Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Emotional reactions following a traumatic event
Physical injuries, which may be sustained as a result of a road traffic accident, major critical incident (such as a train or roller coaster disaster), accident at work, military engagement or experience, dog bite, or other traumatic event, are generally recognisable and understood. However, people may also develop what is known as ‘post-traumatic psychological reactions’ which can be distressing, for both the individual concerned and their close family.
It is very important to seek medical advice and attention if you suspect you may be suffering from a post-traumatic reaction as unresolved symptoms, as described below, may impede recovery and the return to normal day-to-day living.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the chronic, psychological form of post-traumatic stress. Recent research findings suggest that physical injury may increase the risk for the development of PTSD.
Whilst physical injuries are more recognisable, post-traumatic reactions may not be clearly understood by the individual affected or by their family and friends.
Most people will experience post-traumatic reactions after a serious accident, although many individuals will begin to recover within two to three months of the event. However, this still leaves a significant number of people for whom the change in circumstances and the ‘reliving’ of the event can be debilitating and distressing. Many people find this aspect of the experience harder to manage, at times, than the physical injuries sustained. Some people are reluctant to talk about their trauma related symptoms, even to their close family and friends.
You do not have to have been directly involved in an accident to develop post-traumatic stress. It may be that you have witnessed what you perceive to be a life threatening event, leaving you feeling disturbed and a little confused by the symptoms you are experiencing.
Importantly, post-traumatic symptoms can differ with each individual and the onset of the symptoms can also be variable. For some people, the symptoms occur immediately and for others it may be weeks, months, or longer – which is known as ‘delayed onset’.
Unresolved PTSD symptoms can increase the risk for developing depression, addiction to alcohol or drugs and a break-down in relationships in later life.
Post-traumatic Symptoms – 4 main groups:
Re-experiencing – which simply means that you experience involuntary recall of images, sounds, ‘feelings’ or even smells, associated with the event. This may be in the form of nightmares or what is often referred to as ‘flashbacks’ – replays of the memories, in your mind and these can occur at any time of the day or night.
Avoidance and Emotional Numbing – avoidance of places, people, TV programmes, newspapers, or anything that serves as a reminder of the event. Some people involved in a road traffic crash may find that they take a different route to work each day, as passing the scene of the accident causes them intense anxiety. Avoidance of sights, sounds and smells that serve as a reminder of the traumatic experience, may also occur. Emotional numbing or ‘flat’ affect can also be experienced and relates to a person’s inability to feel or express positive emotions – an absence of spontaneous smiles or laughter, leading to isolation from friends and family and withdrawing from intimate relationships.
Negative cognitions and mood – numerous thoughts and feelings that might include an unwarranted sense of self-blame or blame of others, withdrawing from people and a lack of interest in activities. It might also include an inability to remember important features of the event – for example, someone may be caught up in a factory explosion and their next memory is being outside of the building, but they have no recollection of how they got there.
Arousal – this refers to a range of symptoms that include an exaggerated startle effect e.g. you are a passenger in a car and you suddenly see a car pulling out of a road on your left. You might grab the dash board, or shout ‘look out’.
An individual may display, what is referred to as ‘hypervigilance’ – always ‘on the lookout’ and expecting danger. Aggressive or reckless behaviours and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep are also symptoms. The ‘fight or flight’ response may be triggered, causing an individual to be unreasonably aggressive in a given situation or to, in effect, run away from it. Everyday activities, such as shopping in a supermarket, may become times of tension and anxiety, resulting in people abandoning their shopping trolleys and heading for the exit.
Some people develop an intense fear of doing everyday things associated with the traumatic experience, such as travelling in a car, whether as a passenger or a driver, travelling on public transport, socialising or simply walking along the street or crossing a park. The activity can trigger a recall of the original event and the physical and emotional reactions can be highly distressing, rendering it almost impossible for the individual to continue. These are what are termed ‘specific’ phobias.
Some people become virtually housebound due to a fear of leaving the ‘safety’ of home. This is known as agoraphobia or a fear of crowded spaces.
Experiencing episodes of ‘panic’ are relatively common following a traumatic incident. The term ‘panic attack’ may not adequately describe the dramatic and disabling symptoms such episodes can provoke. Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
- Heart palpitations or a racing heart
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking feeling
- Nausea, stomach cramps
- Depersonalization – a sense of being detached from oneself
- Dry mouth
- Numbness or tingling sensation in face, arms, hands, legs or feet
- Dizzy or lightheaded
- Thinking you are having a heart attack
- Fear of dying
- Fear of losing control
- Feeling as if you are going crazy
Post-traumatic stress is a risk factor for the development of this unpleasant experience in which people have difficulty in waking, caused by a temporary loss of muscle function.
Following a trauma, there is an increased risk of depression. Having good days and not so good days, feeling stressed or anxious at times is a normal part of life. For people with depression, there are few, if any, good days. The world appears to be a bleak place. Thinking may become polarised – that is, ‘black or white’ – everything is either okay or bad – and mostly it is bad. Doing normal, everyday tasks can become hard and motivation is low.
A depressed person may feel hopeless, helpless, tearful, anxious, irritable and intolerant with anger outbursts and may experience low self-esteem, a loss of confidence and feelings of guilt. Feeling depressed over time can affect interpersonal and also intimate relationships. Some people develop thoughts of self-harm or suicide and should seek immediate medical assistance.
Effects on bodily functions
Irrespective of physical injury, post-traumatic stress can lead to physical changes in posture and movement and changes in facial expression. Stomach upsets, urinary and bowel incontinence, exaggerated startle reflex and mutism – not talking to anyone.
You may not experience all of the symptoms described but find difficulty in adjusting to the changes in your lifestyle or employment due to physical and/or psychological injuries sustained.
Seeking help and redress
There is no shame in admitting to these experiences. Post-traumatic stress and even its chronic form, PTSD, can affect anyone and does affect millions of people worldwide.
There are a number of treatments in the form of ‘talking’ therapies, often referred to as CBT (cognitive and behavioural therapy) and medication, which can help you along the road to recovery. Yoga is recommended and widely supported in clinical trials, physical exercise and eating a diet that is rich in natural, unprocessed food – fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and a reduction in sugary drinks, foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat – in consultation with your GP or medical team.
**This page has been kindly written by Wendy Amey MSc (Psychological Trauma, Practitioner), HG Dip P, GQHP, MHGI, MCAPP. Wendy is a Psychotherapist and Managing Director at CBTRL (www.cbtrl.com)
How CFG Law can help
At CFG Law, we have specialist solicitors who have many years’ experience helping clients who have suffered from PTSD. We will provide you and your family with the support and treatment and our approach is to ensure your needs are put first and at the heart of everything we do.
Call us today on 0800 612 8196 to speak to one of expert solicitors in confidence with no obligation. Alternatively, contact our PTSD solicitors online and we’ll call you back.