When asked “What is post traumatic stress disorder?” many people naturally think of problems suffered by some soldiers who have been exposed to combat and the other horrors of war. While PTSD disorder among military veterans understandably receives much of the public’s attention, any person of any age who has been exposed to severe psychological trauma may experience the same symptoms as combat survivors, such as:
- Reliving traumatic events through nightmares, flashbacks or intrusive memories
- Being seriously disturbed or upset by events that trigger recall of the original trauma
- Avoiding people, places and things that may serve as reminders of the traumatic situation
- Feeling emotionally numb and detached from life
- Having trouble concentrating
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Being easily startled and having an excessively strong or violent startle reaction
- Problems with sexual functioning
- Physical symptoms such as dizziness, headaches or a pounding heart
- Feelings of guilt for having survived a situation that cost others their lives or their health
- Feeling that a “normal” future is not possible – or that there is no future at all
Any or all of these symptoms could show up long after the psychological trauma that caused them. If you have lived through a traumatic event and have suffered some or all of these symptoms for a month or more, you could be suffering from PTSD.
Slowly but surely we are chipping away at the misconception that PTSD is unique to soldiers, firemen, police officers, and others regularly exposed to traumatic situations. On the contrary, anyone can develop PTSD, thus the importance of education and understanding.
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a form of anxiety stemming from a traumatic event in which your well-being, or the well-being of others, is threatened.
The threat may be a physical one, however, it may not have resulted in any actual physical harm. Simply believing you or others could have been harmed can cause PTSD.
The threat may also be an emotional one, in which no physical harm was threatened, but the experience was one of extreme emotional pain.
What causes PTSD?
There is no one-size-fits-all description of an event that can cause PTSD. It is anything in which physical or emotional harm was threatened or realized. However, the most common causes of PTSD include:
- Combat exposure
- Physical abuse
- Physical attack
- Childhood neglect
- Sexual molestation
- Being threatened with a weapon
- Civil conflict
- Car accident
- Plane crash
- Natural disaster
- Life-threatening medical diagnosis
- Death of a loved one
For children, you can add to this list adoption, divorce, moving, and medical interventions, all of which have the potential for taking a heavy emotional toll.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
You or a loved one may have PTSD if you experience any or all of the following:
- Flashbacks to a past traumatic event
- Easily startled
- Emotionally numb
- Isolated from loved ones
- Difficulty with intimacy
- Nightmares of traumatic events you have experienced or witnessed
- Irritability, aggression, hostility, or violence
- Avoiding situations they fear will remind them of the trauma
- Trouble with concentration, memory, and problem-solving
- Difficulty during significant periods, such as the anniversary of the trauma
- Refusing to talk about the trauma with others for fear of triggering a flashback
As with any other symptoms list, keep in mind that if you have one or more of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have PTSD. Having a majority of these symptoms certainly makes it likely. However, only a trained professional can formally diagnose PTSD.
What is a PTSD flashback?
It’s a PTSD flashback if you find yourself experiencing the past traumatic event as though it is happening in the present. Flashbacks are usually triggered by ordinary things that act as a reminder of the traumatic event, particularly visiting the site of the trauma, or seeing other people who were involved. Flashbacks can be experienced as images, smells, sounds, feelings, and pain. You may still maintain some awareness of the current situation, or you could lose awareness of your surroundings altogether.
How can I cope with PTSD flashbacks?
While you likely try to avoid triggers at all cost, it is impossible to control every scenario. In the event of a flashback, you may already have discovered helpful coping mechanisms, but you may also want to try some of these:
- Tell yourself, out loud or in your mind, where and when you are.
- Remind yourself this is a flashback and it will end shortly.
- Take slow, deep breaths.
- Use your senses to bring awareness to your present surroundings.
- Name items or colors in the room.
- Breathe in calming aromatherapy oils.
- Turn on loud music and focus on the sounds.
- Eat or drink something with a strong taste.
- Touch something and focus on its texture.
You will find some of these coping mechanisms more helpful than others. Be sure to share what works with those close to you so they can be of support if and when they are present during a flashback.
How is PTSD treated?
There are various treatment programs for post-traumatic stress disorder. The most effective among them are those that take a whole-person approach, as we do here at A Place Of Hope. PTSD affects the entirety of a person’s life, thus the importance of focusing on the emotional, mental, physical, relational, and spiritual sides.
We run an award-winning PTSD Treatment Program
Are you or a loved one living with PTSD? Whether you have already been diagnosed, or you simply recognize the symptoms, A Place of Hope can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166, and someone will be in touch with you soon.