When you experience a traumatic event (such as an assault) or a series of traumatic events (such as those encountered in combat or repeated abuse), it’s natural to find yourself struggling with both physical and mental challenges. In fact, psychologists point out that the trauma symptoms mentioned below are part of the body’s normal reaction to an abnormal event. However, when these signs are noticed for more than six months, it’s possible that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has developed.
1. You encountered a relevant stressor
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) currently requires particular types of stressors to be experienced before a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder can be made. In particular, you must have been exposed to at least one of the following:
- Actual or threatened death
- Actual or threatened serious injury
- Actual or threatened sexual violence
You may have had direct exposure, heard about a loved one’s exposure, or witnessed such acts (whether by chance or as part of your job).
Commonly taking the form of flashbacks, vivid nightmares or unpleasant and persistent mental images, re-experiencing indicates that you are still finding it difficult to process some trauma. People who cannot speak (such as preverbal children or those with brain damage) may demonstrate such re-experiencing through drawings or repetitive playing. If you were hurt during a traumatic event, you may also feel like the same symptoms are reoccurring. For example, someone who went through a mugging or who served in the military might feel long-healed wounds aching, or even imagine the wet feeling of blood on the skin.
3. Distress following reminders of trauma
Almost anyone who has been through a difficult experience will find that witnessing or discussing a similar event leads to recalling parts of the trauma. However, post-traumatic stress disorder may be present if there is significant and lasting distress in the wake of such reminders. A survivor of sexual abuse may regress to feeling unable to leave the house again after reading about a similar story in the news, or a veteran may be physically shaken for hours after hearing the sound of a machine gun on a TV show.
4. Persistent avoidance
It is extremely common for people with post-traumatic stress disorder to begin avoiding things that remind them of their trauma. In many cases, this avoidance will involve staying away from people, places, conversation subjects or situations that trigger memories or thoughts about the traumatic event(s), and it can lead to severely diminished quality of life. For example, someone who has been in combat and is triggered by busy, noisy situations might no longer be able to go to social events like parties, sports games or busy stores.
PTSD can also be linked to avoidance of your own thoughts, which serves a protective function but also delays helpful mental processing. To facilitate this avoidance, some with post-traumatic stress disorder turn to activities that can help them get rid of flashbacks and trauma-associated thoughts. Excessive alcohol or drug use is fairly common, as there may be a desire for numbness, sedation or escape.
5. Changes in thinking
Cognitive changes are universally experienced in those with PTSD. For one thing, you may find yourself unable to clearly narrate the traumatic event, as the way the brain processes highly stressful encounters can leave you with blank spaces in your memory. Meanwhile, you might have a newly pessimistic view of the world, viewing yourself and others in a negative light—one frequently reported belief is that the world is now wholly dangerous. It is also common to place disproportionate blame on yourself, believing that the traumatic event occurred because you were bad or deserving of punishment.
6. Mood disturbances
Unsurprisingly, emotions are also strongly influenced by violent or violation. post-traumatic stress disorder can be associated with overwhelming and consistent feelings of anger, guilt or shame. However, you might also find that some of your emotions are blunted, leading to difficulties enjoying previously loved activities. It may now be difficult to see the significance or worth in hobbies or relationships that once brought you joy and satisfaction.
Experiencing trauma can lead to exhaustingly heightened states of alertness (technically called “hyperarousal”). You will likely find it very hard to relax and will feel like you’re constantly scanning your surroundings for potential threats. Being edgy in this way makes you more easily startled, so you may accidently hit out or find yourself profoundly terrified when someone approaches you unexpectedly. This mentally and emotionally draining state of hyperarousal is commonly linked to increased irritability, periods of rage, difficulty sleeping, and reduced concentration.
If the above signs are familiar and more than a few months have passed since you experienced the traumatic event, seek the advice of a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in trauma. You may be offered cognitive behavioral therapy, or it may be suggested that you try eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. This relatively new form of therapy helps your brain to process the traumatic memories in a way that minimizes their intrusion in your life.
Also Read: Quick Ways To De-Stress Instantly