Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional and psychological reaction to trauma. People develop PTSD after experiencing a shocking or frightening event, such as a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
People with PTSD often seem jumpy and irritable, haunted by recurring memories called “flashbacks.” A flashback can be triggered by a loud noise, a distinctive odor, a disturbing image, or a violent emotion — even a holiday that evokes the traumatic event. Untreated PTSD symptoms often come and go for decades.
There are a variety of signs and symptoms of PTSD. The characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder vary from person to person, but PTSD symptoms fall into one of four categories.
- Re-experiencing the event: this involves having dreams and nightmares related to the event, recurrent involuntary memories of the event, traumatic flashbacks, anxious reactions to reminders of the event and/or hallucinations
- Avoidance: this symptom often manifests as pulling back from close emotional contact with family and friends, creating distance from people or places that are reminders of the event, experiencing memory loss about the event, or having feelings of detachment or emotional numbness
- Negative Thoughts and Feelings: this symptom involves having trouble remembering parts of the event(s); negative beliefs about yourself, others, and the world; thoughts about the cause of the event(s); negative feelings (guilt, shame, anger, sadness); loss of interest in activities; and difficulty feeling positive emotions
- Hyperarousal: hyperarousal can include anger and irritability, difficulty falling or staying asleep, being easily startled or having trouble concentrating
There may also be physical signs of post-traumatic stress disorder such as:
- Stomach and digestive problems
- Chest pain
Very often people with PTSD will end up abusing drugs and alcohol.