Signs of PTSD
November 9, 2018
Have you ever experienced something that shook you to your core or changed the way you see the world? In America today, over 70% of the adult and child population has experienced some form of a traumatic event. For a long time, many people only related trauma and PTSD to soldiers coming home from war or children with an abusive parent but studies show that more and more people are seeking treatment and counseling for PTSD and for many more reasons.
What is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized as a disorder that develops after a person experiences a shocking, terrifying, or dangerous situation that puts them in a position of “fight or flight.” These situations can truly happen to anyone and can encompass anything from:
- Car Accident
- Physical Altercation
- Animal Attack
- Near death experience
- Natural Disaster
- Abusive relationship
- Invasive Surgery
- Death of a loved one
The interesting thing about trauma is that it is relative to the person experiencing it. In other words, one persons’ traumatic experience may not be everyone else’s. In order to develop PTSD, a person who has experienced a traumatic episode, or that “fight or flight” response, undergoes a process of neurological and physical transformation that leaves them unable to cope with or heal from that experience.
Of course, feeling afraid during a scary situation would be deemed normal, however, PTSD usually becomes debilitating and life-altering months to even years after the initial episode. A diagnosis of PTSD is indicated by symptoms lasting more than a month and severe enough to interfere with personal relationships, work, regular routine, and emotional stability.
Signs of PTSD
Where some people who experience a traumatic situation can recover after rest and enough processing, the person who develops PTSD will often be unable to come to terms with what happened to them without therapy or counseling. This lack of “self-healing” often goes unnoticed for some time, and people can begin to become debilitated or withdrawn from their day to day life due to their PTSD.
For doctors or psychiatrists to diagnose someone with PTSD, they usually look for:
- At least one “re-experiencing” symptom (memories, flashbacks, dreams)
- At least one “avoidant” symptom (denying or forgetting the situation)
- At least two arousal symptoms (heightened irritability, aggression, hostility)
- At least two reactivity symptoms (erratic behavior, dangerous hobbies)
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms (depression, anxiety, panic)
Many people will often exhibit a combination or all of these common signs of PTSD – and their behaviors can become completely opposite of what they were like before their traumatic experience.
For example, someone who once loved animals may experience a dog attack and become completely terrified and uneasy around animals. On the other hand, a child who experiences a lifetime of sexual abuse from a family member can become hyper-sexualized in their teen years, engaging in dangerous and erratic sexual or behavioral activity.
What to Look For
When doctors and therapists are speaking with a client who may potentially be suffering from PTSD, they look for the most common warning signs and coping styles of PTSD. Those are: Re-experiencing, Avoidance, Arousal and Reactivity, and Cognition and Mood. If you are concerned that you or your loved one may be suffering from PTSD, keep an eye out for changes in behavior in these following styles.
- Re-Experiencing: This is one of the most common indicators that someone is struggling with PTSD. Re-experiencing refers to any mental or physical “flashback” related to the initial traumatic experience. People who have frequent re-experiencing events can have difficulty focusing, performing daily functions, feeling comfortable in safe situations, or difficulty managing healthy emotions. This can look like:
- Nightmares surrounding the event
- Random flashbacks occurring throughout the day, with or without provocation
- Physical flashbacks, meaning the person experiences the same sensations that occurred during the event; heightened pulse, sweating, shortness of breath, stomach pain, tingling sensation in limbs, etc.
- Avoidance: The avoidance style of PTSD is reminiscent of our elderly relatives who refuse to speak about the wars or times when they were young. The avoidant style is generally characterized by a person’s inability to cope with the event in a healthy manner. In other words, a person who gets into a traumatic car accident can avoid driving in or being in cars. This avoidant style is usually exhibited by:
- Avoiding certain people, places, or things that remind them of the event
- Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
- Downplay the severity of the event
- Forget the event entirely
- Arousal and Reactivity: Signs of arousal and reaction are most commonly associated with people who have come home from fighting in a war. We think of people who experience severe outbursts of aggression or irritability, but this style can happen to anyone who experiences trauma. This change in thought begins to become permanent and it can be difficult for the person to understand the reality that they are no longer in danger and don’t need to be on constant alert to keep themselves safe. People who experienced heightened or reduced arousal and reactivity will exhibit:
- Becoming startled very easily
- Constantly feeling tense or “on-edge”
- Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Experience erratic emotional outbursts (anger, sadness, aggression, depression)
- Cognition and Mood: People with PTSD will often undergo an actual chemical change in their brain chemistry after the traumatic event. This is because the “fight or flight” response was so intense for them, that it switches their hippocampus into a state of being in this state permanently or through shutting down completely. This is usually as a defense mechanism that the brain uses in order to identify that it is safe from harm. Signs of Cognition and Mood changes will appear as:
- Trouble remembering the event or key moments or feelings in it
- Developing a lack of trust for people in their lives
- Having heightened feelings of guilt, shame, or blame
- Symptoms of depression, panic, or anxiety
- A loss of desire to participate in hobbies they once enjoyed social events or day to day life.
Healing from PTSD is possible, and returning to a fulfilling and enjoyable life can start as soon as you reach out for help.
Do You Need Treatment?
Contact the professionals at our residential treatment facility right now to learn about our trauma-informed care program. We can help you address the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of your trauma in ways that guide you towards long-term, successful recovery. You do not need to keep suffering – you have the power to make the decision to get help. Call us today.