If you’ve experienced PTSD, it can feel like you’re losing control and the world around you is crumbling. With the right treatment, you can overcome thoughts about traumatic events and find meaning and joy in life again.

In this article, we’ll help you discern if it’s PTSD you’re struggling with, how long PTSD lasts and ways to conquer it.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder that a person may acquire after experiencing a terrifying or dangerous event. PTSD is characterized by strong reactions to thoughts about the trauma, such as anxiety, flashbacks and rapid breathing. While many people may live through trauma, not all people will experience PTSD as a result.

There are many situations that could trigger PTSD.

  • Sexual assault; 
  • Experience in combat; 
  • A natural disaster; 
  • A serious accident; 
  • Witnessing a death. 

Other events similar to those listed can be frequent causes for this disorder. While the trauma may be a one-time incident, the residual effects could last a lifetime, especially if untreated. 

PTSD can cause a person difficulty in daily living. Avoiding or experiencing thoughts about the traumatic event can cause major disruption to performance in work, relationships and life in general. PTSD treatment aims to help individuals process events as well as teach coping skills and self-management strategies to manage fear and improve daily functioning.

What are symptoms of PTSD?

While it’s normal to experience some anxiety after a traumatic experience, when the stress and fear is prolonged, it could be indicative of PTSD and you should consult with a doctor. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are four categories of symptoms for PTSD. Each will be listed below as well as examples of what they might look like.

  1. Re-experiencing symptoms: Overwhelming fear when thinking about the traumatic event or intrusive memories
    • What this looks like: Having recurring nightmares about the event; having flashbacks when there is a stimulus in the environment similar to the event (such as a sound or smell); fear of the event happening again; emotional distress when reminded of the traumatic event
  1. Avoidance symptoms: Making efforts to stay away from any person, place or thing that could potentially trigger thoughts about the traumatic event
    • What this looks like: Avoiding social gatherings; avoiding driving (if you were in a car accident); difficulty holding a job in case people ask the trauma); distracting yourself and working to avoid time alone with your thoughts
  1. Arousal and reactivity symptoms: Causes alertness and hypervigilance
    • What this looks like: Being jittery; startling easily; insomnia; difficulty eating; difficulty staying in one place for long; feeling tense; feeling angry
  1. Cognition and mood symptoms: Changes in beliefs and emotions
    • What this looks like: A decrease in self-esteem or a negative self-perception; decline in interest in hobbies; feeling embarrassed about the event; feeling guilty that the event occurred; hopelessness; forgetting things; feeling detached

How long does PTSD last?

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD does not always manifest immediately after the traumatic event. In some cases, it may take years for symptoms to appear. Additionally, PTSD treatments are individualized to accommodate individual needs and preferences. Therefore, there is no universal timeline for PTSD.

While a generic time frame for PTSD recovery doesn’t exist, there is hope for overcoming symptoms as soon as you start treatment. When you participate in services for PTSD, you’ll quickly learn skills to cope with fear so that you don’t have to compromise living your life. You’ll also learn self-management strategies to gain back control of your emotions.

Perhaps the most important aspect of treatment will be processing the traumatic event so that you can move past it. At first, you’ll work through the experience with a therapist, then you’ll develop tools to handle thoughts about the event when you’re on your own.

While your care provider can give you some insight on a general time frame based on the severity of the trauma, with your progress in treatment and the support systems you have, no timeline is guaranteed. Try to funnel your energy into treatment, as your effort there will make a difference in how quickly you are able to resume normal functioning.

When you’re asking how long does PTSD last, it can be frustrating when you don’t have a definitive answer. The important thing to remember is that starting treatment immediately is key. If treatment is delayed, progress may begin slower and take longer. Moreover, if PTSD is left untreated, it could worsen and last a lifetime.

What PTSD treatments can I get?

The first step in recovering from PTSD is getting a proper diagnosis from a licensed professional. A formal diagnosis can help you access the most appropriate treatment and psychiatric assistance.

Generally, PTSD is treated by psychotherapy, which is sometimes combined with medication. Psychotherapy takes place one-on-one with a counselor or therapist. You may partake in cognitive therapy which includes processing the events and intrusive memories that have followed. You may also benefit from exposure therapy, which means slowly facing triggers while using skills you’ve developed to manage the emotions that follow. 

Treating PTSD symptoms may also necessitate taking medications. Severe anxiety or depression that results from PTSD may be alleviated with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. Other drugs may be helpful to lessen PTSD symptoms, like medications to help with sleep according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

These treatments and other life support will help you take back control so you can enjoy your daily life and engage in the things that matter to you without fear. When you’re ready to start treatment for PTSD, reach out to Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare. Recovery is just a phone call away 678-274-4936.