Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after a person has been exposed to severe trauma such as violence or abuse that they are powerless to stop. Survivors of trauma often respond by mentally shutting down and avoiding their emotions as a way of avoiding their pain.
In this sense, avoidance is a short-term coping strategy that allows survivors to function. But over the long-run avoidance becomes an obstacle to healthy functioning, and turns post-traumatic stress into a disorder. The suppressed emotions have to come out somehow, and they often come out in the form of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, nightmares, and rage.
The chances of developing PTSD vary greatly depending on the person and the nature of the trauma. Approximately 9 percent of people exposed to significant trauma in an urban setting develop post-traumatic stress disorder. According to studies, approximately 20 to 45 percent of combat veterans experience PTSD at some point after war or peacekeeping operations.,
The main symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are the following:
Do not attempt to diagnose yourself. If you feel you have some of these symptoms, you should speak to your doctor or a specialist about PTSD. Making the diagnosis of PTSD can be subtle, and can trigger memories that you may not able to handle on your own.
"The best way to get rid of your feelings is to feel them." Seek professional help. Find a qualified professional or treatment program that has experience in dealing with PTSD.
Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat well, exercise, and take time to relax.
Don't self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol temporarily numb your feelings, but they're not healthy coping skills. Drugs and alcohol prevent you from doing the work you need to do to overcome your symptoms. Drugs and alcohol are also brain depressants, which leads to more problems down the road.
Talk to people. You don't have to talk about your trauma if you don't want to. Just reach out and spend time with your friends and family. Make it clear that you just want to keep it light and you'll talk when you're ready. Connecting with people is healing.
Join a support group. Ask your health care professional about PTSD groups. Look them up in your local phone book, or contact your community social services. A support group will help you feel that you're not alone. You'll also learn tips about how other people have dealt with this.
It’s been my experience that some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder, not after one overwhelming trauma, but after many accumulated smaller traumas. If you don’t know how to let go of stress, many repeated traumas can have the same effect as one big trauma. This is supported by the fact that not everyone who is exposed to major trauma develops post-traumatic stress disorder.
Adults who develop post-traumatic stress disorder are usually the ones who have had painful or traumatic childhoods. In their case the final trauma is just the top layer of many accumulated traumas. Past traumas become interconnected so that one triggers another, and older traumas intensify newer ones.
Therefore, I prefer to think of post-traumatic stress as accumulated traumatic stress disorder. This emphasizes that the treatment is letting go of layers of trauma not just the last trauma. Letting go of the past is what sets you free. (Reference: Anxiety and Depression Guide)
Both mind-body relaxation and cognitive therapy are often used in combination as part of the treatment of PTSD. For more information, refer to the external links below.
1) N. Breslau, R.C. Kessler, H.D. Chilcoat, L.R. Schultz, G.C. Davis, P. Andreski, "Trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in the community: The 1996 Detroit Area Survey of Trauma," Archives of General Psychiatry 55 (1998): 626–632.
2) BP Dohrenwend, JB Turner, NA Turse, BG Adams, KC Koen, R Marshall. The psychological risk of Vietnam for U.S. veterans: A revisit with new data and methods. Science. 2006; 313(5789):979-982.
3) J Sareen, SL Belik, TO Afifi, GJ Asmundson, BJ Cox, MB Stein. "Canadian military personnel's population attributable fractions of mental disorders and mental health service use associated with combat and peacekeeping operations." Am J Public Health. 2008 Dec;98(12):2191-8. Epub 2008 Oct 15.
4) B. Manville. Cool, Hip & Sober: 88 Ways to Beat Booze and Drugs (A Forge Book, 2003), p. 228.