What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that results from your body’s reaction to directly experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Many people experience traumatic events, that result in symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, intense anxiety, and more and often reside in less than one month. If your symptoms occur for more than one month and begin to negatively impact your daily functioning, you may be struggling with PTSD. On a positive note, with proper treatment and self-care, these symptoms can reduce in intensity or go away.

What is the difference between acute stress disorder and post traumatic stress disorder?

The main difference between Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is that symptoms for PTSD persist for more than one month after the traumatic event; whereas in ASD they will arise immediately after a traumatic event and go away within one month of the traumatic event. The symptoms that arise in ASD are the same symptoms that arise in PTSD. However, PTSD refers to long-term or chronic trauma.

Symptoms of PTSD

Intrusive Symptoms – These are recurrent, involuntary distressing memories, dreams, thoughts, and/or flashbacks, of the traumatic event; as well as intense and prolonged emotional distress to internal and/or external cues that are similar to or resemble the traumatic event.

Avoidance – Continuous and frequent efforts to avoid internal cues associated with the traumatic event such as thoughts, feelings, and distressing memories. As well as continuous and frequent efforts to avoid external cues that are similar to or resemble the traumatic event such as people, places, and things.

Negative Changes in Cognition – Changes in cognition refers to difficulties recalling important parts of the traumatic event (i.e., dissociative amnesia), persistent negative thoughts about oneself and the world we live in that began after the traumatic event, and distorted thoughts and beliefs about why the traumatic event occurred and the consequences of the event. People may also experience dissociative symptoms in addition to the other changes in cognition. These include depersonalization and derealization. Depersonalization is a persistent feeling of observing oneself and their thoughts from outside their body. Derealization is a persistent feeling of being detached from the world as if it is a cartoon or dream-like state.

Negative Changes in Mood – Changes in mood refers to persistent negative moods such as guilt, shame, depression, etc., and a persistent inability to experience positive emotions such as happiness, love, and more. Changes in mood also refers to a reduction in and/or lack of interest or desire to participate in activities and feeling as if they’re all alone and no one understands them or feeling estranged from others.

Arousal Symptoms – These are changes in reactivity to internal and/or external cues that are associated or resemble the traumatic event such as hyper vigilance, and being easily startled. Other symptoms that develop after the traumatic event include irritable behavior, angry outbursts that are not appropriate to the situation, engaging in reckless and/or self-destructive behaviors, difficulties concentrating, and difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or restless sleep.

Causes

PTSD has a direct relationship with our survival instincts, in other words, “Fight or Flight.” During a traumatic event, our nervous system becomes active resulting in the release of different hormones as your body begins to prepare to fight or flight. As a result, the traumatic event rewires the brain and nevus system. Individuals who directly experience or witness a traumatic event experience changes in their biological and physiological responses. The intensity of these biological and physiological changes varies based on each individual. It is believed that one’s “hardiness” can reduce the intensity of their symptoms, along with good social supports, and more. The cause of PTSD is still being studied today.

Treatments for PTSD

There are plenty of treatments for PTSD. The most effective treatment for most mental health disorders is believed to be a combination of psychotropic medication (e.g., antidepressants) to reduce the intensity of their symptoms, along with psychotherapy to process the event, alter their cognitive beliefs about the event, and learn coping skills to manage and reduce their symptoms. Psychotherapy includes a variety of treatment approaches such as Cognitive- Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Exposure therapy. It is beneficial to seek therapeutic treatment from an individual who specializes in trauma. Group therapy is another form of psychotherapy that can allow you to meet other individuals who have experienced similar traumatic events to reduce feeling as they’re all alone and estranged.

In addition to medication and psychotherapy, social supports and self-care can help you cope with the symptoms of PTSD. These include things like yoga, meditation, self-soothing, journaling, learning a new skill/hobby, distraction techniques, and more.