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PTSD: What Is It and How Do You Treat It?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, aka “PTSD,” is a complex mental disorder that affects both adults and children. After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a life-threatening accident or active military combat, you may have trouble coping and adjusting back into “normal” life. For some, the effects may last much longer and be hyperintense, even dangerous.

Symptoms of PTSD may not present immediately following trauma. For some, they appear even years later. In adults, PTSD symptoms generally express themselves in one of four categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.

Potential symptoms of PTSD

Intrusive thoughts. This symptom presents as a person reliving the event over and over in their mind. As you can imagine, this can be completely paralyzing, as the trauma victim constantly lives in a fearful state. Sometimes, a person will have flashbacks, making them feel as if they are right back in the traumatizing event. Nightmares are another common feature of this PTSD symptom.

Avoidance. This PTSD symptom results in the person avoiding talking, thinking or revisiting anything related to the traumatic event. They may even avoid people, places or activities that remind them of the moment.

Negative changes in thinking and mood. This symptom carries a similarity to severe depression and anxiety disorder. Negative thoughts about themselves and feelings of hopelessness about the world can have an impact on everyday functioning for people with PTSD. They may feel detached from family members and even close friends and will have trouble maintaining relationships. For some, emotional numbness is an element of this symptom.

Changes in physical and emotional reactions. This symptom may be one of the more common ones portrayed in the media when it comes to PTSD. People who have heightened reactions may be easily startled, feel always on edge and have trouble sleeping and concentrating. It’s as if they’re just waiting for the event to recur and, in their mental state of fight-flight-freeze, they can’t calm their nervous system. Sometimes, this can lead to aggressive or destructive behavior.

A word about kids

Children can also suffer from PTSD and, although they may have some of these same symptoms, there are others to be aware of as well. Kids, for instance, may re-enact a traumatic event through play. They may also have frightening dreams, such as night terrors, which may or may not include aspects of the event itself. Younger children may get upset if their parents are not nearby. It is important to be aware of the similarities and differences in which adults and children express the symptoms of PTSD.

How doctors can help

Common treatments for PTSD include psychotherapies and medication. Many sufferers benefit from cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). When combined with medications such as SSRIs, there is a good chance of recovery. 

Some alternative therapies are also known to help those who suffer from PTSD. Meditation, for instance, is on its way to being scientifically proven as a great tool for those who have suffered a traumatic event. Through mindfulness and breathwork, meditation can help the practitioner arrive in the present moment where their body and mind are safe. Some specific forms of meditation, such as iRest Yoga Nidra, have made their way into veterans’ programs around the country. 

Those who suffer from PTSD may find it important to also engage in support groups, especially with others who have been through the same type of traumatic event. By getting the professional help they need and undergoing therapy, many patients find healing and a new lease on living life without PTSD.

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