Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. Any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms:
1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event. This includes: Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event; flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again); nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things); feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma; and intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating).
2. Avoidance and numbing. This includes: Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma; inability to remember important aspects of the trauma; loss of interest in activities and life in general; feeling detached from others and emotionally numb; and a sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career).
3. Increased anxiety and emotional arousal: This includes: Difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability or outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”); and feeling jumpy and easily startled.
Other common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include: Anger and irritability; guilt, shame, or self-blame; substance abuse; feelings of mistrust and betrayal; depression and hopelessness; suicidal thoughts and feelings; feeling alienated and alone; and physical aches and pains.
Treatment for PTSD relieves symptoms by helping you deal with the trauma you’ve experienced. Rather than avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it, treatment will encourage you to recall and process the emotions and sensations you felt during the original event. In addition to offering an outlet for emotions you’ve been bottling up, treatment for PTSD will also help restore your sense of control and reduce the powerful hold the memory of the trauma has on your life. Types of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)include:
1. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD and trauma involves carefully and gradually “exposing” yourself to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind you of the trauma. Therapy also involves identifying upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event–particularly thoughts that are distorted and irrational—and replacing them with more balanced picture.
2. Family therapy. Family therapy can help your loved ones understand what you’re going through. It can also help everyone in the family communicate better and work through relationship problems caused by PTSD symptoms.
3. Medication is sometimes prescribed to people with PTSD to relieve secondary symptoms of depression or anxiety.
4. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. These are thought to work by “unfreezing” the brain’s information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress.