Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that has, for many decades, been associated with war veterans. Although most people who have been diagnosed with PTSD are soldiers who have been to combat, anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can develop the disorder.
According to a study published by the US department of veteran affairs, approximately 6.8% of Americans above the age of 18 will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.
What exactly is PTSD?
Just like the name suggests, post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event where one feels their life or the lives of others are in danger. PTSD can also develop in response to learning about a traumatic event that happened to a friend or loved one, even if you weren’t personally involved.
Common forms of trauma that can lead to PTSD include combat experiences, natural disasters, car accidents, sexual assault, domestic violence, childhood abuse or neglect, hostage situations, or terrorist attacks. PTSD can severely impair your ability to function in everyday life or lead to depression, guilt, and suicidality. If you’re struggling with PTSD, it’s crucial to seek professional help.
A Brief History of PTSD
The term “post-traumatic stress disorder” was first introduced in the 1970s, but the condition itself was first described centuries ago. In fact, reference to PTSD has been found in ancient texts and literature dating back to Homer’s Odyssey.
During World War I, PTSD was known as “soldier’s heart,” “shell shock,” or “battle fatigue.” At the time, the condition was thought to be a physical reaction to the stress of battle. It wasn’t until after World War II that PTSD was recognized as a psychological condition.
After the Vietnam War, PTSD became a household term. In 1980, PTSD became officially recognized as a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Risk Factors for Developing PTSD
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Researchers are unsure why some people develop the condition while others don’t. However, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing this debilitating disorder. These factors include:
- A personal history of mental health conditions or substance abuse
- A family history of mental health conditions
- Experiencing multiple traumatic events
- Lack of social support after the trauma
- Being physically injured during a traumatic event or seeing other people get hurt
- Poor stress coping mechanisms
How to Tell If You Have PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD can vary from one person to another. However, there are some common symptoms that most people with PTSD will experience. These symptoms can be grouped into four main categories:
Intrusive thoughts: You may have unwanted, intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event. You may also have nightmares or flashbacks where you relive the trauma.
Avoidance: You may try to avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma, including people, places, and activities. You may also find yourself withdrawing from friends and family.
Changes in mood and thinking: You may feel numb, detached, or disconnected from your emotions. You may also have negative thoughts about yourself or the world around you.
Changes in physical and emotional reactions: You may be more irritable, have trouble sleeping, or suffer from an exaggerated startle response. You may also find yourself feeling on edge or constantly on guard.
Is PTSD Preventable?
People process trauma differently, and there is no guaranteed way to prevent PTSD. However, there are certain things you can do to reduce the risk of developing this condition. These things include:
Seek Professional Help
If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, it’s essential to get professional help. A therapist can provide you with the support and tools you need to deal with your trauma.
Build a Support Network
It’s vital to have a support system of friends and family who you can rely on. These people can provide you with emotional support and help you get through tough times.
Taking care of yourself is essential for managing the stress of trauma. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
Find a Hobby
Doing things that make you happy can help you cope with the stress of trauma. This can be anything from playing an instrument to going for walks in nature.
Learn Stress Management Techniques
There are many different stress management techniques you can use to cope with trauma-related stress. Some of these techniques include massage therapy, yoga, aromatherapy, meditation, journaling, music therapy, etc.
PTSD is a serious condition that can profoundly affect your life. And although the symptoms of PTSD can be overwhelming, it’s important to remember that they are normal reactions to an abnormal event. If you’re struggling with symptoms of PTSD, the best thing to do is seek professional help from a mental health provider who specializes in trauma.