Sometimes the emotional effects from traumatic or terrifying events last long beyond the event itself. What begins as a normal stress reaction never fully recedes, creating long-term impacts for those affected. The result is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—an anxiety disorder that affects survivors of traumatic events.

Awareness of PTSD first emerged for soldiers returning from combat, the death and destruction they witnessed leading to flashbacks and other troublesome consequences. However, survivors of violent acts, abuse, disasters, or serious illnesses such as cancer can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Generally, people with PTSD are those who experience its symptoms for a month or more. Onset of PTSD can also vary greatly—as long as three months or, in rare cases, several years after the event.

Re-living the event

People experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder have been so traumatized that bad memories will arise either during waking hours as flashbacks or while asleep in the form of dreams. While people without PTSD might occasionally think of the incident, people with the disorder will constantly re-live it, along with the fear and anxiety it produced.

These thoughts disrupt a person’s quality of life and make it difficult for him or her to move on.

Emotional distress

Bad memories and heightened anxiety easily turn into an elevated, chronic source of tension. A person might feel ill at ease, on the edge, or be easily startled.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can also be characterized by emotional outbursts, including those generated by anger or panic. Depression or feelings of numbness can arise as the trauma of the event drowns out all other joy or hope for living a full life, or simply as a coping mechanism to avoid fully feeling the trauma.

Combined, the symptoms of emotional disturbance associated with PTSD can disturb sleep and impair relationships. Trauma from the event can develop into a mistrust of the world-at-large, and even thoughts of suicide.

Avoidance

People with post-traumatic stress disorder may avoid visiting places, seeing people, or participating in activities that will remind them of the experience. People may fear seeing something that will trigger a flashback or give rise to uncomfortable feelings. Avoidance can also manifest as problems with memory or difficulty concentrating.

What experiences have you had with post-traumatic stress disorder? 

Image ePi.Longo via Flickr

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