Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to respond to danger now and help avoid it in the future. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people will recover from those symptoms naturally.
PTSD is a disorder that some people develop after experiencing a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are no longer in danger, continuing to experience symptoms long after a trauma has occurred.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following symptoms for at least one month:
Risk and Resilience Factors for PTSD
It is important to remember that not everyone who lives though a traumatic event develops PTSD. Many factors play a part in whether a person will develop PTSD. Some of these are risk factors that make a person more likely to develop PTSD. Other factors, called resilience factors, can help reduce the risk of developing the disorder.
Risk factors for PTSD include:
- Living through dangerous events and traumas
- Getting hurt or seeing other people hurt or killed
- Childhood trauma
- Having little or no social support after the event
- Extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain or injury, or loss of a job or home
- Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse
Resilience factors for PTSD include:
- Having support from other people, such as friends and family
- Finding a support group after a traumatic event
- Learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
- Having a coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
- Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
Helpful Coping Strategies
- Social support – Seek out support from family and/or friends. People who surround themselves with close others are likely to cope more effectively with trauma.
- Grounding techniques – Remind yourself where you are located. Root your feet firmly into the ground. Touch items around you (e.g., your fuzzy blue sweater; the shiny smooth car key; your ear). Massage your forearm with your hand. Jump up and down five times.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – A process of tightening and releasing muscles from head to toe. This technique helps a person tune more into his/her body and increases one’s sense of personal control. It also can serve as an effective focus and distraction.
- Positive self-talk – Inside your head, or even out loud, coaching yourself in a positive direction can be extremely helpful. Statements such as “I am okay,” “I will get through this,” “it’s just anxiety,” “I have handled this successfully before… and I will handle it now,” “I am safe,” “just breathe,” “count backwards by 7 from 100,” and/or “this will pass.” With consistent practice, one can use favorite statements or mantras in a meditative way, to more quickly bring a sense of calm and relaxation.
Material adapted from nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
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