How PTSD Can Manifest

It’s easy to assume that everyone experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the same way. However, PTSD can reveal itself in more than a dozen ways. Discover how PTSD can manifest and learn some of the most common symptoms in children and adults.

What Might Cause PTSD?

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PTSD is a mental health condition that can result from experiencing or witnessing a wide range of traumatic events. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Car or other vehicle accidents.
  • Dog bites or other animal attacks.
  • Medical procedures.
  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, or wildfires.
  • Ongoing neglect.
  • Personal attacks, such as robberies, muggings, or torture.
  • Physical or emotional abuse or bullying.
  • Sexual abuse or assault.
  • Tragedies like bombings or shootings.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Just because you experience a traumatic event doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop PTSD. Right after such an incident, you might start having symptoms that seem like PTSD. For example, you might feel scared, anxious, or guilty. For most people, these feelings subside after a few weeks or months.

In contrast, people who have PTSD continue to have upsetting or even terrifying memories of the triggering event long after it’s over. In some cases, PTSD can manifest immediately after experiencing or witnessing an event. Other times, the symptoms may occur months later. In either case, they can last for months or years.

PTSD symptoms generally fall into four categories. To receive a PTSD diagnosis, you generally need to have one or more symptoms from each group as well as at least one of these experiences:

  • Direct exposure to or involvement with the traumatic event.
  • Secondary exposure by witnessing the event or assisting as a first responder.
  • Discovering that a close friend or family member experienced the traumatic event.

Avoidance Symptoms

If you have avoidance symptoms, you might experience:

  • Refusing to talk about the incident.
  • Blocking out all thoughts of the incident, potentially by using controlled substances.
  • Staying away from people and places that make you think of the incident.

Intrusive Memory Symptoms

If you have intrusive memory symptoms, you might experience:

  • Having repeated, unavoidable memories of the incident, even as you’re thinking about something unrelated.
  • Enduring flashbacks, or continually reliving the incident as if it were happening in real time, even as you’re in the middle of doing something else.
  • Having nightmares about the incident or waking up thinking about the trauma.
  • Enduring unwanted physical reactions or serious emotional distress when you think or see something that reminds you of the incident.

Mental and Emotional Process Symptoms

If you have changes to your mental or emotional processes, you might experience:

  • Harmful or negative thoughts about yourself, the people around you, or the world in general.
  • Blaming yourself or others for the incident.
  • Issues with or inability to have positive emotions.
  • Feelings of emotional detachment or numbness.
  • Sensations of hopelessness or despair about the future.
  • Detachment from close family and friends or problems maintaining relationships.
  • Increasing disinterest in activities or hobbies you used to like.
  • General feelings of mental or emotional isolation.
  • Inability or refusal to remember past incidents, including forgetting what happened during the traumatic event.

Physical and Emotional Reaction Symptoms

If you have changes to your physical or emotional reactions, you might experience:

  • Becoming easy to startle or frighten or having heightened reactions.
  • Constantly feeling on guard, even in safe situations.
  • Engaging in personally destructive behaviors, such as drinking excessively, taking drugs, or doing physically harmful activities.
  • Developing insomnia or having trouble sleeping.
  • Losing the ability to concentrate on tasks or conversations.
  • Feeling undue guilt or shame.
  • Having uncontrollable outbursts or constantly feeling aggressive or irritable.
  • Reenacting the incident through play, especially for children.

What Can Worsen PTSD Symptoms?

If you do develop PTSD, you could have a wide range of experiences. Some factors can increase the risk of experiencing severe PTSD, including:

  • The severity of the incident.
  • Your proximity to the incident.
  • How long the incident occurred, especially if the trauma lasted for months or years.
  • Whether the incident happened once or recurred over and over.
  • Your resilience and coping mechanisms.
  • The level of support you received from your network, which may include family, friends, and other community members.

How to Address PTSD Symptoms

After a traumatic event, it’s only natural to feel the mental, emotional, or physical effects. If you have a good support network and a healthy self-care strategy, your PTSD symptoms should alleviate over time.

As time passes, however, PTSD symptoms may not get better. It’s possible for them to get even worse. If left unchecked, PTSD can negatively impact everything in your life. It can break up your relationships, cause you to lose your job, take away your enjoyment of regular activities, and reduce your quality of life.

If you’re at risk of developing related mental health issues or if you’re already being treated for a concern, your condition could worsen. For example, you could subject yourself to an increased risk of eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts and actions.

If your symptoms are still present after a few months or if you’re having more trouble coping with the effects of the trauma you experienced, it’s critical to reach out for help. It’s important to know that PTSD is treatable, and your symptoms can improve with the right treatment.

Psychiatrists and mental health experts can diagnose and treat PTSD in adults and children. We generally perform complete mental health evaluations to identify and understand your symptoms, and then we propose a plan of action. Depending on the situation, you might have one or more treatment options. For example, you might benefit from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or medications that alleviate depression and anxiety. You might also improve with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can manage anxiety through thoughts and actions.

Whether you or a family member is dealing with PTSD, our team can help. Contact NeuroHealth Arlington Heights today to schedule an appointment or learn more about our health care team.