When you think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you might imagine someone who's fought in a war, survived a life-threatening disease, or experienced a natural disaster. These situations can certainly leave a person with symptoms of the disorder. But since there are so many signs of PTSD, and so many triggers, the issue is probably way more common than you think.
"Following exposure to a traumatic event, most people will experience some [PTSD] symptoms, but they will eventually dissipate within a month," licensed psychologist Vanessa H. Roddenberry, PhD tells Bustle. "However, some individuals will experience a problem in recovery in which these symptoms hang around."
You might be able to pinpoint the traumatic event that's led to your PTSD, like a car crash or a robbery. But you can also have symptoms from something that happened so long ago — like in early childhood — that you aren't even sure why you feel weird, or what the source of your problems might be. In any case, rest assured it is possible to feel better.
"If you suspect you are experiencing PTSD, know that this is not a life sentence," Roddenberry says. "There's a good deal of misinformation out there stating that it's incurable, but this is patently not true. Recovery is 100 percent possible with treatment." Read on for signs PTSD might be affecting you (or someone you know). If anything sounds familiar, don't be afraid to reach out to a therapist for help.
If you're too afraid to leave home, or catch yourself avoiding certain people, places, or situations, take it as a sign. "Individuals experiencing avoidance symptoms may find that they intentionally avoid thinking about or going to places related to the [traumatic] event," Roddenberry says. While this reaction is totally understandable, it can make you feel worse. "Avoidance is the glue that holds PTSD together, as it perpetuates negative assumptions and eventually shrinks one's world down over time."
When you're brain's bogged down with trauma, it can affect your ability to concentrate, as well as your ability to be "present" in the moment. As Roddenberry tells me, you might even feel distracted or irritable. And it can really hold you back.
3. Feeling Afraid, Anxious, Or Jumpy
If you're feeling anxious "for no reason" or having panic attacks, take note. "A person could be going about their day and seemingly with no trigger, they will suddenly feel very nervous of afraid," Alicia Bradley, a licensed clinical professional counselor, tells Bustle. "Although the person experiencing this might not understand why, something triggered the brain to think the person was in danger." It could be a loud noise, or even a smell that reminds you of a traumatic event.
4. Mood Swings
If you went through a traumatic experience, it can affect you for years in the form of mood swings and trouble regulating your emotions. "The person may be quick to get angry, may become aggressive, or become upset in other ways very quickly," Bradley says. It can even make you so difficult to be around, that friends and family have started backing away.
5. Intrusive Thoughts And Flashbacks
If you're ever walking down the street and then suddenly, boom, you're overcome with an intrusive thought, or it feels like you're "reliving" a past memory, it could be due to PTSD. "Flashbacks can sometimes be so strong, that the person experiencing them will essentially lose touch with reality and their brain/body will make it seem like they are experiencing the traumatic event again," Bradley says. "Without proper treatment, the person will likely not be able to control these symptoms."
6. Chronic Insomnia
If you can't sleep at night, it might have something to do with that giant cup of coffee you had mid-afternoon. Or, it could be a sign of PTSD. "Chronic insomnia is ... frequent awakening during the night, but people often don't realize it is due to their PTSD," author and psychiatrist Scott Carroll, MD. "It can be so chronic that people learn to function on just a few hours of sleep a night."
7. Substance Abuse
While it's OK to have a few drinks throughout the week, take note if you're constantly turning to substances in order to calm down. "Needing to use substances (alcohol, cannabis, opioids, etc.) to relax or to enjoy yourself in a social setting is common," Carroll says. "Similarly, binge eating ... can also be caused by PTSD." These issues are the brain's (unhealthy) way of coping with stress.
8. Emotional Fatigue
If you're experiencing PTSD, it may show up as emotional numbness or fatigue. Like, no matter what you do, you just can't seem to care about anything. As Carroll tells me, this "checked out" feeling is a common, but not so well-known, symptom of the disorder.
9. Sexual Promiscuity
It's awful to think about, but sexual promiscuity may be more than just wanting to have fun. As Carroll says, "Sexual promiscuity and being excessively flirtatious and attention seeking ... can actually be associated with PTSD from sexual abuse as a child. Alternatively, painful sex and loss of sexual desire are associated with sexual abuse in young women."
10. Flashbacks After Giving Birth
Parents can develop PTSD after giving birth, especially if the experience was traumatic or life-threatening. "Birth Trauma is rarely diagnosed," transition-to-parenthood expert Elly Taylor tells Bustle. "It happens most often as a result of an emergency c-section, but can also happen when things go awry in any birth scenario." You and/or your partner might have flashbacks, nightmares, or feel panicky around newborns or hospitals, since they remind you of the event.
If you experienced something traumatizing, it can become sort of imprinted on your brain, causing nightmares that can keep coming back for years. "Nightmares are an important aspect to PTSD because it is the brain's way of processing the trauma," says counselor Julie Barthels, MEd, MSSW, LCSW, ACS. While the nightmares are bad enough on their own, they can contribute to a lack of sleep and, as Barthels says, "this makes coping with the trauma during the day more challenging."
If any of this sounds familiar, and you think you might be affected by a stressful event, do seek help. With a little work, you can feel better.
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