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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It is characterized by a range of distressing symptoms that persist for an extended period, affecting various aspects of an individual's life. In this article, we will delve into the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and coping strategies associated with PTSD.

PTSD: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping Strategies

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after one is exposed to one or more terrifying events that threaten or caused grave physical harm. It is also a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to extreme psychological trauma.

PTSD has far-reaching effects on a wider population than most people would like to think. Although prevalent with the men and women in uniform who are deployed in battlegrounds, PTSD affects a whole lot of other individuals ranging from kids to the elderly. The aftermath of a disaster, whether natural or man-made, can have traumatic results on anyone who directly experiences it or even on anyone who is a witness.

People suffering from PTSD have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event - physical or sexual assault, torture, war, a plane crash, or a natural disaster. This can also affect rescue workers working at the site of mass casualties. These events can cause fear, horror, and helplessness, which can trigger PTSD.

Trauma is primarily how an individual responds to an unpleasant experience, whether from rape, severe accident, assault, and battery, and it can manifest in an individual immediately following the incident, a few days later, or in some cases months and years long after. Although the severity of PTSD varies from one person to the other, the common denominator is the fact that one undergoes feelings of helplessness coupled with an overwhelming bout of anxiety and fear.

Whenever you perceive that your safety has been compromised, you are likely to become anxious, stressed out, and sometimes withdrawn from whatever situation you believe is exposing you to any danger. Most post-traumatic stress disorder cases are classified under the anxiety disorder umbrella and can quickly go from acute to chronic. PTSD if left unchecked can paralyze one’s life, robbing them of the freedom to experience life and the ability to function at their full potential.

It would be wrong to assume that the severity of an incident directly dictates the level of PTSD as each individual’s ability to cope is determined by the support system available to them, among other factors. It is therefore essential to seek support from family and friends, and more importantly from a trained professional in order to develop vital coping skills and PTSD management strategies.

PTSD Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of PSTD:
  • Impulsivity or poor impulse control
  • Anger
  • Emotional detachment
  • Social withdrawal
  • Chronic anxiety and tension
  • Numbness
  • Hopelessness
  • Avoidance of people, things, and places that is related to a traumatic experience
  • Depersonalization
  • Survivor’s guilt
  • Hyper-alertness
  • Relationship problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exaggerated startle reflex
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Inability to remember details of the PSTD
  • Decreased self-esteem
Though someone with a post-traumatic stress disorder might be unable to remember the specific aspect of the event that can trigger the disorder, and sometimes they can be remembered through flashbacks and nightmares.

Situational Avoidance: Trying to cope with trauma can be generally challenging. Some individuals will result in avoiding the recurrence of similar situations or any unpleasant triggers of a past traumatic event. A rape survivor might have a very hard time trusting sexual partners, if any. Others may choose to avoid dating and relationships altogether. If you have been stuck in an elevator and escaped a near-death incident, you might choose to avoid using elevators ever again!

Unpleasant Flashbacks: PTSD can hold hostage an individual by simply robbing them of a joyous life. Flashbacks of traumatic experiences can flood one’s thoughts and sometimes they seem so real that the individual almost feels like they are reliving the trauma all over again. Such episodes can cause panic attacks and generally disrupt a smooth day-to-day life making it difficult for an individual to socialize.

Personality Changes: PTSD symptoms are diverse ranging from mildly inconspicuous changes in behavior to an astounding personality overhaul. It is true that once bitten twice shy. After experiencing a trauma, it is likely for an individual to cocoon into a defensive shell as a coping mechanism, an aspect that can severely affect one’s personality. Some people will gradually become withdrawn from social events while others might adopt a wild carefree and self-destructive behavior. 

Emotional Wreck: PTSD sufferers are at a heightened risk of losing control of their emotions even when faced with the slightest of triggers. Exposure to any situation that is perceived to bring back memories of a past traumatic event, can cause a downward spiral of uncontrollable emotions. If these episodes persist they can lead to stress and anxiety and in extreme cases depression or even worse, thoughts of suicide.

Rocky Relationships: Depending on the proximate cause of PTSD, problems can develop in an individual’s relationships with friends, family, and any immediate contacts. Should one feel that whatever predicament they are in is a direct result of another person’s behavior or choices, they are likely to have a hard time rebuilding mutual respect, trust, or even a healthy relationship with that particular person.

In other cases, anger and resentment can be transferred to those around you, regardless of whether they are remotely associated with the cause of your trauma or not.

Understanding Trauma and Its Impact on Mental Health

To comprehend PTSD fully, it is crucial to understand trauma and how it affects the brain and mental health. Trauma can be categorized into different types, such as acute trauma, chronic trauma, or complex trauma. Each type has its own set of characteristics and consequences.

How trauma affects the brain

Experiencing trauma triggers various physiological and psychological responses in the brain. The amygdala, responsible for processing emotions, becomes overactive, leading to hyperarousal and increased emotional reactivity. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational thinking and decision-making, may be impaired, resulting in difficulties in regulating emotions and memories.

Emotional and psychological impact of trauma

Traumatic experiences can have long-lasting emotional and psychological effects on individuals. These effects may include anxiety, depression, panic attacks, difficulties in trust and relationships, self-esteem issues, and hypervigilance. Understanding the psychological impact of trauma is essential to comprehend the challenges faced by individuals with PTSD.

PTSD Diagnosis

To diagnose PTSD, it is essential to consult with a medical professional experienced in mental health. They will assess the symptoms and evaluate their duration and impact on daily life. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) provides specific criteria for diagnosing PTSD, including exposure to a traumatic event, re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance behaviors, negative changes in thoughts and mood, and heightened arousal.

Following the tell-tale signs and symptoms of PTSD as well as getting a professional evaluation by a psychiatrist could be useful tools for post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and testing. Like any other trauma-related disorder, it is essential to correctly diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder so as to formulate a plan(s) of action toward coping and recovery.

Here are the criteria for how to go about it:

Recent Exposure?
Have you been recently exposed to any life-threatening or altering event(s) such as witnessing a fatal accident, victim of rape, gunfire, natural disasters, or war crime, among other trauma-inducing near-death experiences? Then you could be at risk of developing PTSD!

Feeling Irritable and Edgy?
Are you constantly experiencing unexplainable irritability? Are you continuously on a nervous edge? Do you experience heightened alertness at the slightest signs of perceived danger? These could be tell-tell signs of a “ticking time bomb” in the form of suppressed painful memories and a gradual onset of PTSD.

Emotional Numbness?
Are you void of emotions? Do you feel numb to certain stimuli? Are you particularly choosing to be unresponsive to situations and emotional triggers that remind you of a previous traumatic experience? Then you certainly could be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder!

Excessive Paranoia?
Are you excessively fearful? Do you often feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness keeping you from experiencing a normal day-to-day life? Oftentimes these episodes can be short or prolonged over a period of time such that social life becomes a challenge. Beware of such signs as they could be a warning of looming PTSD.

Sudden Withdrawal?
Are you finding yourself dreading social events and gatherings that you previously enjoyed? Are you becoming more of an introvert? Do you find it hard to engage in activities that thrust you into the limelight making you a center of attraction? Would you rather exist in the shadows and be easily forgotten rather than be the talk of the town? Such changes in behavior could be the “smoking gun” for an underlying problematic PTSD.

Sense of worthlessness?
Are you constantly viewing yourself negatively? Do you now think of yourself as a liability to society rather than an asset? Are you losing your sense of self-worth? Such thoughts sometimes can be on the borderline of suicidal attempts. These are major wake-up calls to check on the possibility of a bout of PTSD.

Separation Anxiety?
Do you find it hard to adjust to sudden changes in the environment? Are you becoming emotionally attached to loved ones and finding it extremely hard to adjust to their departure in the case that they are traveling or just being away from you for a while?

In the case of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), it can be very hard for an individual to shake off separation anxiety. In many cases, separation anxiety is more prevalent in young kids. This can be also a sign of an onset of attachment disorder which is highly associated with PTSD.

   Read also: PTSD Test

PTSD Treatment

Dealing with any trauma can be overwhelming and generally energy-draining. Finding simple and personable ways to cope with trauma slowly enables the sufferer to stop being a captive of fear and to begin living a fuller, more meaningful, and more enjoyable life. When an experience that was once a traumatic event becomes just a past unpleasant experience, this is a good signal that an individual is well on their way to beating PTSD.


Depending on the symptoms you may be experiencing, a trained professional can help you go through therapy sessions. Some PTSD sufferers do better in group therapy which helps them socialize and connect with others who are going through similar predicaments. Others do better in individualized therapy sessions.

During therapy sessions, it is essential to identify triggers so as to pinpoint those situations that seem to ignite fear, a feeling of helplessness, and anxiety. Once these factors are isolated it is easier to recondition the cognitive mind in order to eliminate the negative associations that one may have for certain events and situations.

Oftentimes therapists use simulation in an attempt to expose a PTSD patient to those situations that mirror the actual cause of trauma. Referred to as exposure therapy, this technique allows a PTSD sufferer to learn essential coping mechanisms. Although a challenging approach, it is important for this exposure to occur so as to imprint a new take on an old problem, therefore gradually reducing the severity of the initial responses to the trauma.


There are certain medications and drugs that are available by prescription which can help alleviate PTSD symptoms. For anxiety relief, anti-psychotics may be what your doctor orders. If you are experiencing depression, antidepressants can be helpful too. These will help to calm you and aid you in getting better rest at night and generally riding you the risk of a repeat symptom cycle. Anti-anxiety medications are helpful in eliminating stress and panic attacks in addition to alleviating anxiety.

When using medication to treat PTSD, it is highly advised, as a precautionary measure, that immediate family members or friends be on the lookout for any tell-tale signs of possible prescription medicine abuse. It is also very important to consult your physician immediately following any unspecified side effects from the prescribed medications and/or any thoughts of suicide.

   Read also: The Threat of Suicide

Self-help tips

Pairing therapy and medication with other simple self-help coping strategies can speed up PTSD recovery. Taking good care of oneself, getting adequate rest, eating a balanced and nutritious diet as well as staying physically active will help in gaining overall health. When your body and mind are in a “happy place” you are more likely to feel in control of your life and therefore less likely to experience relapses of fear and helplessness. A boost in self-image will translate to self-confidence and feelings of self-worth as well.

Staying connected to supportive groups, family and friends is essential. Exposing yourself to individuals who have your best interests at heart ensures that, should you need help, they will be there to offer loving support and understanding. Avoid any urge to self-medicate as this can lead to accidental overdose or even a looming addiction to drugs. Stay away from hard liquor and alcohol in general as this can cloud your thoughts and possibly cause a relapse of unpleasant memories of traumatic events.

Engage in calming activities that keep both your mind and body occupied without causing any additional strain or distress. You could take a yoga class, have a spa day for a much-needed relaxing massage or just indulge in activities that you love. Doing so will greatly reduce anxiety and stress. Most importantly, listen to your body for any signs of distress and overstimulation. Remember, help may just be a phone away. Do not shut loved ones out of your life and more importantly stay in communication with your physician.

Support for individuals with PTSD

Support from friends, family, and mental health professionals is crucial for individuals with PTSD. Support groups provide a safe environment for individuals to share experiences, learn coping strategies, and receive validation. Organizations and online communities dedicated to PTSD can also offer valuable resources, information, and support.


Q 1. Can children develop PTSD?

Ans. Yes, children can develop PTSD following a traumatic event. It is essential to provide appropriate support and interventions tailored to their developmental needs.

Q 2. Is PTSD a lifelong condition?

Ans. PTSD can be a chronic condition, but with proper treatment and support, many individuals experience a reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life.

Q 3. Can PTSD develop years after a traumatic event?

Ans. Yes, PTSD can develop months or even years after a traumatic event. It is important to seek professional help if symptoms arise, regardless of the time that has passed.

Q 4. Can PTSD be cured?

Ans. PTSD is a treatable condition, but it may not be completely "cured" in all cases. Treatment aims to reduce symptoms, improve coping mechanisms, and enhance overall well-being.

Q 5. How can I support a loved one with PTSD?

Ans. Supporting a loved one with PTSD involves being patient, understanding, and offering non-judgmental support. Encourage them to seek professional help and provide a listening ear when needed.

Offer practical support. This may involve assisting with daily tasks, accompanying them to appointments, or providing resources and information about available treatment options.


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