How to Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress
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PTSD- How to Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress, Symptoms and Treatments

Traumatic experiences are a part of a person’s life, and cause a person to feel fear, threatened and helpless.

Most people experience difficulties after a traumatic experience, which is normal.

Sometimes these difficulties lessen or disappear over the months following the traumatic event, but sometimes there is a need for professional help.

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The following are common responses to a traumatic event

(1) Fear and Anxiety - The world is suddenly a scary and unsafe place.

Fear and anxiety are usually a result of a traumatic event, either when remembering the traumatic event or even when not thinking about the event but rather seems to “come out of nowhere”.

Certain factors usually arouse the feeling of anxiety, such as certain places, a certain time of day, or a smell or noise which remind the person of the traumatic event.

Fear and anxiety are normal, natural reactions and are necessary for survival in a dangerous situation.

On the other hand, when fear and anxiety last months or years after a traumatic event, they are no longer essential to survival and disturb daily functioning, and thus require treatment.

(2) Reliving the Traumatic Event - Unwanted thoughts about the event or flashbacks to the event, to the point of experiencing the traumatic event anew.

Nightmares are also common after a traumatic event.

(3) Attention Difficulties - Sometimes attention difficulties will be experienced while reading, having a conversation, or trying to remember what people have said.

The brain is too busy trying to process the traumatic event, and therefore does not have the ability to remember or pay attention to new things.

(4) Avoidance and distancing oneself from anything which reminds the person of the event or from anything which can be connected in any way to the event.

For example, staying away from the place the event took place, or if the event took place at night the person won’t go outside at night.

(5) Emotionally Cold - A person’s tendency to stay away from thoughts and emotions which are connected to the event sometimes cause the person so avoid all emotions in general.

This allows the person to avoid difficult emotions connected to the traumatic event, but also stops the person from feeling any emotions at all.

These people are seen as cold, apathetic and indifferent to those around them.

The person feels no emotion, and often refers to his or herself as a “zombie”.

(6) Tense and Aroused - A neutral, non-threatening stimulant causes shock.

The person’s pulse is fast and their muscles are tense.

The person’s emergency response (fight or flight) system is constantly “on”, even if in a situation which does not call for it.

Constant tension and arousal is extremely tiring and weakens the mind and body after extended amounts of time.

(7) Impatience and Irritability- Constant tension and arousal cause extreme tiredness, which in turn cause the person to be irritable and impatient.

The person is easy to anger, and is unable to cope with conflicts or misunderstandings.

Loud music is hard for the person to tolerate.

The person has a “short fuse” and has angry outbursts, usually at those closest to him or her.

(8) Anger - The anger can be at one’s self - why did this happen to me, why did I react this way, why am I reacting this way now.

The anger can also be at the world - the world isn’t fair, why did it let this happen to me, or the anger can be towards those close to the person - they don’t understand what I’ve been through, what I’m going through.

The person’s anger can cause the person to distance themselves from their loved ones, so as to not hurt them.

(9) Guilt and Embarrassment - Feelings of guilt and embarrassment can surface after a traumatic event, usually connected to the person’s reaction at the time of the event.

For example, saying to one’s self “I should have reacted differently”, “I shouldn’t have gone in there in the first place”, or “I’m not strong enough to cope”.

These feeling sometimes stop a person from seeking out professional help and cause the person to suffer even longer.

(10) Depression - Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, bouts of crying, disinterest in future events, disinterest in things or events that once were enjoyable, and despair are all common reactions after a traumatic event.

Depression is a logical reaction to a traumatic event.

Some people don’t remember themselves or their lives from before the incident, which is both scary and frustrating.

(11) Self-Worth - As part of the symptoms of depression, a person’s self-worth can become negative, causing feelings of low self-value, weakness, an inability to trust others, and to experience the world as dangerous and lonely.

What can be done?

It’s important to remember that a person’s reaction to a traumatic event is incredibly personal.

There could be other characteristics or symptoms that aren’t listed here that can be a result of an event experienced.

People who experienced a traumatic event together will often react in different ways.

Treatments for PTSD are varied and depend on different factors such as how much time has passed since the event, if was there one event or multiple recurring events, the person’s personality, the amount of distress the person is in, and many more.

Treatment can be psychological or psychiatric, or the two together. 

There are specific treatments for PTSD such as Prolonged Exposure (PE) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), to name a few.

All treatments have the same goal: the help the person process the traumatic event, to cope with their avoidance, and to reduce their symptoms, in order to regain their daily functioning.

Medication allows the patient to cope with their symptoms in a more immediate way, just as with insomnia or depression.

Some people are afraid of medication, but it is important to understand that in certain situations medication vastly improves a person’s mood and stops their suffering.
 
Medication and psychological treatment complement each other, and using the two together has been found to be highly effective.

If there are any doubts or uncertainties about seeking treatment for PTSD, our psychiatrists and psychologists would be happy to meet with you.

 

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