What are the Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress?

After a traumatic event, some people will experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress.

Post Traumatic Stress is not Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The later occurs when the an individual has persistent and significant symptoms of post traumatic stress for a minimum of 1 month. The symptoms of post traumatic stress can be characterized into 3 distinct areas:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks. A flashback is more than a memory. Someone experiencing a flashback feels as though he or she is “re-living” a traumatic event. This often includes emotional and physical experiences such as crying, increased heart rate (tachycardia), and/or sweating
  • Bad dreams or night terrors
  • Persistent disturbing or frightening thoughts
  • “Re-experiencing symptoms” may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. Often, one suffering from “re-experiencing symptoms” will find that there are specific triggers–such as sounds, smells, or places–that contribute to, or exacerbate, the symptoms.

This leads to the second distinct area of post-traumatic symptoms:

2. Avoidance symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb, or disassociating emotionally from one’s surroundings
  • Experiencing strong feelings of guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Having trouble recalling or remembering the traumatic event
  • Turning to alcohol or drugs to help eleviate / reduce unpleasant memories or re-experiencing symptoms
  • Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident a person who generally drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Being “jumpy” or easily startled
  • Feeling hyper-aware of one’s surroundings
  • Choosing to be located in the back corner of a room, so as to be able to view all areas
  • Checking behind yourself frequently
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling emotionally on edge, stressed out, frustrated, or angry

Instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event, hyper-arousal symptoms are generally persistent and constant. Hyper-arousal can make a person feel continuously stressed out, frustrated or angry. These persistant symptoms may make it difficult for one to complete daily tasks, such as going to work, sleeping, eating, or concentrating. In addition, over time such symptoms often can harm one’s interpersonal relationships.

Note: it’s natural and normal for one to experience some of the above symptoms after experiencing a dangerous or traumatic event. Often, post-traumatic symptoms will dissipate and even disappear completely over a matter of days or weeks.

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