The importance of awareness
I lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years before finding the correct course of treatment or diagnosis. Yet some people go decades longer without ever knowing what’s wrong with them. Awareness around the immediate signs of post-traumatic stress disorder has become slightly more prevalent today. So too, is the acknowledgment that it isn’t only something war veterans experience. Signs include nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, reliving the event over and over again, and fearing for your safety.
Many life situations may contribute to PTSD including being directly impacted by acts of war, terrorism, or being the victim of a crime. A natural disaster or accident, witnessing or being a direct victim of sexual or domestic abuse, medical trauma, and the loss of a loved one are other examples. Even growing up in a dangerous or impoverished neighbourhood or an unstable family environment are factors. Keep in mind that many of these symptoms are common after a traumatic event. If they last longer than a few months, are very upsetting or disrupt your daily life, you may meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
Initial signs and symptoms
When looking at the various ways people attempt to cope with exposure to one or a series of traumatic events, it’s important to recognise the ways that they may manifest, says Gary Brown, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with organisations like NASA and the US Department of Defense. “You probably have a sense that something is wrong, you don’t quite feel like you normally do, and might alternate between feeling extremely upset or possibly nothing at all,” he says.
This is an intense experience of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical sensations resulting from the traumatic event. “The body’s chemical reaction to the trauma can put the person in extreme survival mode we know as “fight or flight,” says Dr Brown. “When in a state of fight or flight – and we should really add the element of ‘freeze’ when we become immobilised by fear – we feel completely out of control. Needless to say, this is very painful and scary.” You may find that you get easily overwhelmed or worked up and can’t calm down, or can’t fall asleep at night.