Traumatic Stress

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following any event that makes you fear for your safety. Most people associate PTSD with rape or battle-scarred soldiers, but any event, or series of events, that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leaves you emotionally shattered can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.

PTSD can affect people who personally experience the threatening event, those who witness the event, or those who pick up the pieces afterwards, such as emergency workers. PTSD can also result from surgery performed on children too young to fully understand what's happening to them.

Symptoms of Traumatic Stress

1: Re-experiencing the traumatic event

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the trauma (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

 

2: Avoidance and numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that are reminders of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of a limited future (not expecting to live a normal life)

 

3: Hyperarousal

  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled
  • Aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behavior

 

4: Negative thoughts & mood changes

  • Guilt or shame
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Depression and hopelessness

 

In children—especially very young children—the symptoms of PTSD can be different from adults and may include:

Fear of being separated from parent
Losing previously-acquired skills (such as toilet training)
Sleep problems and nightmares
Somber, compulsive play in which themes or aspects of the trauma are repeated
New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma (such as a fear of monsters)
Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings
Aches and pains with no apparent cause
Irritability and aggression

“Non-traumatic stressful life events (work, school, financial, health, marriage, or significant change) are as likely as traumatic events to cause symptoms typically associated with Post-Traumatic Stress.”
~Post-Traumatic Stress without Trauma
Harvard Mental Health Letter (December, 2005)

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