People who have gone through or seen a traumatic event can have severe stress linked to the incident. Traumatic events can include witnessing or being involved in a car accident, military action, a terrorist attack, rape, or some other act of violence. Many people get better on their own. But it often takes time. Sometimes professional help is needed.
People who feel they can't get control of their lives because of their responses to the trauma may have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms vary. For some people, symptoms appear right after the event. For others, they may happen days, weeks, or even months later. PTSD has been linked to other mental illnesses. It can happen with depression. Or it can lead to depression. People with PTSD may not be aware that they are affected by it.
People with a few of these symptoms may have PTSD and should seek professional help:
Keep thinking or having nightmares about the event (flashbacks, accompanied by painful emotions)
Trouble sleeping because of nightmares
Anxiety and fear, especially when exposed to situations like the traumatic event
Being on edge, being easily startled or overly alert
Feeling depressed or sad and having low energy
Feeling "scattered" and unable to focus on work or daily activities
Having trouble making decisions
Feeling grouchy, easily agitated, frustrated, or resentful
Feeling emotionally numb, withdrawn, or disconnected from others, and avoiding close emotional ties with family, friends, and coworkers
Suddenly crying, feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness
Feeling that danger is always near
Being very protective of, or fearful for, the safety of loved ones
Experiencing an "anniversary reaction" on the day of the event. Reactions can range from being mildly upset to experiencing extreme emotional or medical symptoms.
How someone reacts to trauma depends on a number of things. These include the person’s age, personality, and any exposure to trauma in the past. Any person, of any age, can develop PTSD after a traumatizing event.
The following actions can help you recover from PTSD:
Get professional help right away. The longer a person with PTSD goes without treatment, the harder it can be to heal. The best place to start is to see a psychiatrist or other mental health provider. They can confirm the diagnosis and evaluate your need for medicine. Employee-assistance programs, police departments, healthcare providers, and crisis hotlines can recommend counselors (therapists) in your area. A therapist may teach relaxation methods and help you understand and change the mental processes that lead to PTSD. They can also provide a safe place for you and your family to talk about and learn to cope with your PTSD. The provider can also help you find a healthcare provider if you haven’t yet seen one.
Be patient with yourself. Realize this will be a hard time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you've experienced.
Talk about it. People who have gone through tragedy need to work through their pain. Often this means telling the same story over and over for days, weeks, or even months. But depending on the event that triggered your PTSD, it may be best to talk with a therapist about issues related to the event itself. Counselors are more likely than friends or family to understand trauma and its effects. They are also the best prepared to help you identify triggers and effective coping strategies.
Spend time with others. Attend a place of worship, book club, exercise class, or other gatherings as often as you can.
Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and try to get enough sleep. When you're stressed, you're more open to illness. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep can help you stay well. Regular exercise can relieve depression and stress.
Try relaxation methods. These can include full-body relaxation or breathing exercises, meditation, stretching, yoga, listening to quiet music, and spending time in nature settings.
Join a support group. Being in a group with other people who have PTSD may help reduce isolation. It can also help rebuild your trust in others.
Stay away from negative coping actions. These include using drugs or alcohol, workaholism, violent behavior, and angry intimidation of others. These may seem to help by giving quick relief. But they worsen the illness and make recovery more difficult.
Get involved. Volunteer to help at a charitable organization of your choice. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose.