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Despite millions of people suffering from trauma, the new buzzword in town, only a handful of people truly acknowledge its true definition, symptoms, and effects on life. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a common consequence of longstanding trauma, is a serious psychological disease that occurs secondary to extreme violence, stress, or loss. While experts first picked up this disorder centuries ago in soldiers returning from war, we have only begun to understand the full ramifications of this disease. Given its high prevalence rates in the current era, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with its symptoms, stages, and long-term effects to ensure timely recognition and management.

Even though individual symptoms of PTSD may vary from one person to another, the following four significant clusters affect almost everyone with this disorder:

Re-experiencing Symptoms

These symptoms refer to the ones that make the victim feel as if they are reliving the traumatic event. Some examples of re-experiencing symptoms include bad memories, nightmares, and frequent flashbacks. Some of these symptoms, such as flashbacks, can induce physical effects like sweating or increased heartbeat.

Avoidance Symptoms

Avoidance PTSD symptoms include keeping a distance from certain people, situations, or places that trigger bad memories related to the trauma. One may even avoid discussing or thinking about the traumatic event and are often willing to change their entire routine to make it work. For example, someone mugged while walking home may avoid that route and adopt a different road for commuting.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms of PTSD include negative thoughts about self and the world. These symptoms make it difficult for the victim to trust other people, and they may struggle to feel happy.

Hyperarousal (Reactivity) Symptoms

While normal people feel triggered by a particular situation or a person, these arousal symptoms are constant for people with PTSD. Some examples of hyperarousal symptoms include anger, stress, and an increased tendency to feel startled. These symptoms may make it hard for the victims to sleep or concentrate on day-to-day tasks. Some may even start participating in risky or unhealthy behaviors, like drinking or smoking, to overcome them.

Following are the five stages through which PTSD progresses, according to experts

Emergency Stage (Impact)

This stage begins shortly after the traumatic event when a person struggles to deal with what they have witnessed or been involved with.

Numbing Stage (Denial)

Not everyone who develops PTSD goes through the numbing stage. However, those who do will try their best to deny witnessing the traumatic event to protect themselves. Avoiding difficult emotions by numbering oneself is an attempt to ensure that these emotions do not cause any damage or stress. It is crucial to deal with this stage to overcome the trauma and move forward. 

Rescue Stage

In this phase, the afflicted individual finally accepts what they have experienced and may consider returning to the site of trauma to process it. For example, those who have lost their family due to a house fire may revisit their burnt home to process their feelings of despair, confusion, and hopelessness. While the rescue stage can be one of the most destructive phases of PTSD, it can also be the turning point where the victim desires to confront their trauma and overcome it once and for all.

Intermediate Stage (Short-Term Recovery Stage)

During the intermediate stage, a person with PTSD enters recovery by slowly starting to adjust back to everyday life. At this stage, many feel humbled by the amount of love and support from their loved ones, while others may experience disappointment due to a lack of concern shown by others.

This short-term recovery phase allows these victims to transition to a newer level of understanding and accepting their trauma and its effects on their lives. Healing may begin soon for many, allowing them to enjoy a more positive outlook on life. A few people continue to experience symptoms similar to the ones in the Rescue phase.  

Long-Term Reconstruction (Recovery Stage)

In this last stage of PTSD, the victim begins working through their problem to implement a recovery plan. During this stage, they acquire various coping mechanisms and learn to integrate them into daily life for quicker and smoother healing. The journey through the fifth stage of PTSD recovery is possibly a long one; however, with persistent efforts, it can bring about various benefits.

Failure to seek treatment can lead to the following long-term effects of PTSD on victims’ lives:

Anxiety

People with longstanding PTSD often struggle with intense feelings of nervousness and fear. They may feel like they are constantly in danger and act aggressively to ensure their safety. These strong emotions related to PTSD and anxiety attacks often compel them to use harmful coping mechanisms, like alcohol and drug abuse. These behaviors can further complicate matters while negatively impacting their physical and mental health and day-to-day performance.

Social Withdrawal

People with abuse PTSD symptoms tend to alienate themselves from friends and family members. They generally avoid society and companionship, mainly due to their feelings of detachment and helplessness from people and the environment surrounding them. They may constantly feel unsafe in other people’s company and end up worsening their health due to this social isolation.

Sleep Disturbances

People struggling with PTSD routinely experience sleep disturbances, often leading to insomnia. Some of them find it hard to fall asleep, while others cannot maintain it. These altered sleep habits make them feel drained and exhausted during the morning and exhibit daytime fatigue. In some cases, this insomnia worsens to the extent that it creates significant distress in the victims’ lives. Long-term insomnia makes it hard for them to perform everyday tasks and puts them at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Shame or Guilt

People who experience PTSD after enduring trauma in the past may feel guilt or shame. These feelings stem from thinking about how they could have done things differently to alter the outcomes. Some suffer from survivor’s guilt, a sentiment common in those who survived an unfortunate event that others did not. Such people continue to blame themselves for being responsible for the sad event. This constant self-bashing may lead to anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation.

Chronic Pain

PTSD stemming from a traumatic event like sexual or physical assault, war, automobile accident, or a natural disaster can cause chronic pain in the afflicted individuals. This pain serves as a constant reminder of the traumatic event, which only makes the PTSD symptoms worse.

Panic Attacks

PTSD panic attack happens as a response to the constant feeling of fear that victims experience. This intense fear may come without any prior warning or apparent reason. During an ongoing panic attack, the victim may feel like they are losing control of themselves or that things happening around them are not real. The duration of a typical panic attack is usually around five to twenty minutes; however, some people may continue to experience it for up to a few hours. Some common symptoms of a PTSD panic attack include:

  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Shakiness or dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A feeling of choking
  • Nausea or stomach pain

The course that PTSD adopts is unpredictable and may vary from one person to another. It may either get better or worse over time, depending on the individual circumstances of a victim and whether or not they seek treatment. Some people eventually learn how to ignore the feelings, reminders, and thoughts of trauma and start coping well with life. Their past traumas no longer impact their current life on a day-to-day basis; however, it may become impossible for them to keep stuffing down their feelings at some point. As a result, their PTSD symptoms eventually start to get worse. On the other hand, some people may notice their PTSD symptoms gradually fading away with time without seeking help. This slow fade-out allows them to rejoin all areas of their life, practice self-care slowly, and enjoy the feeling of being able to live without constant fear.

Regardless of the category you belong to, experts recommend seeking timely intervention for PTSD to prevent it from worsening. In addition to undergoing conventional trauma-focused therapy at a luxury rehab, you may consider following the self-care tips mentioned below.

Deep Breathing

To prevent anxiety due to PTSD from progressing, try deep breathing. Start the practice by breathing in through your nose and then letting it out through the mouth. Now repeat the process but hold your breath for three seconds before letting it out. Keep repeating this simple step as often as you like while increasing the length of time with every repetition.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is another excellent remedy to combat unwanted anxiety and stress. It involves tensing and relaxing different body muscles in an attempt to divert more attention to the feeling of relaxation. To practice this remedy, find a quiet spot at your house and squeeze the muscles of your left hand for a few seconds, then let it go. Exhale as you release the tension from your hand and focus on the relief you experience.

Mindful meditation

Mindful meditation allows you to reduce the negative feelings of the past and tune into the present moment. To perform mindful meditation, sit down in a quiet spot, relax, and focus on where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, and how you feel at that particular moment. Focus entirely on these questions, and do not allow your mind to wander to past traumas.

Hobbies

Consider going back to the little things you love. If you love working out, join a gym, and if you like cooking, try a new recipe. Do whatever makes you happy to divert your mind from past traumas into your current life.

Socializing

No matter how isolated PTSD makes you feel, try to overcome this loneliness by spending time with your loved ones. Dedicate at least a little bit of time every day to chat with a sibling, catch up with your parents, or hang out with old friends. Socializing has proven to increase the feelings of wellness while combating depression – two benefits people with PTSD need the most.

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