In life, we encounter traumatic events that can have a devastating effect on our health– especially on our minds. Some situations can be more or less stressful, but they also bring different types of risks. What happens when our psyche can’t cope with the amount of stress we experienced? Often, it results in a diagnosis of PTSD. If you’ve recently suffered a trauma, such as a sexual assault, car accident, death of a loved one, or recently left the military, you might have PTSD. In this article, we’ll specifically address the concept of PTSD, its causes, symptoms, and treatment. At the end of this article, you’ll be closer to answering the question: do I have PTSD? which can only be fully diagnosed by a licensed medical or mental health professional.
What is trauma?
Trauma is a challenging life event that you can experience one or more times when people are exposed to great dangers, such as death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual abuse, either directly, as survivors, or through the testimony of others. Any person can experience trauma. Unfortunately, almost every person experiences at least one trauma during their lifetime.
However, experiencing trauma doesn’t always result in a diagnosis of PTSD. It would help if you got mental health support immediately following a traumatic event. By speaking with a mental health professional, you might be able to avoid experiencing PTSD because you learn the coping tools you’ll need to deal with it.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (better known as PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs in some people as a response to trauma. People who have post-traumatic stress disorder feel anxiety and fear even when they are no longer in danger.
Early PTSD Signs
A person who asking ‘do I have PTSD?’ should look for signs or difficulties that they experience to help them determine the diagnosis. For example, here are some of the early PTSD signs you may experience.
1. Constant preoccupation with the traumatic event and its re-experiencing
People who have PTSD often get stuck in their trauma. As a result, you might cycle the same stories in your head multiple times, trying to find patterns so you can break the story. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help and often causes you to relive the pain numerous times without getting better. Working with a trauma counselor or psychotherapist can help you stop feeling stuck and stop reliving the story.
2. Feelings of insecurity
After developing PTSD, your sense of security vanishes. The question, “Am I safe?” will pop into your mind often as you constantly look to avoid danger. Your brain will scan for danger more than usual, which will cause you to feel scared or threatened. That’s why most people with PTSD are in survival mode or have an automatic fight and flight response. A trauma pops the bubble that the world is a safe place, making you feel vulnerable. Learning to feel safe again is possible in therapy. However, remember that your brain scans for danger to protect you, so rather than being afraid, tell yourself, “My brain is only trying to protect myself from harm. I can keep myself safe and protect myself.”
If you’ve been wondering, ‘do I have PTSD?’ ask yourself if you’ve been withdrawing from things. Do you do any activities less than before? Have you cut out certain people from your life? Did you recently make a sweeping declaration? For example, after a trauma, someone might say, “I’m giving up alcohol for a year” or “I’m giving up sex for a year.” Often, with PTSD, people don’t realize that the thing they’re giving up is the thing that caused them to experience the trauma in the first place.
4. Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event
After a traumatic event, people with PTSD will usually avoid things that remind them of the traumatic event. They might throw out the clothes they were wearing, cut the people associated with the trauma out of their life or even notice specific natural cycles. For example, if it was a full moon the night of your trauma, you might develop selenophobia and avoid leaving your home whenever there’s a full moon out.
However, a person doesn’t have to survive a dangerous event to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some people get this disorder after a friend or family member faces danger or is injured. Any person can suffer PTSD at any time of life. People who belong to the risk group in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder include persons who have survived a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accidents, natural disasters, dangerous or scary jobs, and many other challenging events.
What are the possible reactions to exposure to psychological trauma?
An immediate post-traumatic reaction is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. A shaken sense of security and confidence, inner anxiety, fear, lack of emotional experience, difficulty sleeping, and/or an inability to stop thinking about the event are experienced by almost everyone after exposure to a traumatic event. Most people manage to return to balance in a relatively short time, the reactions subside after a few days.
If these symptoms appear in the short term, caused by a recent traumatic event, there is no need to worry as this isn’t PTSD. PTSD often happens for a much longer time and doesn’t usually occur immediately following a trauma.
Symptoms of PTSD
If you’re wondering, do I have PTSD, take a look at the symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms that indicate PTSD appear shortly after the trauma, but a prolonged period is possible if you don’t get the support you need. However, unlike a short-term reaction to a stressful situation, the duration of symptoms is long and can last far beyond a decade. Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause several symptoms that are grouped into three main categories:
1. Symptoms of re-survival of trauma
- Reciprocal, intrusive, and unpleasant memories of the event, including performances, thoughts, and perceptions
- Repeated disturbing dreams of an event and waking up from PTSD nightmares constantly through the night
- Behaviors or experiences as if the traumatic event is happening again (through the feeling of re-surviving trauma, illusions, hallucinations, images from the past)
- Intense discomfort when exposed to internal or external stimuli that symbolize or resemble a traumatic event,
- Physiological reactivity when exposed to internal or external stimuli resembling a traumatic event.
2. Symptoms of avoiding traumatic situations
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about trauma
- Efforts to avoid activities, places, or persons reminiscent of the trauma
- Difficulty remembering a dangerous event
- Loss of interest in activities that were previously the subject of interest
- The experience of separation or alienation from other people
- Narrowed range of feelings
- An experience without perspective
3. Symptoms of excessive arousal
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- The focus is on possible sources of danger
- Excessively pronounced twitching reaction
Panic attacks can often occur in all of these groups of symptoms. The symptoms of PTSD can include an overall decline in psychophysical condition. There may be a greater preoccupation with the patient’s physical problems and consequences regarding social and work functioning.
Why do traumatic memories appear?
When you reawake these traumatic memories, without you voluntarily thinking about them, that is a sign that the traumatic experiences continue to burden the psyche. At the same time, it’s a call to a person who has experienced trauma to face memories and seek help to resolve the pain.
Unfortunately, the memories will continue to come back until you face them, regardless of the time that passes from the onset of the first symptoms.
Once in therapy with a sound support system, you’ll be able to stop the traumatic memories from reappearing after a few months of CBT or other types of therapy programs. However, the traumatic memories may reoccur years later if a new trigger resurfaces.
Can psychological trauma cause physical pain?
If you’re wondering do I have PTSD, take a moment to see if you have any physical symptoms. In addition to mental symptoms, as a result of some post-traumatic stress disorder, many traumatized people also suffer from persistent and constant pain. People who have survived trauma very often later suffer from body aches such as:
- Pain in the back, legs, and feet
- Joint pain or headache
- Pain in the abdomen and stomach, pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain when urinating
- Racing heart
In most cases, the physical pain you feel is related to the trauma you have experienced because it’s the body’s reaction to the trauma you face.
So, do I have PTSD?
There’s no universal formula you can use by yourself to determine if you have PTSD. Each condition is a separate story in itself. The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is made by a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist who has experience helping people with traumatic events. There are basic rules they follow that can give you an idea of whether you are suffering from this disorder.
If you notice any of these symptoms months or even years after a trauma, there’s a chance that you have PTSD:
- At least one symptom of re-survival
- At least three avoidance symptoms
- At least two symptoms of excessive arousal
- Symptoms that make life difficult for a person, going to school or work, hanging out with friends, or performing tasks
You should never make a self-diagnosis and take therapy without the supervision of a professional. If you find yourself in a situation where you ask yourself: do I have PTSD, you need to find a therapist for a diagnosis. Self-awareness and knowing that there’s a possible problem are excellent bases for further control of your condition. If you find yourself in most of these symptoms, we advise you to make an appointment with a mental health professional immediately, so you get the support you need.
When to seek help for PTSD
If you’re asking do I have PTSD, it might be time to seek help. A person who has some of these problems should seek professional help as soon as possible for several reasons. One is proper assessment: exposure to psychological trauma, risk and protective factors, a person’s danger to themselves and others, symptom severity and diagnostic assessment, medical and functional status, and comorbidity. PTSD is a disorder that affects the psyche, so it’s important to seek professional support to prevent further disruptions or suffering.
How to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD treatment focuses on helping the person cope with the trauma they have experienced. The patient works to encourage themselves to recall a traumatic event and to re-experience it rather than avoiding it all. They pay particular attention to feelings of guilt and mistrust. Then they learn how to overcome and control the memories of trauma. Therapy indicates the problems that post-traumatic stress disorder causes to the quality of life of a person and their environment.
Depending on the pace of progress, treatment can last from a few months to several years. Regardless of the treatment interval, it’s essential that the patient moves at their own pace and that they don’t feel insecure or uncomfortable at any point in the treatment.
Why do some people get sick and some don’t get PTSD?
It’s important to remember that not every person who survives a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Most people won’t get PTSD, especially if they get the support they need early on.
Many factors play a role in whether a person will develop PTSD. Some of these are risk factors that can make a person more susceptible to PTSD. Other factors, called resistance factors, can help reduce the risk of disorder. Depending on your perception, previous trauma experiences, PTSD may bypass you. But sometimes, even these factors are not enough, PTSD will occur nonetheless.
Asking yourself: do I have PTSD? is the first step towards dealing with the trauma that keeps you up at night. Education is of great importance in this situation because the sooner you understand your condition, the sooner you’ll start recovering from it. Getting the support you need early on, can help prevent the onset of PTSD and prevent years of therapy, triggers, and flashbacks.