Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very serious, often misunderstood mental condition in which a person faces long-term mental health challenges due to stress in the wake of a traumatic event. When a person experiences a situation that is scary, shocking, or even dangerous, it is normal to feel afraid. However, in some situations, the emotions experienced are so acute that the brain makes a lasting change to protect the person, so that he or she will avoid feeling that way again. Such situations can be described as traumatic. PTSD has often been associated with soldiers who experience the horrors of war. But trauma is common to the human condition, and so is PTSD.
Trauma has two definitions. First, it can refer to the event that causes injury to the person. But it can also refer to the injury itself. In a car accident, the force that strikes the car, causing the driver to make contact with the interior is referred to as trauma. But so is the bleeding and tissue damage that gets diagnosed in the ER. In human psychology, this same distinction occurs. When a child watches one parent strike the other violently, the event is – for that child – trauma. However, the damage done to that child’s psyche and his or her ability to trust others or believe in healthy relationships is likewise trauma.
Significant trauma causes the brain to change. It makes a mental note to produce physical or psychological symptoms when confronted with new events that resemble the one(s) that caused the initial trauma. It does this to help the person avoid further physical or psychological damage. The individual may be consciously aware of this response, or unaware. Usually, these subsequent events that follow the initial trauma are nowhere near as dangerous or concerning. However, the brain does not know this. These lesser troubling events (and their fear-inducing components) are referred to as triggers.
The symptoms of PTSD are too numerous to list here. But we will describe a few classes of symptoms:
A person with PTSD can have thoughts about their traumatic event, remember it in their mind, or even relive it as if it were happening again. They can have upsetting dreams or nightmares about it. They can also experience extreme emotional distress whenever they are confronted with a situation that reminds them of the event.
Some people with PTSD will consciously or unconsciously avoid people, places, or situations that might trigger them. They may also try to avoid thinking or talking about the event.
People with PTSD are often depressed, have negative thoughts, and can even be suicidal. They can withdraw from friends and family, and have poor relationships. They can also have negative thoughts about the future and the world, or lack interest in fun or daily activities.
Individuals with PTSD can be on edge or easily frightened, or always looking out for danger. They can have trouble sleeping or concentrating, carry a sense of guilt or shame, or engage in risky or self-destructive behavior. Young children can have frightening dreams, or re-enact their traumatic experiences (or aspects of it) through play or artwork.
Scientists are not completely sure about the cause of PTSD, although it is likely a combination of trauma, the individual’s brain chemistry and temperament, and mental health profile. Trauma (whether acute or long-term) is the biggest risk factor of PTSD; people who work in a profession that requires one to witness trauma on a regular basis have an increased risk. Having mental health problems, or having relatives who do, are also risk factors. People who abuse substances are at an increased risk, as are those who do not have a strong emotional support system.
If left untreated, PTSD can cause an increase in stress and stress-related health conditions. Depression and anxiety can occur, as can suicidal thoughts and actions. Individuals with PTSD can also engage in risky behaviors or various forms of addiction.
The two main methods for treating PTSD are Psychotherapy and Medication. Medication is mainly used to improve symptoms. Antidepressants can improve a person’s mood and help them sleep and concentrate more easily. Anti-anxiety medications can relieve anxiety symptoms, although they are usually only prescribed for the short term.
Psychotherapy is critical for helping people learn how to respond to triggers and look at the world with hope and positivity. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that invites people to explore the connection between their thoughts and their emotions, which is very helpful when a person is learning how not to be triggered. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a specific type of psychotherapy which attempts to deconstruct an individual’s connection between their memories and their emotional response to them. For many people, it works very well.
PTSD is a serious but common affliction, and the professionals at Essential Care NJ have many tools for treating it. Psychotherapy and Medication are highly effective when administered properly. Depending on the nature of your trauma, your therapist will pursue a mode of treatment that is right for you.
At Essential Care NJ, we hold to our core values of fairness, integrity, and honesty. Our purpose is to provide accessible, holistic, patient-centered care that enables our patients to lead stress-free, healthy lives. Our professionals always make your well-being their number one priority. Our goal is your peace of mind.
Limiting beliefs and emotions are no joke. If you have been through some horrible experiences in your life and feel like they may be causing you stress or holding you back, or if you notice yourself being triggered by events that are not dangerous, then you may want to be evaluated for PTSD. Use the search tool on this website to locate the Essential Care office that is convenient to you, and call to set up an appointment. We are always grateful for the opportunity to help people uncover the traumatic events from their past and find healing. People who don’t know what that feels like may continue to suffer for years. But when they do find healing, they experience a transformation that brings an unprecedented joy and freedom into their lives.