Post Traumatic Stress, It’s Not What You Think. Here’s What to Look Out For…

Post Traumatic Stress Signs and Symptoms Treatments Causes Risks Coping Healing
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Everyone experiences trauma at some point in their lives, and it’s natural to have lingering effects after a traumatic event.  The sudden loss of a loved one, military service, or other stressful experiences can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can severely impact your daily life, and requires medical treatment.



What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

Stress and fear during a traumatic situation are a natural response to danger, allowing you to react to a situation, but sometimes these reactions can persist, leading to PTSD.  As many as 3.5% of American adults are diagnosed with PTSD, and women are twice as likely as men to have it. It can affect anyone, including children or the elderly, or even those close to a person with PTSD.  There is a range of causes and risks for developing PTSD, and there are fortunately a number of ways to treat and cope with it.



Causes and Risk Factors

There are a number of situations and factors that can result in PTSD ranging from natural disasters to car accidents.  Not all people will react the same to traumatic events, nor is there any definitive way to test someone’s likelihood to experience PTSD. Here are some of the most common causes and risk factors:


1. Lack of Support After a Traumatic Event

While a lack of support doesn’t cause PTSD, it can prevent survivors of traumatic events from healthily recovering from their trauma.  Isolation can cause a person who would otherwise recover from a dangerous situation to develop the symptoms. This might be caused by social isolation already present in the survivor’s life, or it could be an inability to express the anxiety they feel to those closest to them.


2.  Childhood Trauma

An abusive or unhealthy childhood can lead to chronic, long-term PTSD later in life.  This is a very difficult form of PTSD to diagnose, since it isn’t associated with a single event.  Symptoms can start to show as a child, teenager, or even as an adult. The abuse can be physical, emotional, or a single traumatic event early in life, and can be difficult to diagnose.


3.  Experiencing a Natural Disaster

Survivors events such as building collapses, fires, or natural disasters are susceptible to experiencing PTSD.  The severity of the natural disaster impacts the likelihood of the development of symptoms. As many as 4% of natural disaster survivors experience symptoms, but this number is higher for survivors of more dramatic disasters, like earthquakes or tsunamis.


4.  Unexpected or Sudden Death of a Family Member or Close Friend

15% of those who suddenly lose a loved one experience PTSD, with symptoms developing due to the sudden shock of the lost family member or friend.  The relationship to the lost one, as well as the circumstances of the death impact the likelihood of the patient being diagnosed with PTSD.


5.   Exposure to Mass Violence

Military veterans or survivors of shootings experience PTSD symptoms at a rate of nearly 16%.  PTSD was originally diagnosed as shell shock after World War 1, and as combat fatigue after World War 2, before being officially recognized as the psychiatric disorder post-traumatic stress disorder after the Vietnam war, where 1 in 3 veterans suffered symptoms.


6.  Physical Injury

Abuse, assault, accidents, or more can lead to physical injury.  Physical trauma like this can lead to Post-traumatic stress disorder in up to 32% of survivors.  Varies based on how the injury was gotten, with car accidents being less likely to cause PTSD, while personal attack having a very high likelihood.


7.  Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is one of the most common causes of PTSD, with nearly 50% of survivors suffering from PTSD.  Sexual violence has the highest likelihood of causing symptoms and correlates with the severity of the assault.




Signs and Symptoms

There are 4 major types of symptoms of PTSD, each of which has a host of other effects on your life.  As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, they are:


1.  Re-Experiencing

Re-Experiencing symptoms have to do with the patient revisiting the traumatic event.  This can include nightmares, persistent negative thoughts, or flashbacks. The stimulus for these symptoms don’t have to be caused by any stimulus and can come from the patient’s own train of thoughts, as well as other triggering words or scenarios.


2.  Avoidance

When dealing with the symptoms of PTSD, places, people, or ideas that remind the patient of the traumatic event can make them uncomfortable.  Symptoms of avoidance include physically avoiding locations related to the trauma, or attempting to refrain from thoughts about the event. Avoidance is the natural response to danger, but can interfere with daily life.


3.  Arousal and Reactivity

Arousal and Reactivity symptoms have to do with the patient’s behavior.  They may be easily startled, have high blood pressure, or may be prone to outbursts.  These are related to the defensive nature of stress and anxiety, making people more reactive to tense situations, and can make it hard for those struggling with PTSD to manage their daily lives.


4.  Cognition and Mood

After a traumatic event, a patient may have trouble handling their memory and emotion, especially regarding the traumatic event.  They may have trouble remembering details or may feel guilty for the event, and they can experience depression or negative thoughts that can make recovery more difficult.  


Diagnosis and Treatment

According to Mayo Clinic, doctors will attempt to diagnose PTSD by ruling out other diseases by performing a physical exam, followed by a psychological evaluation.  The diagnosis is based on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. These criteria can include things like witnessing a traumatic event, constant nightmares, trauma-related thoughts, exaggerated guilt,  social isolation, irritability, or difficulty concentrating. Following a diagnosis, there a few treatments that your doctor can prescribe.


1.  Education

One of the most important ways to treat PTSD is to learn about it.  Understanding what the options for treatment and coping with your symptoms can help speed up recovery.  Furthermore, educating your friends and family on the condition can help them to provide you the supportive environment you need for healing.

There is a wide range of sources for education on PTSD, including medical professionals, therapists, support groups, or from associations focusing on PTSD recovery and well-being.  Finding a source of information can start by asking your doctor, and you can find a source that will adapt to your needs and lifestyle.


2.  Medication

While there is no exact antibiotic or vaccine that will cure Post-traumatic stress disorder, there are pharmaceutical options for managing the strongest symptoms of PTSD.  Antidepressants like Zoloft and Paxil are the most common FDA approved drugs for PTSD treatment, according to Mayo Clinic.  Anti-anxiety medication can also be helpful in treating the anxiety associated with PTSD, though they have a high potential for abuse, and must only be used under a doctor’s administration.  

There are more experimental treatments to handle the symptoms of PTSD, most notably Prazosin.  While studies haven’t been completed, some patients have reported that they have reduced nightmares during the medical trials, leading some to use it to help with recovering from PTSD.  Other sleeping aids may also be helpful with a doctor’s prescription.


3.  Psychotherapy

Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy can help to manage daily life through a few types of rehabilitation techniques. Cognitive therapy, for example, can help to recognize your thought trails that can lead to a traumatic memory and helps you to avoid them.  Exposure therapy, on the other hand, can help you safely face traumatic memories, thoughts, or locations in a process that can help you to overcome their attached trauma.

Behavioral therapies like these can be a more accessible, natural, and manageable way to handle PTSD.  They emphasize naturally overcoming the mental and emotional obstacles of PTSD, and can often be practiced independently.  



Coping Techniques


1.  Seek Medical Treatment

Finding and working with a medical professional can feel difficult, but it will be one of the most effective ways of managing PTSD.  Through prescription medication, professional education, and rehabilitative therapy, you can manage symptoms and improve your daily life with medical help.


2.  Talk to Your Loved Ones

One of the most important ways to cope with Post-traumatic stress disorder is by having a healthy environment to be in at home.  Explaining what you’re experiencing to those closest to you may seem selfish or embarrassing, but they’ll understand and help. Support from your friends and family will be invaluable when recovering from trauma.


3.  Set Small Goals

The path to recovery is a long one and can feel daunting at first.  Lie with most major goals, it helps to break it down into small, easily achievable goals on a daily or weekly basis.  Trying to face one traumatic memory, or going into a place that you have trouble might seem like small tasks, but can snowball into a larger set of goals for recovery.


4.  Find Ways to Relax

Relaxation is essential when recovering from PTSD, and it can be hard to do without some effort.  Intentionally clearing time in your day to take things easy, or going on a morning walk can do more to relax you than what you might normally do after work.  Taking the time and effort to relax will prevent you from overloading yourself and can make living with PTSD much easier.


5.  Don’t Rush Yourself

PTSD symptoms can last for many months, and in some cases, even years.  While you might want to try hard to recover as quickly as possible, it won’t always be possible.  It’s important to realize your limitations and to take the time, effort, and steps necessary to ensure a complete and healthy recovery.


6.  Remain Hopeful

Even with a range of options for treatment and coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it can feel like you aren’t making any progress, or that you aren’t trying hard enough.  It’s important to remember that it isn’t your fault and that it will get better. Optimism and hopefulness will not only aid in your recovery, but will improve your quality of life while you recover.



Post-traumatic stress disorder is a natural, sometimes common response to a traumatic situation.  Survivors of violence, abuse, or other high-stress situations can develop long-term symptoms of PTSD, and symptoms may not even begin to show until months after the traumatic event.  Living a full and happy life is possible during the recovery process with effective coping techniques, and with proper treatment and care, this illness can be managed and overcome.

Hello Love,

I am a mother who is actively working through anxiety and depression by navigating this complex life through love, gratitude, and compassion towards myself and the world around me. Join me on this spiritual growth journey.

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