When most people think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they envision debilitating anxiety and depression that seems apparent from the outside. But some people exhibit signs of high-functioning PTSD, and they might not be as obvious as you thought. Some people can experience PTSD and still manage to get through their day-to-day lives, but that doesn't mean their symptoms don't deserve to be looked at or that they have to live with those emotional hurdles forever.
"What many don’t realize is that PTSD is not a direct result of trauma," John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC and Chief Clinical Outreach Officer at Mountainside Treatment Center, tells Bustle. "It’s not just the experience that results in PTSD, but how the person responds to that experience internally. It depends on how the person processes and reacts to the traumatic event. A lot of times, an individual will disconnect from themselves and have a hard time being present as a result. An individual with high-functioning PTSD is someone who struggles with the symptoms of this mental illness, but not to the extent where it interferes with everyday activities and relationships."
The first step to getting the help you need is recognizing that you might be a high-functioning person living with PTSD. Discussing these symptoms with your therapist can help you get a diagnosis and figure out the best forms of treatment. Here are seven unexpected signs you have high-functioning PTSD, according to experts.
1You're Always Busy
People with high-functioning PTSD tend to be workaholics or find some other way to keep their time occupied. "Staying busy all the time allows the individual with high-functioning PTSD to not have to think about the painful memories," trauma therapist Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW, CEMDR tells Bustle. "The trauma and memories may be too overwhelming for the person that they rather stay busy to keep their mind off of what happened." Of course, having a packed schedule doesn't mean you automatically suffer from PTSD, but if you notice you may be avoiding confronting some traumatic events, it might be time to speak with a therapist.
2You Have Extreme Emotional Reactions
When you are experiencing PTSD, your fight-or-flight reactions intensify. When your body feels unsafe, you live in a state of hyper-vigilance. "This can lead to having an extreme emotional reaction (tears, feelings of hopelessness, catastrophizing) to stressful or anxious situations, especially if this reaction is much more intense than what you felt before the trauma," trauma therapist Michele Quintin, LCSW tells Bustle. Once again, the best way to deal with these emotions is to seek the help of a professional.
3You Cancel Plans
"It is common for individuals with high-functioning PTSD to cancel plans they had made with friends," says Poag. "The person wants to go out and have a good time, but when it actually comes down to going, the individual feels too overwhelmed, and does not want to go out and socialize with a lot of people. We may start to see social anxiety develop."
4You Have Insomnia
Difficulty getting to sleep at night is another symptom of high-functioning PTSD. "The individual is exhausted from pushing themselves all day both mentally and physically," says Poag. "It takes a lot of energy to maintain the image of everything is together and fine. When the individual goes to lay down for the night, they often start to ruminate about the days events or what is coming up in the future. Even though the individual is tired, the brain is still active, and they are not able to sleep." Insomnia can have many causes, but if difficulty falling asleep seems to be the result of anxiety, a therapist can help you.
5You Have Digestive Issues
Many people with PTSD experience digestive issues due to the mental stress that they are under. "The brain sends signals to the stomach that the brain is under a great deal of stress, and as a result we start to see digestive issues and stomach pain," says Poag. Like insomnia, digestive issues can be caused by a variety of factors, so if you're questioning where these problems may be coming from, a trip to the doctor's can help clarify.
7You Are Experiencing Disordered Eating
"An eating disorder may also be seen in high-functioing PTSD," says Poag. "The individual may be trying to numb theirselves from the painful memory of the trauma or release the intense emotions they have built up inside."
If you've gone through a traumatic event and are experiencing these symptoms, consult a therapist who can help give you the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.