Do You Need Trauma Therapy? Five Signs You May Have PTSD

woman staring in fear while covering ears

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can have long-lasting implications for the person experiencing them; PTSD is a mental health condition that develops due to a traumatic event.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD?

According to trauma specialists, PTSD symptoms usually present around one month after a traumatic experience – however, it is possible for people to develop symptoms of PTSD years after a traumatic event.

Everyone experiences PTSD symptoms differently.

Each person experiences PTSD symptoms differently. For instance, an individual may go for long periods without signs, or the symptoms appear less severe; this can be followed by episodes where symptoms worsen.

In contrast, other people experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms persistently and severely.

Symptoms of PTSD

signs psychosis sad man alone sitting

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition triggered by frightening events – you may have experienced a traumatic event directly, heard about it, or witnessed something terrible happen.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Intense anxiety
  • Intrusive or uncontrollable thoughts

Adjusting to life after a traumatic event

After experiencing a traumatic event, you may struggle to adjust to ordinary life – coping and thriving after something awful can be challenging but not impossible.

Many people with PTSD lead happy, fulfilling lives, and with time and proper self-care measures, most individuals experience an improvement in their symptoms.

However, for some people, the symptoms of PTSD can last for months or years, disrupting their entire lives and impacting their daily functioning.

Advice and support

If you are struggling with symptoms of PTSD, you must speak to a mental health professional for advice and treatment; effective treatment can help reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

Five signs you may have PTSD

To be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, you must demonstrate the following five symptoms:

1. Exposure to a traumatic event

To be diagnosed with PTSD, you will have been exposed to threatened or actual death – this may include life-threatening illness, serious injury, or a severe physical or sexual assault.

 PTSD can be triggered in instances where you:

  • Witness the event firsthand as it happens to others
  • Directly witness the event.
  • Have repeated exposure to details about a traumatic event that is disturbing or upsetting. For example, police officers often repeatedly hear details about child abuse or murder cases.
  • Hear about a traumatic event that happened to a close friend or family member. In instances of actual or threatened death, the event is usually accidental or violent.

2. Intrusive thoughts or feelings

sad young lady looking out by the window

Another criteria for a PTSD diagnosis is intrusive symptoms – these usually begin after a traumatic event. They include:

  • Upsetting, recurring dreams related to the traumatic event.
    Note: in young children, the content of their dreams may not be directly associated with a traumatic experience, and they may have frightening dreams that are harder to recognize
  • Involuntary, recurrent, and intrusive disturbing memories of the traumatic event
  • Experiencing intense physical and emotional reactions to internal or external cues that may remind you of the event
  • Physiological reactions to anything that resembles or represents aspects of the traumatic event
  • Dissociation is when you have severe flashbacks and experience a complete loss of awareness of your surroundings. In young children, trauma reenactment often shows up in how they play.

3. Avoidance behaviors

Chronic avoidance of anything related to a traumatic event, such as people, places, objects, or situations, can signify PTSD.

Avoidance behaviors are usually exhibited in a few ways:

  • Attempts to avoid or altogether avoid external reminders that could trigger unwanted memories of the traumatic event, including avoiding places, people, conversations, situations, activities, and objects.
  • Attempts to avoid or avoidance of upsetting or distressing memories, feelings, or thoughts that are associated with a traumatic event

4. Changes in mood or altered mood

Mental health issues - Centres for Health and Healing

If you notice significant (negative) changes in your cognition or mood after a traumatic event – this could be a sign you have PTSD.

Such changes could be triggered or get worse after a traumatic event and might be followed by:

  • Changes in mood due to dissociative amnesia and not because of substance abuse or a head injury
  • Chronic, negative thoughts and beliefs about the cause of the traumatic event, including blaming yourself or others for what happened.
  • Adopting negative beliefs about yourself, others, and the world, you may think that ”people cannot be trusted”, that the world is dangerous, or that you are a terrible person.
  • Long-lasting negative feelings such as anger, fear, guilt, or shame
  • Feeling detached or disconnected from others.
  • An inability to enjoy activities that you once liked
  • Memory loss – includes an inability to recollect vital aspects of a traumatic event.

5. Changes in arousal and reactivity

Many people with PTSD experience arousal and reactivity changes triggered or worsened by a traumatic event.

Symptoms of altered reactivity include:

  • Self-destructive behaviour such as excessive drinking or drug-taking
  • An extreme or exaggerated startle response
  • Sleep issues such as trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Angry outbursts and irritability without much reason or cause (this may present as showing aggression toward objects or people)
  • Hypervigilance
  • Problems with concentration
  • Overwhelming shame or guilt

Trauma in children

Trauma often presents differently in children; therefore, understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma in young people is vital to provide them with proper support and nurturing.

Children aged six or younger may exhibit the following trauma symptoms:

  • Terrifying dreams that may or may not include content related to the traumatic event
  • Re-enacting the traumatic event or components of it through play

Severity of symptoms

You may experience PTSD symptoms differently depending on other factors, such as when you are feeling stressed or triggered by reminders of what happened.

For instance, you may experience increased symptoms when you drive by the hospital where your loved one was sick or hear a loud banging noise that reminds you of traumatic combat experiences.

Speaking to a doctor or mental health professional

Behavioural therapy - Centres for Health and Healing

If you think your symptoms of PTSD are severe or you are struggling to cope, or if you have had disturbing thoughts or feelings for more than a month, you might consider speaking to your doctor or mental health professional.

Early treatment can help alleviate your distress and prevent PTSD symptoms from worsening.

Risk factors

Various factors can put someone at risk of developing PTSD.

Although people from all ages and backgrounds can develop PTSD, some factors may put a person at higher risk, such as:

  • Having other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression
  • Experiencing trauma in childhood, such as child abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing chronic or long-lasting trauma
  • Having a substance use disorder such as alcohol or drug addiction
  • Having a family history of mental illness, including anxiety or depression
  • Lacking a robust support system of family and friends
  • Working in a traumatic environment such as the military or within a critical care environment

Implications

Traumatic events can disrupt our lives, and the ensuing symptoms can impair functioning where a life that once felt safe and whole becomes profoundly limited.

However, there are ways that people can cope with their experiences and get their symptoms under control.

If left untreated, PTSD can impact a person’s entire life – it may disrupt their work, health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

PTSD can also lead to other complications such as:

  • Problems with substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviours

Treatment

The emotional and physical symptoms of PTSD can be extremely frightening and unpleasant, but recovery is possible.

There are various treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder, including:

  • Psychotherapy
  • EMDR – eye movement desensitization reprocessing
  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Substance abuse treatments for people with concurrent disorders, for example, those diagnosed with PTSD and an alcohol use disorder.

Acceptance

The above therapies can help individuals accept traumatic events that occurred in the past by remembering them, putting words to the experience, and thus, feeling much safer after acknowledging the magnitude of their experiences.

Processing traumatic memories

Trauma therapies such as EMDR use bilateral stimulation to target traumatic memories – this method uses eye movements to help the brain to process traumatic memories guided by a therapist.

EMDR has proven to be an effective trauma therapy that helps reduce the intensity of feelings and emotions associated with traumatic memories and is a pioneering treatment in the resolution of trauma.

Looking ahead

happy woman with arms spread out

Life after a traumatic event may not be the same as it was before. Still, leading a joyous, fulfilling life is possible after trauma, and early treatment and support can kick start the recovery process.

Trauma reactions 

Many reactions are common in trauma – such as anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, and depression – there are no absolutes as we all process traumatic experiences differently.

Fortunately, most people exposed to trauma eventually lead happy, content lives and do not develop long-term post-traumatic stress disorder.

Strong support system

Some people benefit from therapy, while others seek comfort in faith or a robust support system.

Surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you may prevent you from turning to destructive coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or drug use.

Contact Centres for Health and Healing

We specialize in treating various mental health disorders, including trauma, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.

Our specialist team is always on hand to listen and offer compassion, understanding, and a safe place to express yourself to your fullest capacity.

Contact our team today to begin your journey to wellness.

Helpful resources

  1. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Mayoclinic
  2. What Are the 5 Signs of PTSD? – MedicineNet – Karthik Kumar, MBBS, 1st June 2022
Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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