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Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

You may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if you’ve been through a traumatic event and are having trouble dealing with it. Such events may include the death of a loved one, a car crash, rape, domestic violence, military combat, or violent crime. Some anxiety after such an event is normal.It usually goes away in time. But with PTSD, the anxiety is stronger and keeps coming back. And the trauma is relived through nightmares, intrusive memories, and flashbacks (vivid memories that seem real). The symptoms of PTSD can cause problems with relationships and make it hard to cope with daily life. But it can be treated. With help, you can feel better.

How does it feel?

Symptoms of PTSD often start within a few months of the event. Here are some common symptoms:

  • You startle more easily, and feel anxious and on edge all the time. This can lead to sleep problems. It can make you feel overwhelmed. You may become angry or upset more easily. Panic attacks (sudden, intense feelings of terror and a strong need to escape from wherever you are) can also occur.

  • You relive the event in nightmares and flashbacks. During these, you may feel strong emotions and as though you’re reliving the event all over again.

  • You stay away from people, places, or activities that remind you of the trauma. You may hold in your feelings and become emotionally numb. It may be hard to focus at work or school or to relax with friends. You may be afraid to let people get close to you.

  • You may also have trouble remembering parts of the traumatic event. Negative thoughts about oneself and feelings of guilt and shame are also common PTSD symptoms.

Who does it affect?

Not everyone who survives a trauma will have PTSD. But many will. In fact, millions of people have the condition. PTSD can happen to anyone, but it most often develops after a person feels their life, or someone else's, is threatened.

You’re at risk for PTSD if you have experienced or witnessed:

  • A rape or sexual abuse

  • A mugging or carjacking

  • A car accident or plane crash

  • A life-threatening illness

  • War

  • Domestic violence

  • Childhood abuse

  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes

  • The sudden death of a loved one

Finding help

The first step is to talk with a trusted counselor or healthcare provider. They can help you take the next step to treatment. This may include talk therapy (counseling and medicine.You may hear talk therapy called trauma-focused psychotherapy. It is done in a safe environment, either one-on-one or in a group. Your counselor or healthcare provider can talk with you about other therapies like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), prolonged exposure (PE), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).

Man talking to mental health professional.

Are you having suicidal thoughts?

You may be feeling helpless, hopeless, and that you can’t go on. You may even have thoughts of suicide. But help is available. There are ways to ease this pain and manage the problems in your life.

If you are thinking about harming yourself or others, call or text 988 You will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat option is also available at You can also call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Lifeline is free and available 24/7.

To learn more

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
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