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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a psychiatric disorder that can occur and be subsequently triggered after one has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, like a car accident, a natural disaster, a violent crime, a terrorist act, abuse or combat during war. PTSD can develop at any time after experiencing such events, however the individual may not even be aware of it until they experience triggers. PTSD most often manifests in the form of triggers, or things that remind the individual of the traumatic event, but triggers can come in many different forms. A person who has been in a serious car accident, for example, may feel triggered whenever they get in a car in the sense that they feel anxiety, panic and dread at the possibility of getting into another accident. A witness or a victim of a shooting, on the other hand, may feel triggered by the sound of loud noises like a car backfiring or fireworks; this type of trigger may manifest physically by the individual ducking, hiding or running away from the sound.

In modern history, PTSD was discovered in large numbers among veterans of World War I; at the time, it was known as shell shock. This was characterized by soldiers and veterans reporting symptoms of anxiety, nightmares, tremors and vision and hearing problems, particularly after being on the battlefield and being exposed to explosions from gunfire and bombs. Other veterans who had not necessarily been exposed to explosions also began reporting symptoms of fatigue and dissociation, which prompted further investigation into the root cause.

PTSD and corresponding symptoms are more likely to occur if the individual did not feel supported after experiencing the traumatic event. It is of paramount importance to tend to one’s mental health following such an event either through therapy, interpersonal support, medication or a combination of these things.

What are the most common PTSD signs and symptoms?

Among the most common PTSD signs are physical and mental responses, often described as “fight or flight”, when memories of traumatic events are triggered.

Physical PTSD signs and symptoms can include:

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing when triggered or thinking about the event
  • Sweating when triggered or thinking about the event
  • Avoidance of people, places or things that might trigger memories of the event
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping through the night
  • Being startled easily
  • Engaging in self-destructive or reckless behavior, such as driving while under the influence
  • Arousal of the central nervous system
  • Sudden irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoidance of talking about the event
  • Being watchful of one’s surroundings, such as constantly looking around for emergency exits
  • Constant feeling of being in “fight or flight” mode
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, diarrhea and stomach aches
  • Muscle tension, aches and pains

Mental and emotional PTSD signs and symptoms can include:

  • Intrusive or unwanted flashbacks about the event
  • Nightmares about the event
  • The feeling of re-living the traumatic event; for example, the sound of fireworks can lead a veteran to momentarily believe they are back in a combat zone
  • Hallucinations about the event
  • Feeling guilt, shame, blame or horror about the event
  • Loss of enjoyment of one’s hobbies
  • Negative or destructive thoughts about oneself
  • Lack of memories about the event, and/or memory issues after the event
  • Depression
  • Severe emotional distress upon feeling triggered or reminded of the event
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Distrust of new people and relationships
  • Feeling emotionally numb or detached

Children have also been shown to have distinct signs and symptoms of PTSD, including:

  • Re-enacting the traumatic event, such as on a doll or through other toys or storytelling
  • Refusal or inability to speak
  • Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet
  • Codependent behavior with their parent or another adult who makes them feel protected

Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare provides compassionate and holistic treatment for those affected by PTSD symptoms. There are many forms of counseling that can greatly help alleviate PTSD symptoms and provide coping skills for future triggers. If you are struggling with feeling triggered following a traumatic event, reach out today at 678-274-4936.

Please note that this information is meant to provide an overview of PTSD rather than a mechanism for diagnosis. 

If you or someone you know are experiencing a medical emergency or are struggling with thoughts of suicide, dial 911 for immediate medical care. 

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