Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Signs, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

PTSD is a common reason people reach out to iCounseling for services. The Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year. PTSD is a disorder that is highly treatable with the right help. If you are suffering with PTSD, get help, and if you know someone who is, encourage them to do so. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. This is a guide to tell you about some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD, the various types of PTSD, and some treatment options you may find useful. It will also tell you who is likely to suffer from PTSD, medical implications of PTSD, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Understanding PTSD

According to Helpguide.org, "Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless." While many people think of PTSD as having to do with male combat soldiers, it can actually be formed from any life-threatening event, series of events, or feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This is especially true if the situation was unforeseen, or the person felt out of control. PTSD can have an impact on the person who experienced the event, those who witnessed it, those who take care of those who were traumatized, and first responders. It can also be experienced by those who are close to those who experienced the trauma.

Who is likely to suffer from PTSD?

According to Helpguide.org:

  • Females (females are 50% more likely to suffer from anxiety)
  • Veterans of war
  • Car and plane crash victims
  • Victims of terrorist attacks
  • Victims of genocide or asylum seekers of war torn countries
  • Someone suffering the sudden loss of a loved one
  • An individual who is the victim of a sexual assault
  • Someone who was kidnapped
  • The victim of any type of assault, or someone threatened with assault
  • Victims of sexual or physical abuse as a child or adult
  • Victims of childhood neglect
  • Victims of natural disasters

The Difference Between PTSD and Trauma

Trauma - is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions (American Psychological Association).

PTSD - is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster. People with PTSD may relive the event via intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares; avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma; and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before that are so intense their lives are disrupted (American Psychological Association).

PTSD Symptoms and Signs

The Mayo Clinic divided the signs and symptoms of PTSD down into four different areas. You may notice these signs and symptoms in yourself and others. These areas were:

Intrusive memories

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event

Avoidance

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event

Negative changes in thinking and mood

  • Negative feelings about yourself or other people
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Changes in emotional reactions

  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened

PTSD can have a major impact on people’s health and well-being, both physically and emotionally. It can make you feel scared, and it can cause you to stop doing the things that you once enjoyed in your life, due to intrusive thoughts, and not feeling safe. PTSD can have an impact on personal relationships, your ability to work effectively, and your ability to form new relationships. Help is possible and available to you, and could allow you to lead the life you envision for yourself.

Other symptoms to be aware of:

  • Guilt, shame
  • Self-blame
  • Up to 90% co-occurrence of substance abuse
  • Struggles with trust, and easily feeling betrayed by others
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Fear of sleeping and being alone

Medical Implications of PTSD

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Greater likelihood of cardiovascular morbidity
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Poor weight management
  • Substance abuse
  • Smoking
  • Nonspecific ECG abnormalities
  • Atrioventricular conduction defects, and infarctions

PTSD Treatments

Journal the trauma, and the thoughts and feelings associated with it.

  • Write out the thoughts, feelings and actions associated with the trauma recollection.

Incorporate a healthy diet and exercise into your daily routine.

  • Exercise helps produce hormones and chemicals that regulate mood.
  • A healthy diet lets the entire body better itself, including your mood.

Cut down on alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine

  • Alcohol causes disrupted sleep.
  • Cigarettes stimulate the system causing wakefulness.
  • Caffeine causes wakefulness and stimulates the system.

Learn "grounding" techniques from your therapist to address stressful and intrusive thoughts.

  • Grounding can be soothing, physical, or mental.

Stop isolating yourself and get together with friends and family.

  • Reconnect with friends and family, and do activities you once enjoyed.
  • Take part in local group activities to make new friends.
  • Attend support groups for other locals struggling with PTSD.

Focus on what you do and do not have control over, remove what you don’t.

  • Decide the things in your life you have control over.
  • Decide what you have no control over.
  • Make a list of small and manageable steps to work toward.
  • Remove the items you can’t control.

Learn to get organized, and work on procrastination.

  • Develop organizational systems that work best for you.
  • Get a physical planner and write down due dates, meetings, and appointments.
  • Make a visual planner so that you always know what needs to be done when.
  • Make sure that you complete a task at the time it is due.

If possible, avoid the situations, people, places, and things that stress you.

  • Identify triggers that cause you anxiety.
  • Once you know what your triggers are, try and avoid the triggers, or learn techniques to minimize your stress levels.

Learn to express your feelings and ways to compromise.

  • Learn techniques to be assertive and get your needs met.
  • Learn the art of compromise, and what you are willing to give up in order to have what you want most.

Learn time management skills, as this is an easy way to feel in control.

  • If time is an issue for you, set multiple alarms.
  • Write down that you need to be places earlier.
  • Break tasks down so they are not so overwhelming.

Learn coping tools and relaxation techniques.

  • Learn deep breathing.
  • Learn progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Learn meditation and guided imagery.
  • Learn grounding to distract yourself when needed, especially at night.

Set boundaries with those who you need to, and learn to say "no."

  • Discuss what it would mean to set healthy boundaries and stick to them.
  • Learn when you are taking on too much, and that it is ok to say no.
  • Do not continue to do things that you do not want to do.

Make sure to schedule self-care into your day, no excuses!!!

  • Schedule 30-60 minutes each day just for you.
  • Start the day with coffee, a paper, a podcast, or something enjoyable.
  • Go for a jog or do yoga to calm yourself down.
  • If you decide it is essential, you will find the time.

Frequently Asked Questions About PTSD

What is PTSD?

According to Helpguide.org, "Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless." While many people think of PTSD as having to do with male combat soldiers, it can actually be formed from any life-threatening event, series of events, or the person feeling hopelessness and helplessness. This is especially true if the situation was unforeseen, or the person felt out of control. PTSD can have an impact on the person who experienced the event, those who witnessed it, those who take care of those who were traumatized, and first responders. It can also be experienced by those who are close to those who experienced the trauma.

Who is likely to suffer from PTSD?

  • Females (females are 50% more likely to suffer from anxiety)
  • Veterans of war
  • Car and plane crash victims
  • Victims of terrorist attacks
  • Victims of genocide or asylum seekers of war torn countries
  • Someone suffering the sudden loss of a loved one
  • An individual who is the victim of a sexual assault
  • Someone who was kidnapped
  • The victim of any type of assault, or someone threatened with assault
  • Victims of sexual or physical abuse as a child or adult
  • Victims of childhood neglect
  • Victims of natural disasters

What are the common signs and symptoms of PTSD?

Please see "PTSD Symptoms and Signs" for complete descriptions

How can you help someone with PTSD?

  • Try and avoid situations that would trigger the individual.
  • Be patient and understanding with the person who is suffering with PTSD.
  • Do not pressure them when they are not able to talk, and do not take it personally when they do not want to.
  • Educate yourself on PTSD.
  • Encourage them to get social support.
  • Be a good listener for when they are able to talk.
  • Help rebuild safety and trust in any way you can, especially in the home.

What are the most effective PTSD treatments?

Fortunately, much progress has been made in the last two decades in the treatment of people with mental illnesses, including PTSD. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the individual, one or a combination of the following therapies may be used for most people suffering with PTSD:

  • Medication: Certain antidepressant drugs and anti-anxiety medications are used to treat the anxiety and panic associated with PTSD. The anti-depressants can help with the depressive, hopeless, and suicidal thoughts. Other medications can help with sleep, since this is a common disturbance in PTSD. Each individual should discuss with his or her doctor whether medications are recommended for his or her particular symptoms, and if so, which ones would be most suitable.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to trauma and PTSD. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People suffering from PTSD often participate in this type of psychotherapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxious and depressed feelings. CBT also aims to identify possibly triggers, and learn to be able to tolerate their fears.

How common is PTSD?

The Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year.

Worksheets

What is Trauma?