All of us experience difficult times in life. Some experiences may even be traumatic in nature. But sometimes — either because of the event itself, our own sensitivities, or a combination of factors — the trauma of these events becomes nearly impossible to shake and lasts for an extended period.
When the trauma seems to live on beyond the event itself, when you find yourself having constant flashbacks of what happened, or when you find these recurring feelings difficult to cope with, you may have developed a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
What Is PTSD?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), describes PTSD as: “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war or combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”
However, it’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need to experience or witness a major event such as war or a natural disaster to be diagnosed with PTSD. Losing your job, breaking up with someone, childhood traumas, and other difficult experiences can cause PTSD for some people.
“PTSD can occur in all people, in people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age,” writes the APA. PTSD is more widespread than most people realize. As the APA reports, “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed [with] PTSD in their lifetime.”
Another important detail is that PTSD symptoms can manifest years after the traumatic event or experience. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) notes that PTSD symptoms can appear within months of that trauma, but sometimes it takes years for symptoms to develop.
According to the ADAA, PTSD symptoms usually have to be present for a month for you to be diagnosed with the disorder.
Symptoms Of PTSD
The experience of PTSD includes many of the symptoms you might classically associate with PTSD, such as nightmares and flashbacks. But there are some symptoms of PTSD that are a little harder to immediately recognize — emotional numbness and insomnia, for example — which sometimes makes it difficult for people to seek help for the disorder.
Emotional Symptoms of PTSD
There are many emotional reactions and mood changes that happen as a result of PTSD. You may experience only one of these symptoms, or you may experience several — sometimes even within the same day.
Some of the most common emotional symptoms of PTSD include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and desperation
- Feeling numb or distant
- Dissociation (disconnecting from thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity)
- Wanting to detach from friends and family
- Difficulty remembering, including the memories of the traumatic event
- No longer enjoying activities that you used to enjoy
- General feelings of negativity and depression
- Feeling on edge, agitated, and angry
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Suicidal ideation (if you are experiencing this symptom, seek emergency help immediately)
Physical Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD, however, isn’t only an emotional state, in fact, many of the symptoms of PTSD are physical in nature. PTSD causes your body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline. You may experience the symptoms of “fight-or-flight,” anxiety, and panic attacks, all of which are physical, as well as emotional in nature.
Some of the common physical symptoms of PTSD include:
- You may become easily startled, agitated, or “jumpy”
- You may feel “on guard,” as though danger is lurking behind every corner
- You may experience a rapid heartbeat, tight breathing, or digestive upset
- You may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- You may have trouble remembering things or concentrating
- You may lose your appetite
- You may be more prone to substance abuse issues
“Re-Experiencing” As A Symptom of PTSD
Besides the emotional and physical symptoms of PTSD, another defining characteristic is “re-experiencing” the traumatic event.
The most common manifestations of this include:
- Recurrent memories of the traumatic event
- Experiencing flashbacks of the event
- Bad dreams or nightmares about the event
- Feeling easily “triggered” by things that remind you of the trauma
How Can I Feel Better?
PTSD can make you feel trapped. You might think there is no way for you to be released from these scary thoughts — a full-body feeling of traum, and the constant, recurring memories.
You should know that you aren’t alone. PTSD is quite common and treatable. Your first step in getting help will be to find a therapist or psychiatrist you like and trust. Try to find someone who specializes in PTSD and has treated it before. Therapy treatments commonly used to treat PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
When it comes to therapy, today you have more options than ever. You can schedule an appointment with an in-person therapist. Online therapy and online psychiatry are other possibilities, and are especially helpful for someone who may not have time to travel to a therapist, may not have many therapists to choose from locally, or who is looking for a more budget-friendly option.
The bottom line is that, as awful and debilitating as the symptoms of PTSD can be, they are not something you have to live with forever. Help — and hope — is out there.