1. How is stress different from post-traumatic stress?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is still a form of stress so there is some overlap with the symptoms of regular stress. Regular stress can be thought of as the experiences and tensions we have on a daily basis that can potentially lead to anxiety, depression and physical illness. Post-traumatic stress is specific to a trauma, or possibly repeated trauma, and the symptoms will usually include those of regular stress and more besides.
2. What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress?
The psychological effects of a trauma may be immediate, but commonly do not reveal themselves until weeks or months later (but usually within 6 months of the trauma). Flashbacks and nightmares are a common symptom, but so too is hypervigilance, where you simply can’t relax. Another common symptom is avoidance and emotional numbing. Here you become more reclusive, preoccupied with distractions like work or hobbies and you avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma.
3. Can anyone get PTSD?
Yes. PTSD can affect children as well as adults. What is more difficult to predict is emotional reaction and recovery. The same trauma can affect people in very different ways. Surviving a major incident, like an aircraft crash, is likely to result in an acute stress reaction. Here, the symptoms of PTSD appear but will pass after a few weeks. For some people this coming-to-terms process seems to grind to a halt and this is when the disorder sets in.
4. So if I avoid accidents, wars and disasters I should avoid PTSD?
It’s not so straight forward. PTSD is almost like a slap in the face that happens when you least expect it. It is something that says "you are very vulnerable". For example, witnessing a random traumatic implies it could just as easily have been you. Receiving unexpected news of the death of a friend or loved one can have the same effect.
5. Are there different types of PTSD?
Yes. If we include regular stress and acute stress reaction into the mix there are actually five different types. So-called uncomplicated PTSD is a third type and refers to symptoms that do not include additional issues such as depression, panic, substance misuse. Where these additional symptoms occur the term co-morbid PTSD is used. The fifth form of PTSD is called complex PTSD and refers to people who have repeatedly experienced violence, neglect or abuse, often as children.
6. Can I tell if I have PTSD?
Probably, yes. If you have experienced a traumatic event and you feel your emotions and behaviors have changed as a result you may well be experiencing some or all of the symptoms of PTSD. If you experience flashbacks, nightmares, are numb or emotionally depleted, feel edgy and irritable and are maybe, eating, drinking or using drugs differently, then you would appear to fit the within the criteria.
7. I think I may have had PTSD. How can I tell if I’ve recovered?
If you don’t find yourself dwelling on the past trauma at inappropriate times, you don’t feel threatened or vulnerable and you can recall the trauma without feeling great distress, the chances are higher that you may have recovered.
8. I think I have PTSD, what should I do?
You should certainly pay a visit to your doctor and explain your concerns. The assessment and treatment of PTSD is a specialised area but there are things you can do to help yourself too.
9. What are the PTSD treatment options?
Various treatment options are available. Depending on your symptoms these could include medications as well as some form of psychological intervention. At the moment there is no evidence that points to a single form of therapy having superior benefits so treatment is based on personal circumstances and treatment availability and specialisms in your area.
10. What are the PTSD self-help options?
Try to get your life back on track. This means sticking to your regular routines and work patterns. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences and don’t be afraid to revisit the place where a trauma occurred. Take account of the fact that your concentration may not be as sharp so take care when using equipment or driving. If you don’t already, add some regular exercise into your life and look to a well balanced and nutritious diet. Make sure you sleep routine is regular and avoid alcohol and drug use.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.