What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

PTSD may develop after a shocking, scary or dangerous event. (Photo by Susan Wilkinson via unsplash)
PTSD may develop after a shocking, scary or dangerous event. (Photo by Susan Wilkinson via unsplash)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex disorder that some of us may develop as a result of a very shocking, scary or dangerous experience. Many of us might have experienced trauma before, but what exactly is trauma?

Trauma is or are circumstances experienced by an individual that are harmful or life-threatening. These circumstances and experiences can impact all aspects of our functioning (physical, mental, social, behavioral and spiritual).

An individual's experience of trauma can increase the risk of mental illnesses, like depression, addiction, heart and liver disease, diabetes, asthma and even suicidal attempts. However, there is hope, as researchers, doctors and mental health professionals address trauma as an expectation rather than an exception.

To understand PTSD, we first need to understand how our brain processes instances like the death of a loved one, injury or illness, abuse, war, accidents and natural disasters. These events can bring in a plethora of emotions like hopelessness, helplessness and danger, activating the brain's alarm system. That sets off hormones to protect our bodies, but the effects can last for a few days after the event has occurred.

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Symptoms of PTSD

Sometimes we can escape trauma with no long-term effects, but for many others, those experiences linger, causing symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares and negative thoughts that impact everyday life.

Not everyone has these symptoms, and they can be experienced in different intensities, but if problems last more than a month, a PTSD diagnosis may be given. PTSD has been called a 'hidden wound', as it often comes without much physical signs.

Some of the PTSD symptoms are:

1) Psychological

As our minds may or may not have completely processed the trauma, we may re-experience it through nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.

What do intrusive thoughts look like? You are in office, completing your daily tasks whenyour mind can be flooded with unwelcome and disturbing thoughts that continue to trouble you for the rest of the day or even weeks.


2) Avoidance

It's human nature to avoid things or experiences that disturb us. We may avoid reliving our emotions by going to places that remind us of the trauma. You may generalise this avoidance and fear to other aspects of your life. It's easier for us to avoid objects, people or places associated with traume, as it could be very difficult to be in a similar situation again.


3) Feelings about Self

You may feel overwhelming guilt or not trust anyone. You may also not feel happy, even when you're around people you love. They may see you as being 'disconnected' to others around you and things or activities you previously loved.


4) Anger

A person with PTSD may show explosive emotions like rushes of anger, irritability, alertness and always be on the lookout for danger. That's often known as hyperarousal. Loud traffic noises or a person shouting may be enough to set you off.


Treatment of PTSD

There was several ways of treating PTSD, like:

1) Therapy

Therapy is an essential part of your recovery process! (Photo by cotton bro via pexels)
Therapy is an essential part of your recovery process! (Photo by cotton bro via pexels)

When we experience trauma, it becomes difficult for us to feel safe in some situations. Therapy helps create a safe environment where you can explore your thoughts and emotions while feeling as safe as possible.

If you think you may be experiencing PTSD, the first step is to get in touch with a mental health professional who can also direct you towards other available resources. Tests may be available online to help combat PTSD, but it's necessary to get in touch only with professionals.

2) Support Outside Therapy Room

A person with PTSD may be going through a series of uncomfortable feelings, such as hypervigilance, arousal or flashbacks. They may not necessarily be capable of employing skills they once mastered.

A therapy partner can be helpful, as the person knows what's happening to the victim at the moment and which tools can be used to make them feel better. If someone has flashbacks, they may not be able to think of the tools immediately, so a therapy partner can give them gentle reminders.

3) Self-soothing

Our five senses can orient us to the present. (Photo by solstice hannan via unsplash)
Our five senses can orient us to the present. (Photo by solstice hannan via unsplash)

PTSD can take us back to our past; grounding techniques are tools that help us remind ourselves that we're at the present moment and safe.

They help us know that the trauma is over and is an event of the past. Many grounding techniques use our senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing) to move our attention to where we're now. For example, you can tell yourself the day and date, even the time to orient yourself back in the present.


Takeaway

PTSD is not a personal failing; rather it's a treatable malfunction of biological mechanisms that allow us to cope with dangerous experiences. Therapy can be very effective to help understand the triggers, and certain medications can make the symptoms manageable, as can self-care practices.

If you notice these symptoms in your loved ones, support, empathy and acceptance are key to recovery. Let them know that you believe them and that you don't blame them for their reactions. Recovery from PTSD is slow but possible.

Edited by Bhargav