Post-Traumatic Stress: Understanding What It Is

Post-traumatic stress

In order to understand post-traumatic stress (PTS), we must first understand what trauma is. Trauma is a type of injury that is so significant that, it has negative lasting effects on a person. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, or all the above. You can go through traumatic experiences at any point in your life but for most people, childhood trauma is quite common. It often has long-term effects on a person. In the past, we believed that it was mainly soldiers who had returned from war zones, who experienced post-traumatic stress. Today, we know that that this is actually not the case. There are many situations that can cause post-traumitic stress in the life of a person.


Health Challenges: Chronic illnesses, surgery, near death experiences

Assault: A common cause of post-traumatic stress is assault. Examples include, rape, molestation, verbal, fights, physical attacks, torture, etc.

Life Experiences: Post-traumatic stress can be caused by the  loss of a job/loved one/home, war, natural disasters, betrayal from people we love and trust, financial ruin, reputation ruin, etc.

Witnessing: Many people are unaware that watching something traumatic happen, can cause trauma to the person witnessing it. Examples include, witnessing an assault, murder, fights, severe injury, death and childbirth.


Symptoms of post-traumatic stress appear during and after the traumatic event and occur on a spectrum. This means that they range from mild/subtle, short term/long term and severe/obvious. There is a close link between symptoms of post-traumatic stress and the how the body responds to stress. These symptoms are often seen after the traumatic event has taken place. Symptoms that occur shortly after the event are called acute stress reaction/disorder. However, iff symptoms last for more than 1 month, the diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder.

Physiological (Body): Sweating, heavy and rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, shaking, stomach aches, difficulty sleeping (insomnia), loss of appetite, self-harm, etc. 

Psychological (Mind): Intrusive & persistent thoughts, flashbacks, suspiciousness/mistrust, victim mentality, survivor’s guilt if others did not survive, self-blame, 

Behavioral (Actions): Hypervigillance, avoidance of situations related to the trauma, high sensitivity to stimuli (eg touch, noise, light), social isolation/withdrawal from others, substance use & abuse (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, etc.)

Emotional (Feelings): Fear, panic, anxiety, sadness/depression, feeling unsafe, shame, feeling powerless, numb/disconnected,


Psychotherapy/Professional Counseling: Therapy/counseling is important in properly recovering from trauma. The proven effective therapies include Cognitive therapy (addresses thoughts that keep the trauma alive), Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR), Exposure Therapy, and Stress Inoculation Training. Other forms of therapy may work for milder forms of post-traumatic stress.

Medication: Anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, sleep aids, Prasozin (reported to help with nightmares)

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