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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD 101: Stress, Trauma and Recovery

Overwhelming events of all sorts can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

You have probably heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but may not know much about it. PTSD affects not only returning war veterans traumatized by military service, but many people who are exposed to terrorism, violence and natural disasters, shattering their sense of trust and safety.

After a traumatic event, everyone experiences some stress symptoms. These are normal reactions to abnormal events. However, these symptoms gradually lift after a short time of days or weeks as emotions are processed. With PTSD, the symptoms do not decrease and may even become worse over time because of the psychological shock. This can disrupt work and home life causing misery and making it difficult to function on a daily basis.

Look at a few facts about PTSD in the USA:

  1. About seven or eight out of every 100 people (or 7-8 percent of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Children and adolescents can also have PTSD.
  2. About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  3. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. About 10 percent of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with 5 percent of men.

Negative changes in beliefs and feelings of unease and distrust can be a result of ongoing symptoms, along with guilt, shame, substance abuse and suicide. Extreme and prolonged threat to personal safety increases the risk of developing PTSD and human-inflicted traumas tend to be more damaging than impersonal accidents or natural disasters.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of PTSD and start treatment as soon as possible to prevent escalating problems and improve the ability to function in everyday life. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms:

  1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event: flashbacks, nightmares, upsetting memories causing distress, intense physical reactions (e.g. nausea, sweating, pounding heart).
  2. Avoidance and numbing: not seeking help to avoid talking or thinking about the event, loss of interest in activities, feeling detached and emotionally numb, avoiding certain activities, a sense of a limited future.
  3. Increased anxiety and emotional arousal: irritability, anger outbursts, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, startled by loud noises, feeling jumpy or jittery, hyper-vigilance.

Treatment will help relieve symptoms, offering an outlet for suppressed emotions by processing those emotions and sensations. This release can help the individual gain back a sense of control over their life by helping them learn to cope with the memories and feelings they experienced.

There are several options available for good treatment of PTSD. One or more may be used as people may respond better to a combination of therapies. Learning about the different choices can help with making the decision to start a treatment plan.

For therapy to work, it is very important to find the right trained therapist who makes the individual feel comfortable and safe. Fear or anxiety about the treatment itself can prevent success; trust and comfort are an important part of being able to feel understood. PTSD is a serious psychological disorder that needs to be addressed for better health.

More from Constance Scharff Ph.D.
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