PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, is a major anxiety disorder that occurs after you have experienced or been exposed to a traumatic event. These traumatic events are life-threatening. You can also get PTSD by vicarious trauma, meaning you become traumatized just by being exposed to the aftermath of a trauma- for example, disaster relief workers can be traumatized by the devastation and death they witness.
PTSD occurs after exposure to a life-threatening trauma, and is characterized by the following:
- Re-experiencing the trauma
- Avoidance of the trauma
You have recollections and re-playing of the trauma via nightmares and flashbacks of the trauma. You may have nightmares of the traumatic event replaying itself night after night. Or you may have flashbacks during the day, as if you are seeing a movie. What is different about traumatic nightmares and flashbacks versus bad dreams and day-dreaming is that the traumatic nightmares and flashbacks are vivid and you feel like you are really there, re-experiencing the trauma.
You avoid all reminders of the trauma, through avoiding the scene of the trauma, avoiding talk of the trauma, avoiding people or situations associated with the trauma. You feel detached from other people and the world. If you survived a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster like a hurricane, and there are people you loved who died, you may have survivors’ guilt. You also start to withdraw from activities you once enjoyed. You may withdraw further by developing depression.
You become hyper-alert for any danger in the environment, and you are now easily startled by noises. You constantly scan your environment for anything that can be dangerous. You experience sleep problems and other symptoms, such as irritability, poor concentration, and irritability. You may constantly feel on edge and tense.