Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic, dangerous, scary or shocking event. Traumatic events can include natural disasters, terrorist attacks, sexual assault, abuse, car accidents, military combat or the loss of a loved one.
Each person responds to trauma differently. Individuals may experience a range of symptoms, like fear or stress, after the event, and many will find that these symptoms subside after time. But for some, these symptoms continue even in the absence of danger. Ongoing, persistent symptoms of trauma can disrupt daily life.
If you have experienced a traumatic event and have ongoing symptoms of trauma, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist or psychologist, so that you can begin treatment and get your life back.
To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must meet all of the following criteria for at least one month:
Re-experiencing Symptoms of PTSD
Re-experiencing symptoms can be triggered by objects, words or situations that remind a person of the traumatic event and make them feel as if they are reliving it. Physical and emotional reactions can occur. Feelings of fear, helplessness or horror are common. Examples of re-experiencing symptoms include:
- Flashbacks or unwelcome memories that feel real enough to trigger symptoms of stress, like a rapid heartbeat or sweating
- Nightmares or bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts
Avoidance Symptoms of PTSD
A person who has experienced trauma may avoid things or situations that remind them of the event. For example, a person who has experienced military combat may avoid being near loud or crowded areas, and someone who has been in a car accident may avoid driving or being in a car. Avoidance symptoms include:
- Avoiding places, situations, objects or events that are reminders of a traumatic event
- Avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event
Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms of PTSD
Unlike re-experiencing symptoms or avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms are usually constant and not triggered by a specific object or event. These symptoms are sometimes called hyperarousal. Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:
- Being easily startled
- Feeling on-edge
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry or emotional outbursts
- Panic or anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
Cognition and Mood Symptoms of PTSD
Cognition and mood symptoms can worsen after a traumatic event and can interfere with personal relationships with family or friends. Cognition and mood symptoms include:
- Forgetting details about the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about yourself or the world
- Feelings like guilt and blame
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
PTSD is treatable.
PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy and medication if necessary. Group therapy or one-on-one therapy can be effective. Trauma-focused psychotherapies, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR) can help you learn to cope with the unpleasant memories, thoughts and feelings associated with a traumatic event. EMDR is available at our counseling centers.
Like any other mental health condition, PTSD is treatable, and therapy can help. Let us help you get back to feeling more like yourself. Contact one of our counseling centers to get started.