme guilt, lack of concentration, and self-destructive behavior. It is normal to experience many different emotions after a traumatic event.
PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. If these disturbing symptoms persist for more than a month, and if they are negatively impacting your life, talk to a health care professional. It is better to start treatment for PTSD as soon as possible.
Some people are at higher risk for developing PTSD than others. Factors that put a person at higher risk include experiencing a previous trauma, long duration of the traumatic event, the severity of the traumatic experience, having an existing mental health problem, lack of a support system, and excessive stress.
Combat veterans and rape victims tend to suffer from PTSD more than other groups of people. Also, women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD, probably because they are more often the victims of violence. It is estimated that about five million people at any one time in the United States suffer from this disorder.
PTSD is usually treated with psychotherapy and/or medication. Therapies most commonly used to treat PTSD are cognitive therapy, EMDR, cognitive processing therapy, and hypnosis—all of which help to reduce the intensity of the emotions connected to the traumatic memory.
Excerpts from The Anxiety Solution Series, demonstrating the condition before and after treatment:
“As a child I was physically abused by a family member. The memories kept me frozen. All I could think about was what happened and what I did. I could have drowned; they would have let me drown. Memories just kept coming into my head and I couldn’t figure out why. A lot of this happened a long time ago. Why does it keep coming into my head? I don’t understand.” — Massage Therapist, Los Angeles California
“I would use all the tools that I needed to use. Now, two years later, there’s barely a thought in my head. It’s like there for a minute, and I flick it away and say, “Nope, I’m not going to think about you.” And I flick it off my shoulder and it’s gone.” — Massage Therapist, Los Angeles California