What is PTSD?PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is essentially an anxiety disorder. It develops in response to traumatic or lifethreatening experiences such as war, sexual assault, accidents or natural disasters. Some symptoms of PTSD include emotional symptoms such as anxiety, anger, depression, irritability and sadness; and physical symptoms such as tiredness, increased perspiration, high or low blood pressure and trouble digesting food.
Stress affects our autonomic nervous system, endocrine system and immune system; these physical systems are all interdependent on each other. How we perceive stress plays an important role in how our bodies respond physically to stress.
High amounts of inflammatory hormones are dumped into our systems in response to stressful or traumatic situations, but these hormones are released even at the memory of trauma. So PTSD can be thought of as an emotional stress overload.
In fact, the latest research shows that PTSD actually causes a part of the brain called the amygdala to shrink. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes emotions and fear. Researchers believe that when the amygdala is smaller, it makes it more difficult for people to process their anxiety resulting from trauma.
Here are three myths about PTSD:
PTSD affects someone immediately after a traumatic ordeal. If time has passed, someone is no longer at risk for PTSD. While symptoms for PTSD often arise within the first three months after a traumatic event, many times it takes months or even years for symptoms to appear. To make it even more confusing, some people experience symptoms rather continuously for years; but in others, symptoms may come and go through the years, such as in the case of victims of childhood abuse.
The nature of PTSD can make it very difficult for people to recognize PTSD in themselves. So much time may have passed that they do not associate their symptoms with trauma from their past.
In addition, victims of domestic violence often don’t recognize that prolonged experience of abuse from their partners increases their risk for PTSD.
Only military veterans experience PTSD. …PTSD can develop in anyone, including children.
Experiencing PTSD is a symptom of mental weakness; people should just “get over” traumatic events of life. This is a common PTSD myth that can be difficult to combat. While the majority of people who go through a traumatic ordeal do go on to readjust to normal life after a period of time, not everyone can, and it has nothing to do with mental weakness. Many other factors go into determining whether or not someone goes on to develop PTSD, including but not limited to the type of trauma experienced, the severity and longevity of the trauma, personality traits, how the brain releases chemicals to combat stress, whether or not the individual experienced childhood trauma, and whether or not an individual has a strong social support system. (Excerpted from http://www.ptsdalliance.org)