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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by exposure to a traumatic event that meets certain criteria such as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation resulting from either direct experience of the traumatic event, witnessing the traumatic event in person, learning of a traumatic event that happened to a close family member or friend, or experiencing directly repeated or extreme exposure to negative details of the traumatic event. Symptoms must last at least one month and affect functioning in multiple areas of life.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms:
    • flashbacks
    • bad dreams
    • frightening thoughts
  • Avoidance symptoms:
    • staying away from triggering places, events, or objects
    • feeling emotionally numb
    • feeling guilt, depression, or anxiety
    • losing interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
    • having trouble remembering the traumatic event
  • Hyperarousal symptoms:
    • being easily startled
    • feeling tense or hyper alert
    • sleep difficulties
    • anger outbursts
  • In children:
    • bed wetting
    • forgetting how, being unwilling, or being unable to talk
    • acting out the traumatic event during play
    • unusual clinginess

How is PTSD treated?

Psychotherapy is essential to treating PTSD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Talk Therapy are the most common forms used. Exposure therapy gradually exposes people to triggers in a safe environment while using imagery, relaxation, and other coping skills to help reduce anxiety and fear. CBT helps sort out memories, thoughts, and emotions to reduce negative interactions and reactions. Talk therapies help teach successful ways to react to and cope with frightening events that trigger symptoms. Goals of all three techniques are to teach about trauma and how it impacts people, to use relaxation skills, and to identify guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, or other emotions and feelings that are related to the traumatic event and negatively impact daily life, and replace dysfunctional thoughts with healthier and more effective ones. Medication can also be used to reduce anxiety, flashbacks, depression, and other symptoms.

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