Approximately eight percent of Americans — that works out to about 24.4 million people — suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (also known as PTSD) at any one time.
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder, and many people suffer from it without realizing it.
If you think that you or someone you love is struggling with undiagnosed PTSD, read on to learn about some of the common PTSD signs you need to be on the lookout for.
Anyone Can Have PTSD
Before we get into the specific symptoms of PTSD, it’s important to note that absolutely anyone can experience this disorder.
Most people think of PTSD as being something that only veterans and assault survivors deal with. While it’s true that people who fall into these groups often suffer from PTSD, there’s no limit on who can be diagnosed with the disorder.
Absolutely anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can be diagnosed with PTSD. But, the following are some of the most common events that result in PTSD:
- Suffering or witnessing an injury or accident
- Experiencing a dangerous situation
- Witnessing a death
- Experiencing or watching someone go through a life-threatening illness
- Surviving a natural disaster
In addition to traumatic events, it should also be noted that even simply hearing about a person’s traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.
Common PTSD Signs
PTSD symptoms can be broken down into the four following categories:
Re-Experiencing a Specific Event
If you find yourself constantly re-experiencing or reliving a difficult event, you could be experiencing PTSD.
People who suffer from PTSD often re-experience trauma without consciously thinking about it. For example, you may have nightmares in which you relive the event and feel similar feelings of fear or stress that you felt when it originally took place.
Another example of re-experiencing is a flashback, in which you feel as though you’ve been taken back to the time and place of a traumatic event.
You may also see, smell, or hear things that send you back to that time. These are called triggers.
Avoiding Situations that Remind You of That Event
If you’ve experienced situations or triggers that cause you to re-experience traumatic events, you may find yourself avoiding situations in which those triggers are likely to be present.
Some examples of this include:
- Avoid large crowds because they feel unpredictable or dangers
- Avoiding driving if you were in a car accident
- Avoiding taking certain streets while driving or walking
- Avoiding watching movies that contain scenes that remind you of the traumatic event
In addition to avoiding these situations, you might also find yourself avoiding even thinking or talking about them.
Experiencing Negative Changes in Your Feelings and Beliefs
Following a traumatic event, it’s also common to experience a negative change in your previously held feelings and beliefs. Some examples of this include:
- Not having loving or positive feelings towards friends or family members
- Viewing the world as a dangerous place and feeling as though no one is trustworthy
- Forgetting specific parts of the event or finding yourself unable to talk about them
You may also have a hard time forming new relationships and opening up to others.
Finally, people who suffer from PTSD often experiencing feelings of hyperarousal. They may constantly feel jittery or on edge, as though danger is always just around the corner.
Some other feelings that come along with this hyperaroused state include:
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Being startled by loud noises
- Feeling suddenly and inexplicably irritable or angry
Some people also feel the need to sit with their back to the wall when they’re in public places in an attempt to protect themselves.
How to Cope with PTSD
If you think you may have PTSD, these tips can help you begin to cope with it in a healthy way:
Work with a Therapist
A professional therapist who specializes in PTSD treatment can help you identify triggers and learn to manage them appropriately.
Do Your Own Research
The more you know about your condition, the easier it’ll be to take in what your therapist says and figure out what works best for you.
Build a Support System
PTSD can be incredibly isolating, so it’s important to find people whom you can lean on and look to for support.
Join a Support Group
It’s also helpful to surround yourself with other people who also suffer from PTSD and know what you’re going through.
Learn Relaxation Skills
Meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga are all good tools that you can use to calm down and maintain control when you’re feeling triggered.
Write Your Feelings Down
Keep a journal and document your experiences to identify triggers and learn the best ways for you to cope with them.
Focus on Your Physical Health
Staying physically strong can help you become more resilient to emotional triggers.
Supporting a Loved One with PTSD
If you think a loved one is suffering from PTSD and aren’t sure how to best support them, keep these additional tips in mind:
Don’t Pressure Them to Talk
It’s often very difficult for people with PTSD to talk about their experiences. Pressuring them to open up before their ready will likely make them feel more unsafe.
If your loved one does want to talk about their experiences or feelings, be sure to be a good listener. Avoid offering advice or coming across as judgmental. Instead, focus on actively listening and letting them know that you support them no matter what.
Follow Their Lead
It’s tempting to try and take over to help someone who’s struggling with PTSD, but it’s important for them to feel that they’re in control. Do your best to follow their lead and avoid telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.
Remember that recovery is often a long process that typically comes with some setbacks. Do everything you can to remain positive and be patient with your loved one — they need to know you’re with them for the long haul.
The more you know about PTSD, the better able you’ll be able to understand what your loved one is going through.
Looking for Help?
Do you recognize any of these common PTSD signs? Do you or a loved one need to work with a professional to learn how to cope with your PTSD?