Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is caused by experiencing or witnessing an event such as an injury, death, war or combat, natural disaster, abuse or assault. Trauma is not rare—it’s estimated that 70% of Americans of all ages, genders, and ethnicities go through at least one trauma in their lifetime.
While not every trauma will result in PTSD, a traumatic event actually changes the cognition in the brain causing a person to continuously release stress hormones and always be on high alert. Constant, high stress and other symptoms of PTSD can have a negative impact on mental, physical and emotional health.
PTSD vs. Stress and ASD
A PTSD diagnosis is not the same as daily stress or Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). Daily stress is a normal part of life and something we all navigate in our own way. PTSD can develop if ASD (whether professionally diagnosed or not) wasn’t properly resolved or the person didn’t have access to appropriate coping tools. A PTSD diagnosis can occur months or years after a distressing event.
Acute Stress Disorder is usually diagnosed immediately after a traumatic event and can last for days or several weeks; however, it usually resolves naturally with healthy coping strategies or with counseling. If left untreated, ASD can develop into PTSD. This can lead to other serious conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or substance abuse.
The symptoms of ASD and PTSD are quite similar, but duration and timing of the diagnosis sets them apart. Signs and symptoms can include
- Irritability or anger
- depression or deep sadness
- intense stress or anxiety
- nightmares and trouble sleeping
- feeling isolated
- troubles controlling or expressing emotions
- problems trusting others
- difficulty maintaining relationships
- flashbacks, pervasive negative thoughts and memories
Can PTSD be treated?
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is highly beneficial to those working through PTSD. Talk therapy helps to bring up feelings, memories and emotions associated with the traumatic event so that proper processing and management can occur. Some individuals will take medication in conjunction with talk therapy and/or group counseling.
In addition to counseling and medication, here are some examples of healthy coping strategies for living a content, fulfilled life.
Physical Health: By exercising, eating and sleeping well, and avoiding drugs and alcohol, you can relieve feelings of intense stress. Research shows that by setting goals and being consistent with your workout routine you can reduces stress.
Emotional Health: Practicing mindfulness, meditation or prayer keeps your mind in the moment. These practices allow for you to acknowledge feelings or memories and then “let them go.” Starting small with one or two minutes at a time can help limit stress, anxiety, depression and increase feelings of being grounded and present.
Community connections: Spending time with others especially understanding loved ones and people in a support group can help with feelings of isolation, avoidance or wanting to shut down.
Counseling: A professional counselor offers a comfortable, judgement-free safe space so that you can process your thoughts, feelings and memories in a healthy way. Be kind and patient with yourself. Consistent appointments allow for progress in your recovery.
Journaling: Writing your thoughts, feelings and memories rather than ignoring them or pushing them away allows you to work through them and also help to identify any triggers you may have. Remember that recognizing and processing emotions is a form of strength.
Be honest: If you’re ready, tell your loved ones that you’re living with PTSD—it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maintain healthy boundaries and communication within your relationships can aid in your recovery.
Educate yourself: By learning about PTSD, it can help you and your loved ones better relate to one another. Let your loved ones know that even just listening to you and your experiences can helpful and is appreciated.
We all struggle at times, but help is here. If you’re unable to express your thoughts, feelings or have trouble with daily functions, consider reaching out to a friend or a healthcare professional.