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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that develops as a result of a terrifying or traumatic event.  Feelings of

anxiousness, fright, unpredictable and uncontrollable feelings and mood swings as well as a feelings of being disconnected are all common effects of this mental condition.  In most cases after a traumatic event happens, these types of feelings fade over time, however, in some cases they remain or perhaps get worse.  This could be an indication that you do, in fact, suffer from PTSD and should seek help in dealing with this issue.  PTSD not only has an effect on the individual experiencing the trauma, but also the loved ones of the individual.  It can completely alter the family dynamic and create damaging tension and distance.


Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually begin within three months but in rare circumstances they can take years to manifest. 

Symptoms of PTSD

There are three main types of symptoms associated with PTSD:

Symptoms of Re-experiencing the event or intrusive memories:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks – reliving the traumatic event either momentarily or for extended periods of time
  • Frightening and intrusive memories of the event
  • Significant physical reactions such as racing heartbeat, nausea or sweating when encountering reminders of the event

Symptoms of Avoidance and emotional numbing:

  • Emotional detachment or numbness
  • Avoiding people, places, feelings, thoughts or activities that invoke memories of the trauma
  • Complications with memory of the traumatic event
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dismal outlook for the future

Symptoms of Anxiety and hyperarousal:

  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Irritability and anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Being easily frightened or startled; jumpy
  • Seeing and hearing things that are not there
  • Hypervigilance

The symptoms of hyperarousal are present most of the time and can have a huge effect on the simplest everyday tasks such as eating, working or sleeping.  These symptoms are common to experience for a limited time after the trauma occurs, however, if they do not dissipate or disappear they could be a good indication of PTSD. 

Detecting PTSD

There are several criteria that a specialist will look for when diagnosing PTSD:

  • Witness to a traumatic event involving serious injury, death or the threat of death in which intense fear and helplessness was experienced
  • Symptoms that last one month or longer
  • Symptoms interfere with your ability to do day-to-day tasks
  • Experiencing at least one symptoms of re-experiencing such as flashbacks, nightmare or disturbing images, etc.
  • Experiencing at a minimum of three avoidance or numbness symptoms such as detachment, memory difficulty and lack of hope for future, etc.
  • Experiencing a minimum of two hyperarousal symptoms such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating, hypervigilance, etc.

PTSD Treatment

It is important to seek treatment if you suspect or have been diagnosed with PTSD.  PTSD can cause physical health problems to worsen if untreated and unmonitored.  Also the emotional effect on both the individual as well as the family can be extremely challenging and treatment may provide an improvement in family life as well as provide a better sense of self. 

There are a variety of therapy options when it comes to treating PTSD.  Usually a combination of the therapies is most effective.  Some of the more common therapy treatments are as follows:

  • Medication – antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety, sleep aids and sometimes medication such as Prazosin which is used to suppress nightmares even though that is not its usual purpose. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy focused on exposure therapy – this program safely exposes the individual to the same situation and feelings experienced in the initial trauma.  This is done to help the individual face and deal with these situations and feelings in an effective manner to prevent disturbance to their everyday lives. 
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy – this combines exposure therapy and a series of rhythmic eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help process the traumatic memories.
  • Family therapy sessions – usually used in combination with other therapies to help the family communicate and understand what process are happening and why.
  • Acupuncture


There is also an array of measure the individual themselves can take in treating PTSD.

Don’t expect immediate results.  Healing takes time.

Be sure to closely follow any prescribed forms of medication regimens and therapy treatments.

Look to others for support.  Create a network of family and friends who you trust and can turn to in times of need.  Inform them of any triggers and situations that would cause symptoms to emerge or worsen. 

Participate in stress reducing activities such as mild exercise or hobbies.  Spend time outdoors. 

Take daunting tasks which could cause anxiousness and possible fear and break them down into smaller more manageable tasks.  Be sure to set realistic goals to improve sense of accomplishment.

Combat sense of helplessness by helping others.  Volunteer in the community or donate to a charity. 

Keep a positive outlook.  Convince yourself that things will improve and symptoms will get better.

Do not use drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms. 

Join local support groups to connect with others experiencing the same problems. 

Helping a Loved One

Living with a loved one with PTSD can be very emotional taxing on family and friends.  It is important to put things into perspective and realize that this is the same person you know and love even if at times that does not seem the case.  Be sure to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally so you can offer support to your loved one in need.  There are several things that can be done to help with the recovery process for loved ones suffering from PTSD.

  • Offer encouragement and assistance in getting diagnosis and treatment for PTSD.
  • Educate yourself about the condition to better understand what your loved one is going through and what to expect as far as symptoms, behavior alterations and treatment procedures.
  • Be there to offer support and understanding.  Listen carefully and express understanding of their situation.  Never pressure them into talking about the trauma.  This could do more harm than good.
  • Familiarize yourself with their triggers for symptoms and help them avoid potentially difficult situations. 
  • Realize that they are not at times themselves and do not take symptoms as a personal attack. 
  • Engage your loved one in activities that create peace and distraction from problems. 
  • Do not take comments lightly that your loved one makes in regards to harming themselves.  Bring these comments to the attention of their therapist or doctor. 

Where to Go for Help

The following resourses will assist individuals with PTSD or symptoms as well as family and friends of those individuals in finding the help they need:

  • National Center for PTSD -
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Information HelpLine - 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., EST
  • Veterans Crisis Line/National Suicide Prevention LifeLine – 1(800) 273-8255, available 24 hours a day with 130 centers nationwide