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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, describes our bodies’ natural responses to traumatic events. A traumatic event is loosely defined as an event which causes us physical, emotional, or psychological pain, distress or harm. This event is experienced as a threat to one’s safety and stability. After a trauma, our instincts kick in and elicit a series of physiological responses, which, if left untreated or un-interfered with, can actually alter our brain chemistry and our ability to respond differently to events thereafter.
PTSD can be caused by a variety of things, including but not limited to witnessing violence, engaging in military combat, an assault, being a part of a natural disaster or accident, or losing one’s job or moving. Trauma is subjective and what one person may experience as traumatic, another may not.
It is speculated that when faced with overwhelming trauma, our mind is unable to process information and feelings in a normal way. Thus, after a traumatic event is experienced, our brain’s ability to react properly to other events (which likely remind us of the traumatic event) is greatly inhibited, causing an unwanted physical, emotional, and biological reaction. Certain psychological pre-factors (such as low self-esteem) are believed to make this process worse.
While there are a variety of possible symptoms of PTSD, there are a few categories of symptoms often experienced.
Intrusive or re-experiencing symptoms include
Avoidant symptoms include:
Increased arousal symptoms include:
The reality is any and everyone is at risk for developing PTSD, because life circumstances are the precursor to this diagnosis, and anyone can experience a trauma at any time. Heightened risk factors include those who have experienced a trauma earlier in life, those who have a job that continually expose you to traumatic events (such as being in the military, being a fireman or police officer, etc), those who already suffer from anxiety or depression, and those who lack a good support system.