What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that causes an individual to experience difficulty recovering from a terrifying event. This condition may last anywhere from months to years depending on the individual.

In this article, we’re taking a look at one of the more common questions we hear from individuals – what is post traumatic stress disorder?

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Traumatic experiences are more common than you think. According to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance, more than 70 percent of Americans have experienced trauma in their lifetimes. Traumas can be different for everyone and can range from random acts of violence, surviving unexpected tragedies or catastrophes, losing a loved one, living through combat, and even harsh medical treatments.

Being a witness to any tragic events is traumatic. For example, a child who witnesses their parent being abused in any way can be traumatized.

Not everyone will develop post-traumatic stress, or PTSD, however. The Alliance reports only 20 percent of the 70 million people with traumas will develop PTSD.

To understand why some people do and some people don’t have PTSD, you need to know precisely what it is.

So, what is post traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD Defined

Because post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder, the definition should come from the American Psychiatric Association. They explain that when someone experiences or witnesses a trauma, there is a chance that distressing symptoms can appear once the trauma ends.

Each person copes with trauma differently, even if they experience the same event. For example, two people can survive a natural disaster. One may move forward without any adverse symptoms, while the other may have severe symptoms. It is those symptoms that help define PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

There are four categories of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Within each category, symptoms can range from mild to severe. The types include intrusion, avoidance, cognition and mood-altering, and arousal and reactivity altering.

Intrusive symptoms make it hard for someone to move past the trauma. You may be having constant thoughts or flashbacks about the event. These are not ordinary thoughts, however. They are graphic and make you feel as if you are reliving the trauma constantly.

You may have nightmares, and all your senses can be involved with intruding in your daily life.

If you have avoidance symptoms, you are making an effort to avoid anything related to the trauma so that you do not have to be affected by it. This may mean you avoid people and places you care about, so you aren’t reminded of the trauma.

Negative alteration in thinking and mood can mean you have suppressed memories of the trauma or are having some form of amnesia to help you cope with the event. It can also mean negative emotions become out of proportion and persistent and most likely cause you to isolate yourself from people and activities you once enjoyed. They can become so bad that it interferes with your ability to experience positive emotions.

Negative arousal and reactivity refer to your responses after the trauma. Symptoms include irritability, aggressiveness, easily startled, and always being on guard or defensive.

Because your symptoms will be different than someone else’s, being assessed by a psychiatrist or psychologist will help you obtain a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.

Diagnosing PTSD

Other conditions can accompany Post-traumatic stress disorder. These are called co-occurring disorders. Unfortunately, people with PTSD can be misdiagnosed as other mental health or physical ailments. Therefore, working with a mental health specialist is a must.

Anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts can occur alongside PTSD. Sometimes a doctor will treat these symptoms, ignoring the potential for PTSD. While temporary relief may happen, the long-term battle will continue.

Mental health professionals have specific techniques to help you deal with and overcome the traumatic event so you can move forward with a healthy psychological and physical life.

PTSD Treatment

The right mental health specialists will be able to evaluate an individual and provide the best PTSD treatment for their needs. Trauma therapies help you reduce negative symptoms, teach you how to cope, and enable you to understand how your brain processes trauma.

One trauma therapy showing great success is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This treatment teaches your brain to process the trauma in a way that makes it less threatening, allowing you to move on from it. A certified EMDR therapist can only perform EMDR. It is highly effective.

Another trauma therapy is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy is an intense version of talk-therapy. The focus is to help you understand why the trauma affects you negatively and implement specific actions to help you cope.

The Trauma Resilience Model (TRM) improves how your nervous system and body process traumatic experiences, helping you gain more control over your emotions.

Additional treatments can enhance the above treatment techniques for some people, like medication and self-management strategies.

Medication for PTSD

Medications will be determined through an extensive evaluation by a Psychiatrist and will be prescribed based on many factors and your specific symptoms. If you are overwhelmed with anxiety, anti-anxiety medications can be used. Anti-depressants can be given to those with depressive symptoms.
If you have been self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, there are medications to help you withdraw from those, as well as treat the symptoms you were trying to control. If you struggle with addiction, your doctor will find a medicine that is non-habit forming to prevent you from going from one addiction to another.

Medication, combined with trauma therapy, will help you see positive progress in a short time. You can further this progress with self-management techniques.

Self-Management Strategies

To overcome PTSD, treatment must continue outside of therapy and medication. You can take part in your healing by eating foods that have medicinal properties. Your therapist can help you develop a list of foods that assist in healing the brain.

You can also participate in mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. Also, exercise causes your brain and body to release endorphins, which your natural pain relievers. Finally, try therapies that combine your hobbies or things you find enjoyable. Examples include equine, art, dance, and pet therapies.

If you are experiencing adverse effects after a traumatic event, no matter how long ago the trauma happened, you can get help no matter how mild or severe the symptoms. Reach out to your local mental health center for the right psychiatrist and treatment team.