Presented by BetterHelp.

When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder, what comes to mind? Many people think of soldiers coming home from war and returning as completely different people than when they were first deployed. While it’s true that PTSD is more common among veterans than civilians, the reality is that anyone can develop PTSD at any point in their lives from a variety of experiences.

Understanding what causes PTSD and how it can impact a person’s quality of life and daily functioning can be crucial to recognizing the disorder and finding support should it affect you or a loved one. In this article, we’ll discuss what living with PTSD may entail and cover several important treatment options that can bring healing to those with this serious disorder.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by experiencing or witnessing something traumatic. The event or situation normally causes overwhelming distress— a natural result of being exposed to something dangerous or life-threatening.

People with PTSD may be affected mentally, socially, physically, or spiritually, which often impacts their ability to function as usual from day to day. They may experience declines in their performance at work or school or begin to struggle in their interpersonal relationships. Thus, it can be essential to find timely and appropriate support for this disorder.

Potential Causes Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Although a number of scenarios can cause someone to develop PTSD, it can be difficult to predict its development, as everyone responds differently to situations and has a unique tolerance level for coping with stress. However, people who experience repeated trauma or have a poor support system may be more likely to develop PTSD. Below are several potential triggers that could cause PTSD:

● Car accidents
● Life-threatening illness or injury
● War or other military combat
● A medical diagnosis
● Seeing a dead body
● Miscarriage
● Physical or sexual assault
● Natural disasters
● Terrorism
● Verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse
● Bullying
● Racism, sexism, or other types of discrimination
● Domestic violence
● Robbery
● Unexpected or sudden death
● Threats of harm
● Being attacked by an animal

PTSD results from feelings like helplessness, intense fear, anxiety, or horror. People who develop the disorder normally have their first symptoms within hours or days of the traumatic event. However, some people don’t get symptoms until much later— whether it takes weeks, months, or years.

Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Even after a significant amount of time has passed, people with PTSD continue to feel strong, distressing thoughts and feelings associated with the event. Although PTSD affects everyone differently, there are some symptoms that are common among those with the disorder. These include:

● Guilt or shame
● Intrusive thoughts about the experience
● Crying spells
● Avoiding anything associated with the event
● Substance abuse
● Hyperarousal
● Irritability, anger, or aggression
Anxiety or depression
● Sleeping issues like insomnia or wakefulness throughout the night
● Flashbacks
● Difficulty focusing or paying attention
● Physical symptoms like dizziness, stomach aches, and chest pain
● Nightmares
● Little appetite or overeating

Healing From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Getting professional support and treatment is often a necessity when it comes to managing and overcoming the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Left untreated, PTSD can continue to worsen and have harmful effects on an individual’s life. Below are some of the most common techniques utilized by medical doctors and mental health professionals to treat PTSD:

● Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a therapeutic approach that helps people learn how to identify their unhelpful thought patterns and replace them with more constructive ones. This technique can be useful in treating PTSD as it allows affected individuals to learn emotional regulation and choose healthier coping strategies. Additionally, it can help them improve their daily functioning by teaching them how to reduce their anxiety and stress levels.

● Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR): Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, also known as EMDR, is a therapeutic approach that was developed with trauma survivors in mind. With this technique, a therapist uses a visual, auditory, or tactile method to promote bilateral stimulation in their client, which activates both sides of their brain. While this is happening, the therapist guides the client through the traumatic memory, allowing them to focus on it for a brief period. EMDR therapy ultimately alleviates the stress and anxiety associated with the traumatic event, making it a useful treatment method for those with PTSD.

● Medication: In some cases, doctors may recommend treating PTSD using medication. Often, this is most effective when used alongside other treatment methods like therapy. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the individual, the severity of their symptoms, and their current level of functioning. Sometimes, it may take trying different medications or adjusting the dosage multiple times to find an appropriate match for an individual. Some medicines may only be prescribed in cases where an individual chooses not to seek therapy for the treatment of their PTSD.

● Lifestyle changes: Many PTSD symptoms can be managed or overcome by making certain lifestyle changes. These include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy meals. It can also involve giving up alcohol and drugs and any unproductive behaviors. Developing a strong support network of close friends and family members can also be a powerful way to find healing and hope while reducing lonely feelings.

● Cognitive processing therapy (CPT): Cognitive processing therapy, or CPT, is a type of talk therapy that lasts for 12 sessions and seeks to help people identify and change the thought patterns they’ve become stuck on since their traumatic experience. This approach can be helpful for people with PTSD as it helps them challenge the thoughts that may be making their symptoms worse. By learning how to avoid rumination and adopt a different, healthier perspective of their trauma, individuals can slowly change how they process and interpret their past experiences.

● Prolonged exposure: Prolonged exposure is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that involves slowly confronting the thoughts, feelings, and situations associated with a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD are known to avoid the people, places, or things that remind them of their trauma, making this technique instrumental in reducing these avoidance tendencies. Individuals engage in prolonged exposure by learning breathing techniques to control their anxiety and then discussing their experiences with their providers. They then practice confronting whatever they were avoiding and go into further detail about their trauma until it no longer produces an overwhelmingly anxious, fearful, or angry response.

● Support groups: Support groups can be a powerful tool for those seeking to overcome PTSD. Participants can share their experiences with as much or as little detail as they’d like while being in a supportive, safe environment. Not only can group members offer advice to one another, but they can also receive encouragement through their highs and lows. Support groups can nurture a sense of belonging while helping people feel less alone and isolated, which can occur due to their condition.

Many professionals recommended a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes to treat PTSD effectively. However, everyone’s situation is different, making it important to receive a personalized treatment plan.

Readjusting To Life With PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder can make it challenging to find satisfaction and joy in life. People with this disorder may be consumed by thoughts and feelings related to their trauma, making it difficult to stay present and engaged in the moment. Although confronting trauma with a professional may seem intimidating, it often helps people forge a path to recovery. Reaching out for help is a sign of bravery, not weakness, and can be the first step toward a healthier, more productive life.

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