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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

You may have heard of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the news or from friends and family, and wondered what it is, or whether you or someone you know has it.

After a trauma or life-threatening event – such as an experience in combat – it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories of the event, increased jumpiness, or trouble sleeping. These responses are often referred to as post-traumatic stress (PTS). For many people, these responses diminish with time, but for others they may continue causing problems with daily life and develop into a chronic psychological condition called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There are four types of symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). Service Members who have experienced a stressful or traumatic event often “re-experience” those events in their mind. This occurs when your mind tries to rationalize the event, which could also cause upsetting thoughts or dreams. Reminders of these events can be initiated by people, places, sounds or even smells. These reminders are called “triggers.”
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event. Avoiding these triggers all-together is a natural way to lessen the memories. You might feel the need to sacrifice a normal life style, like watching the news or going out in large crowds, just to avoid thoughts, feelings or sensations that could be associated with the traumatic event.
  3. Having more negative beliefs and feelings. Changes in thoughts and mood may occur or worsen following a traumatic event.  You may blame yourself or feel guilty for having these thoughts.  You may detach yourself from others or lose interest in doing activities.  Like avoidance, negative thoughts and moods can worsen if they are not actively challenged and countered.
  4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal). You may feel a high level of physical tension and alertness all the time, which is sometimes called a “hyper-arousal reaction.”  When a serious life- threatening event occurs, humans are hard-wired to be “on-guard” until the threat is over.  You may have trouble falling or staying asleep, feel irritable or angry, have trouble concentrating, or feel like you are always on guard.  If the threat is prolonged, like during deployment, it can be hard for service members to return to a calm state when they return home.  Practice some simple techniques or utilize some simple tools to help your body return to a normal, less tense state.  Sometimes hyper-arousal reactions include impulsive or self-destructive behaviors.  When these behaviors occur, it’s important to seek out help.

How do you know if you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? When should you consider getting help from a health care professional?

For more questions or answers about PTSD, please visit the VA National Center for PTSD website.

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Last Updated: May 23, 2022

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