If you or someone close to you has experienced a traumatic event, it’s normal to feel scared, confused, or overwhelmed. In time, most people will recover from the initial shock and be able to move on with their lives. But for some people, the psychological aftermath of trauma doesn’t go away, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that is triggered by a terrifying or life-threatening event – either witnessing or experiencing it. PTSD is relatively common; according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 8 million U.S. adults have PTSD in any given year – with women being up to three times more likely to develop PTSD than men.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms are often classified into four categories – intrusive thoughts, avoidance behavior, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.
Intrusive thoughts: A key symptom of PTSD is intrusive thinking, or unwanted, recurrent thoughts about the traumatic event. These thoughts can manifest as mental images, vivid memories, or nightmares and can be so real that it feels like you’re reliving the trauma all over again.
Avoidance: Another common symptom of PTSD is avoidance behavior. This can take the form of avoiding places, people, or things that remind you of the trauma. You may also become socially and emotionally withdrawn from friends and family members.
Negative changes in thinking and mood: You may have trouble remembering details of the traumatic event or develop negative beliefs about yourself or the world around them. You may also lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, feel detached from other people, experience suicidal ideations, or have a hard time experiencing positive emotions.
Changes in physical and emotional reactions: Last but not least, you may constantly feel on edge, scare easily, or have difficulty relaxing. You may also become irritable, experience panic attacks, or have outbursts of anger.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating PTSD, and treatment varies depending on the individual and the severity of their symptoms. Some people respond well to medication, while others will find therapy or a combination of both more helpful.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a psychological treatment that helps PTSD patients work through their trauma, feelings, and emotions with the help of a professional. This allows them to gradually heal from their emotional and psychological “wounds” and move past the trauma. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been particularly proven to be effective in treating PTSD, but other types of therapy can also be helpful.
If PTSD symptoms interfere with your daily life, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or antianxiety medications to help ease the symptoms and improve the overall quality of life. These medications have proven effective in reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and promoting better mood.
In addition to medication and therapy, it’s important to prioritize taking good care of yourself – physically and emotionally. This means exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, avoiding stress, and spending time with supportive people. It’s also advisable to avoid drugs and alcohol, as these can worsen PTSD symptoms.
The Bottom Line
Without proper treatment, PTSD can lead to serious problems such as substance abuse, job loss, relationship problems, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you are feeling overwhelmed after going through or witnessing a traumatic event, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. A mental health professional can assess your symptoms and provide the treatment and support you need to start your recovery journey.