Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that affects our mental health. It is characterized by PTSD symptoms that begin after a specific traumatic event or a build-up of trauma over time. This traumatic event or general trauma is often replayed repeatedly in the person's mind, making it appear as if they are continually experiencing this event. This results in the fears and stress associated with the trauma being continually reactivated in the body and mind.
The key to a diagnosis of PTSD is that this trauma, whether experiencing it or witnessing it, leads to debilitating anxiety symptoms that impact one’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a disorder that is characterized by PTSD symptoms of anxiety that begin after a traumatic experience. This traumatic event can be anything, from a natural disaster, sexual assault, abuse, stressful event, life-threatening event, work-related stress, etc.
The event itself is not important, but it is how the event affects a person. Most people will experience a period of stress after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, however, it is usually short-term and temporary. PTSD can be diagnosed when the effect of traumatic stress is long-term and continues to cause an impact. Re-experiencing the trauma constantly can lead to a heightened sense of arousal and various symptoms that are distressing. Ultimately, this disorder prevents the individual from functioning optimally on a day-to-day basis.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is often grouped into PTSD and complex PTSD. Complex PTSD is very similar to the PTSD we have described above, in the way that it impacts one’s mental health. The main difference between the two disorders is that complex PTSD often develops because of a series of traumas or events, whereas post-traumatic stress disorder is usually in relation to one event. Otherwise, the manifestations and the mental health implications themselves are quite similar between the two conditions. They are both almost always characterized by similar symptoms including avoidance of some kind. Treatment is also quite similar between the two conditions.
The symptoms of PTSD vary between each person and the traumatic stress that they went through. Many people will often have hypervigilance, developing avoidance behaviours. This means staying clear of anything that reminds them of the traumatic event so that they will not find themselves re-experiencing the traumatic event.
Some of the more common PTSD symptoms include reliving the traumatic event over and over in their mind, often through flashbacks. This can result in distressing symptoms such as nightmares, a state of hyperarousal, dissociative states, increased reactivity, being easily startled, trouble concentrating and a feeling of helplessness. It can also have changes in mood including irritability, and outbursts that recur.
Depending on the severity of the PTSD symptoms it can also lead to the development of mental disorders to cope with the constant fight-or-flight state that the PTSD flashbacks continue to activate. To numb out these stressful experience’s, substance abuse, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or self-destructive behaviours including self-harm may develop. These often develop to cope with the overwhelming anxiety that comes with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Besides being irritable and having angry outbursts, there can also be physical symptoms that are associated with this disorder and trauma.
Diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is done based on the criteria outlined in the DSM-5 which describes how to diagnose mental illnesses.
There are many different treatment options for all anxiety disorders and especially for post-traumatic stress disorder. Often approaching treatment from many different angles can help to improve the outcome of the treatment and help decrease symptoms.
Seek out a health professional or a mental health professional
Various types of therapy have been shown to help with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma-focused therapy such as exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and psychodynamic therapy have all been shown to have significant impacts on helping a person deal with the traumatic experience and move through that.
Working with the trauma directly can help to decrease the intensity of it and the anxiety and impact it has on the mind and body. This can have huge benefits to one’s mental health. The treatment most effective will depend on the type of traumatic experience. Whether the trauma is a sexual assault or life-threatening, it will often manifest in similar post-traumatic symptoms, however, the therapy that is most effective in working through this trauma may be different. Therefore, the expertise of a mental health professional can be extremely helpful.
Eat foods that nourish the nervous system - focus on a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as good fats (avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil) and protein to nourish the body and nervous system. This can make it more resilient to triggers of PTSD.
Focus on incorporating things that you love into your daily life. Get a good night’s sleep to try and help reset the nervous system and give it a chance to recover from the stress of the day. And create a good support system - find people that you can talk to when things get challenging and treating co-occuring mental disorders and health problems.
Various prescription medications have been shown to be beneficial in supporting the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems including antipsychotics, antidepressants, and SSRIs.
There are various herbal products and botanicals that have been shown to help decrease the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. These include anti-anxiety, antidepressant and adaptogen plants such as Passionflower, which acts on the central nervous system, binding to the GABA receptors that relax the body. This reminds the body to slow down and decreases stress allowing the body and mind to relax. Passionflower is a very gentle flower that not only helps promote relaxation, but it helps to revitalize and restore the body.
The length of time that PTSD symptoms last depend on the original response that an individual has to the trauma-related event and what type of treatment they receive. Many people can go for years without knowing that the symptoms they are experiencing are from post-traumatic stress disorder. This makes it very important to do some type of screening, assessment or PTSD test for those who have been traumatized.
Some people will develop this condition after an event whereas other people will not. Having a family member develop symptoms may or may not serve as a risk factor for another person to develop symptoms, however, one’s resilience factors may make it likely that they will be impacted so intensely by a traumatic event. Resilience factor may be similar among different family members, serving as a risk factor for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder.
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