Have you recently been through a traumatic event that you just can’t seem to get off your mind? Maybe you find yourself doing anything you can to distract yourself from it, such as by drinking to excess or engaging in risky behaviors, but it keeps coming back to you in nightmares. Maybe it’s affecting your work because it’s difficult to focus, or you are struggling to feel close to loved ones, like there is a glass wall between you and the rest of the world. If you can relate to these statements, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that onsets after a traumatic event that is either experienced or witnessed. After a traumatic event, it is common for people to temporarily struggle to adjust back to daily life, but by taking time to process the event and a lot of self-care, most get better. In contrast, people with PTSD may suffer from flashbacks, severe anxiety, and persistent thoughts about the traumatic event for months or even years. In these instances, treatment as early on as possible is critical to reducing the long-term impact.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD typically begin within the month of the traumatic event, but occasionally, they do not appear until years later. PTSD is disruptive to life, interfering with your work and relationships, as well as how you function on a day-to-day basis. While symptoms vary between individuals, in general, they are grouped into four categories:

Intrusive Memories

  • Recurring, upsetting memories of the event
  • Dreams or nightmares about the event
  • Emotional distress or physical responses to things that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks (reliving the event as if it were happening in the present)

Avoidance

  • Attempts to avoid thinking or discussing the event
  • Avoids people, places, and things that are a reminder of the event

Negative Thinking and Mood

  • Negative thoughts about self, others, or the world in general
  • Difficulty being close to others
  • Feeling detached from loved ones
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Emotional numbness
  • Hopelessness
  • Memory problems
  • Suicidal thoughts

Physical and Emotional Reaction Changes

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling “on guard” often
  • Behaving in a reckless and self-destructive manner, such as binge drinking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Aggressive outbursts and uncontrollable anger
  • Feelings of shame and guilt

Symptoms of PTSD vary in intensity over time. Often, people with PTSD have worse symptoms when they are stressed out, or if reminders of the event are present. For example, many of survivors of sexual assault have had flashbacks due to the national conversation sparked by the #MeToo movement.

Causes of PTSD

PTSD is caused by experiencing, seeing, or learning about a traumatic event. A traumatic event is characterized by actual or threatened death, injury, or sexual assault. Some people go through these traumatic events without developing PTSD, and it is unclear why others do. The current theories believe that PTSD is actually caused by a complex mix of factors, including family history of mental illness, the severity and amount of stressful and traumatic experiences one has throughout their life, brain chemistry, and temperament.

Do I Need Professional Help for PTSD?

After a traumatic event, it’s natural that you would feel overwhelming feelings such as depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, fear, and shame. Even if you don’t develop PTSD, you may benefit from professional help from a local therapist in these cases. Finding support as soon as possible, whether from a counselor or a trusted friend or family member, can go a long way towards preventing post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you find that you are struggling to bounce back from a traumatic event, there is hope. At New Transitions, our skilled counselors are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy in Palatine. Contact us for a free phone consultation to see how we can help you with PTSD.