If you, or someone you love, has recently been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you might have questions about what the diagnosis means and what you can do to help relieve symptoms. The first step to managing symptoms is learning about the condition. The following are 10 things you might not know about PTSD.
Veterans aren’t the only people who develop PTSD.
You have probably heard a lot about PTSD as it relates to veterans. While veterans can, and often do, develop PTSD as a result of combat experiences, other people can also develop PTSD. Survivors of accidents, abuse or natural disasters are also at risk of PTSD. People who witness accidents or violent crimes, or even hear gunshots or know the victim of a crime, can also develop PTSD. Those who suffer from a traumatizing medical condition, such as a heart attack or a stroke, are also at risk.
Women develop PTSD too.
Because it is often thought of as a veteran’s disorder, many people think that men develop PTSD more than women. However, research is showing that women are diagnosed with PTSD more often than men, with ten percent of all women having symptoms of PTSD sometime in their life. The higher rate in women could be because women are more likely to seek treatment.
There are treatments for PTSD.
There are several different ways of treating PTSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one way and might be the most effective treatment. Other treatments include antidepressant medications and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) which is an eight step program to help people cope with disturbing memories.
Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person.
Some of the main symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, hyper-arousal and panic attacks. However, not everyone experiences all of these symptoms and those that do might not experience their symptoms with the same intensity, for example, not everyone with PTSD has flashbacks.
You can have physical symptoms.
As with other anxiety disorders, some people experience physical symptoms, such as generalized aches and pains, headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia and irritability. Like other symptoms, not everyone is going to experience all of these symptoms and each person might experience different degrees of symptoms.
You might avoid people you love and activities you once enjoyed.
For some people with PTSD, people, places and situations can trigger symptoms of PTSD. Some people find they avoid people and places, even if these were once important to them, for example, someone who suffered from childhood abuse might avoid spending time in their childhood home or seeing relatives because it reminds them of the abuse, even if there is no longer any danger of being abused.
Hyper-arousal is a common symptom of PTSD.
Hyper-arousal means you are on high alert for danger. You might feel this way even if you are in a safe place. Hyper-arousal can cause you to feel jumpy, be easily started and feel on edge. During times of hyper-arousal you might experience panic attacks or have trouble sleeping. During hyper-arousal your adrenalin levels are high, which can cause physical stress on your body.
Practicing daily gratitude might help.
Focusing on what you are grateful for in your life can help reduce acute symptoms of PTSD. Experts suggest finding three things you are grateful for when you feel symptoms begin. This exercise can help lower the intensity of symptoms and allow you to focus on positive things in your life.
Behavioral strategies can help reduce acute symptoms of PTSD.
Besides treatment and gratefulness, there are other behavioral strategies that can be used to help reduce PTSD symptoms. Participating in vigorous exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, consciously distracting yourself with activities such as gardening, reading, music or other hobbies can help to reduce symptoms.
Mindfulness exercises help.
Mindfulness is living in the present moment. Symptoms are usually highest when you are reliving the event or focusing on the distress you felt. Doing something that helps to ground you in the present moment can help to lower your level of symptoms. Having an “anchor,” or physical object you hold, such as a stone, a picture of a loved one or some other object, can help to bring them back to the present moment.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.