Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms & Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness characterized by intense anxiety that develops after exposure to or experience with an extremely frightening, shocking, or emotionally difficult event. People who have lived through trauma may experience emotional challenges long after the event has taken place.

Though many people may be familiar with PTSD as it relates to veterans who experience traumatic events during their military service, PTSD is not exclusively related to life-or-death situations. People can develop the disorder as a result of a wide variety of different traumatic experiences, including (but not limited to):

  • Threat of death or serious injury
  • The death of a loved one
  • Sexual assault or sexual trauma
  • Violence inside the community like attacks at a local school
  • Chronic physical or emotional abuse
  • Living through a natural disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or fire

PTSD can develop a single isolated event or after chronic or recurring traumatic experiences. The National Center for PTSD estimates that there are currently around eight million people in the United States who are living with post-traumatic stress disorder, and that seven to eight percent of people will experience PTSD at some point during their lifetime.

The Difference Between “Everyday” Anxiety and PTSD

post-traumatic stress disorder

Anxiety often serves as a warning system that alerts us to threats. In this way, anxiety helps protect us from harm and helps us react quickly when we are in danger. However, people with PTSD re-experience the traumatic event that originally triggered their symptoms even when no actual threat is present. Their anxiety responses become unusually intense and can disrupt normal life.

Survivors of traumatic experiences may find that they’re unable to feel safe or comfortable even when nothing threatening is around them, or that they’re constantly troubled by intrusive thoughts about their traumatic experience. The debilitating symptoms of PTSD can make daily activities difficult and upsetting. 

Although there are many people who will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, not all of these people will develop PTSD. If you think you or somebody you know has been experiencing symptoms of PTSD, speak with a medical professional.

The Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

There are certain symptoms that someone needs to experience in order to receive a PTSD diagnosis. Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed after a person experiences these symptoms for at least one month as a result of trauma. It’s often accompanied by anxiety disorders, mood disorders like depression, or substance use disorders.

The symptoms of PTSD can range from mild to severe and usually begin within three months of the traumatic event. However, symptoms do not always appear quickly. It can take months, or even years, for PTSD symptoms to manifest.

These symptoms can be divided into four main categories:

Intrusive Memories

One of the primary symptoms of PTSD is unwanted, intrusive memories that cause emotional distress or difficulty coping with day-to-day activities. You may have recurring nightmares or disturbing dreams related to the trauma, flashbacks, or unusually emotional responses to memories that remind you of the event. 

Avoidance Behaviors

When somebody begins changing their behavior or everyday routine to avoid sights, sounds, memories or other things that remind them of a traumatic event, it is called an avoidance behavior. This can take the shape of avoiding experiences, places, or people that trigger their PTSD, or deflection when the topic of the trauma is brought up.

Many people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder can turn to unhealthy coping skills like substance abuse or self-harm in an attempt to minimize or escape from their emotional distress. For those who are struggling with both substance abuse problems and issues arising from possible PTSD, a dual diagnosis program that focuses on treating these co-occurring disorders may be the best choice. 

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

Many PTSD survivors find themselves detached from positive feelings as the brain attempts to build an emotional wall, leaving them with feelings of “emptiness” or “flat” demeanors. Many may also begin to believe that they will not live a full life due to their traumatic experiences and avoid long-term planning around jobs, careers, relationships, or families. These changes are often expressed through negative feelings about themselves, a loss of enjoyment in the activities that used to make them happy, or feelings of isolation and guilt over the traumatic event.

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

Hyperarousal describes the unusually heightened “fight or flight” responses found in those who have suffered a traumatic event. These symptoms can amount to an exhausting and stressful experience for the survivor, causing insomnia, irritability, or unusual feelings of aggression or paranoia. Often, sudden or unexpected sights, sounds, or noises may trigger their panic responses, causing concerning behavior such as running, shaking or screaming.

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must have experienced multiple symptoms from these different “clusters” for over a month. While guides like this can help educate you as to whether you might be suffering from experiencing a traumatic event, only a qualified mental health professional can make an accurate diagnosis of PTSD. 

Can You Treat PTSD?

PTSD treatment

When people seek treatment for PTSD, many may feel overwhelmed and wonder if treatment will provide a cure. Thankfully, there are a variety of treatment methods that can help minimize, or even eliminate, distressing symptoms that people with PTSD often experience. At Port St. Lucie Hospital, our evidence-based treatments have proven effectiveness at helping people manage their PTSD symptoms.

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help manage the symptoms of PTSD, such as nightmares and anxiety, and lessen their intensity. You and your doctor can work together to figure out the best medication, with the fewest side effects, for your symptoms and situation.

While medication can aid the recovery process, the best results come from a combination of medications and focused therapy sessions that help people with PTSD learn to manage their anxiety responses in a healthy, productive way. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a specific type of therapy that focuses on working with a therapist to recognize and overcome the reactions related to the trauma that are preventing recovery.

Our wide variety of programs ensure that no matter what treatment you may need, we can help you get it in a way that works for you. Combining medication schedules with one-on-one and group therapy programs, our team of mental health care professionals are here to help provide you with the tools you need to manage your PTSD symptoms. 

Start Your Recovery Now

At Port St. Lucie Hospital, our adult mental health program provides care from physicians, nurses, counselors, and other experts to help you cope with memories of a traumatic event and learn to confront and manage your PTSD symptoms. 

You don’t have to live with the nightmares, constant trauma reminders, negative self talk, anxiety and fear. If you want to get back to living life to the fullest, we can help. If you have any questions about our programs or whether or not you should seek treatment, call our admissions specialists at (772) 238-7734, or fill out our digital contact form.

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