After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected. But if you remain upset, always feel in danger, and are struggling with painful memories, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You’ may think you will never get over it or feel normal again. However, you can learn to manage your symptoms, reduce painful memories, and move past the trauma with treatment and support.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following any event that makes you fear for your safety. Most people associate PTSD with rape or battle-scarred soldiers, but an event that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can produce PTSD. This is especially true when an event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.

PTSD can affect people who personally experience the traumatic event, those who witness the event, or those who respond to traumatic events, such as emergency workers and law enforcement officers. PTSD can also result from surgery performed on children too young to
fully understand the experience.

PTSD vs. a normal response to traumatic events

Following a traumatic event, most people have at least some PTSD symptoms. It’s normal to feel unsettled, disconnected or numb when  your sense of safety and trust are devastated. It’s common to have nightmares, feel afraid, and to keep thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events. For most people, these symptoms last several days or weeks but they gradually lift. With post-traumatic stress disorder, you don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse.

After trauma, the mind and the body are in shock. As you make sense of the event and process your emotions, you start to heal. With PTSD, however, your memory of the experience and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to heal, you need to face and feel your memories and emotions.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

PTSD differs for everyone because everyone’s nervous system and tolerance for stress is different. Most people develop symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days following a traumatic event but for others it may be weeks, months, or years before symptoms appear. Sometimes symptoms appear out of the blue and sometimes they are triggered by a reminder you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.

There are four main types of symptoms.

1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event through intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, or intense mental or physical reactions when reminded of the trauma.

2. Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, being unable to remember aspects of the ordeal, a loss of interest in activities and life in general, feeling emotionally numb and detached from others and a sense of a limited future.

3. Hyperarousal, including sleep problems, irritability, hypervigilance (on being on constant “red alert”), feeling jumpy or easily startled, angry outbursts, and aggressive, self destructive, or reckless behavior.

4. Negative thoughts and mood changes like feeling alienated and alone, difficulty concentrating or remembering, depression and hopelessness, feeling mistrust and betrayal, and feeling guilt, shame, or self-blame.

Do you have PTSD?

If you answer yes to three or more of the questions below, you may have PTSD.

Have you witnessed or experienced a traumatic, life- threatening event?
Did this experience make you feel intensely afraid, horrified, or helpless?
Do you have trouble getting the event out of your mind?
Do you startle more easily and feel more irritable or angry than you did before the event?
Do you go out of your way to avoid activities, people, or thoughts that remind you of the event?
Do you have more trouble falling asleep or concentrating than you did before the event?
Have your symptoms lasted for more than a month?
Is your distress making it hard for you to work or function normally?

PTSD risk factors

There are certain risk factors that increase your vulnerability to developing PTSD. Many risk factors revolve around the nature of the traumatic event itself. Traumatic events are more likely to cause PTSD when they involve a severe threat to your life or personal safety: the more extreme and prolonged the threat, the greater the risk of developing PTSD in response. Intentional, human-inflicted harm—such as rape, assault, and torture— also tends to be more traumatic than “acts of God,” or other accidents and disasters. The extent to which the traumatic event was unexpected, uncontrollable, and inescapable also plays a role.

Other risk factors for PTSD include:

Previous traumatic experiences, especially in early life
Family history of PTSD or depression
History of physical or sexual abuse
History of substance abuse
History of depression, anxiety, or another mental illness

Self-help Tips

Tip 1: Challenge your sense of helplessness

One of the best ways to reclaim your sense of power is by helping others: volunteer your  time, give blood, reach out to a friend in need, or donate to your favorite charity.

Take positive action to directly challenge the sense of helplessness: learn about trauma and PTSD, join a PTSD support group, practice relaxation techniques, pursue outdoor activities, confide in someone you trust, spend time with positive people, avoid alcohol and drugs, enjoy the peace of nature

Tip 2: Get moving

By really focusing on your body and how it feels as you move, exercise can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move zation stress response.

Try 1) Rhythmic exercise such as walking, running, swimming, or dancing. Focus on how your body feels. 2) Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts. You have to focus on your body movements or you could get hurt. 3) Spending time in nature. Pursuing outdoor activities like hiking, camping, mountain climbing. Anyone with PTSD can benefit from the relaxation, seclusion, and peace that come with being out in nature. .

Tip 3: Reach out to others for support

PTSD can make you feel disconnected from others. You may be tempted to withdraw from social activities and your loved ones. But it’s important to stay connected to life and the people who care about you. You don’t have to talk about the trauma if you don’t want to, but
the caring support and companionship of others is vital to your recovery. Reach out to someone you can connect with for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen when you want to talk without judging, criticizing, or continually getting distracted. That
person may be your significant other, a family member, a friend, or a professional therapist.

Tip 4: Support PTSD treatment with a healthy lifestyle

  1. Take time to relax through relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, massage, or yoga can activate the body’s relaxation response and ease symptoms of PTSD.
  2. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Substance use worsens many symptoms of PTSD, interferes with treatment, and can add to problems in
    your relationships.
  3. Eat a healthy diet. Omega-3s play a vital role in emotional health so incorporate foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts into your
    diet. Limit processed food, fried food, refined starches, and sugars, which can exacerbate mood swings and cause fluctuations in your energy.
  4. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can trigger anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual (listen to calming music, watch a funny show, or read something light) and make your
    bedroom as quiet, dark, and soothing as possible.
  5. Get professional help for PTSD. The sooner PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome. If you’re reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past.

Why seek help for PTSD

  1. Symptoms of PTSD may get worse.  Finding out more about what treatments work, where to look for help, and what kind of questions to ask can make it easier to get help and lead to better outcomes.
  2. PTSD symptoms can affect family life. You may find that you pull away from loved ones, are not able to get along with people, or that you are angry or even violent.
  3. PTSD can be related to other health problems. PTSD symptoms can make physical health problems worse.

PTSD treatment and therapy

Treatment for PTSD can relieve symptoms by helping you deal with the trauma you’ve
experienced. A doctor or therapist will encourage you to recall and process the emotions
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you felt during the original event in order to reduce the powerful hold the memory has on
your life.
During treatment you’ll also explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma, work
through feelings of guilt and mistrust, learn how to cope with intrusive memories, and
address the problems PTSD has caused in your life and relationships.
The types of treatment available for PTSD include:
Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy involves gradually “exposing” yourself to
feelings and situations that remind you of the trauma, and replacing distorted and irrational
thoughts about the experience with a more balanced picture.
Family therapy can help your loved ones understand what you’re going through and help
you work through relationship problems together as a family.
Medication is sometimes prescribed to people with PTSD to relieve secondary symptoms of
depression or anxiety, although they do not treat the causes of PTSD.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) incorporates elements of
cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right
stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. These techniques work by “unfreezing” the brain’s
information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress.
Finding a therapist for PTSD
When looking for a therapist, seek out mental health professionals who specialize in the
treatment of trauma and PTSD. You can ask your doctor or other trauma survivors for a
referral, call a local mental health clinic, psychiatric hospital, or counseling center.
Beyond credentials and experience, it’s important to find a PTSD therapist who makes you
feel comfortable and safe. Trust your gut; if a therapist doesn’t feel right, look for someone
else. For therapy to work, you need to feel comfortable and understood.
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Get more help
National Center for PTSD – Leading research and educational center on PTSD and traumatic
stress. Includes resources and treatment info. (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Causes, risk factors, and treatments. (National Institute of
Mental Health)
Self-Help and Coping – Articles on coping with PTSD in healthy ways. (National Center for
Find treatment and support for PTSD
In the U.S.: Call the NAMI helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI to find a support group near you or
search for Trauma Treatment Programs (PDF).

42 Henley Road
Wynnewood, PA 19096
(484) 213-3616

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