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Post Traumatic Stress

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

The types of events that can cause PTSD include:

  • serious road accidents
  • violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
  • prolonged sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
  • Severe illness and invasive or  prolonged medical intervention
  • witnessing violent deaths
  • military combat
  • being held hostage
  • terrorist attacks
  • natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis

In most cases, the symptoms develop during the first month after a traumatic event. However, in a minority of cases, there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms start to appear.

Some people with PTSD experience long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable, followed by periods where they worsen. Other people have severe symptoms that are constant.

The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals, but they generally fall into the following categories:

Re-experiencing

Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly re-lives the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks, nightmares or repetitive and distressing images or sensations. This can even include physical sensations such as pain, sweating and trembling.

Some people will have constant negative thoughts about their experience, repeatedly asking themselves questions that prevent them from coming to terms with the event. For example, they may wonder why the event happened to them and if they could have done anything to stop it, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.

Avoidance and emotional numbing

Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD. This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.

Many people with PTSD will try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.

Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing. This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing the activities that they used to enjoy.

Hyperarousal (feeling ‘on edge’)

Someone with PTSD may be very anxious and find it difficult to relax. They may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This state of mind is known as hyperarousal.

Hyperarousal often leads to irritability, angry outbursts, sleeping problems (insomnia) and difficulty concentrating.

Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including: 

Depression, anxiety and phobias

Drug misuse or alcohol misuse

Headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches

PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.

When to seek medical advice

It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but in most people these will improve naturally over a few weeks.

You should seek support and help if are still having problems about four weeks after the traumatic experience, or if the symptoms are particularly troublesome.

 

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