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How Do I know If I Have PTSD?

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Do you think you may have PTSD? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) refers to a set of thoughts, feelings, and experiences that commonly follow exposure to a traumatic event. So What's a "Traumatic Event"? Traumatic events are usually those in which a person is exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. Things like rapes, car accidents, natural disasters; physical, sexual and emotional abuse (whether during childhood or adulthood); or witnessing any of these - even if one is not directly involved - can all trigger symptoms of PTSD. It is very important to keep in mind, however, that this list is not comprehensive, and people can develop PTSD in response to a wide range of events. A basic rule of thumb is that PTSD can develop from any experience that is either "too much & too fast" or "too little or too much for too long." In thinking about trauma this way, you will see that many more experiences are included, such as emotional neglect, dog bites, dental procedures, routine surgeries, and falls. The important thing is how you perceived what was happening while it was happening. For example: Did you feel overwhelmed? Terrified? Like your life was in danger? Did you not know when or if it would stop? Did you doubt whether help would come? Did you think you might never be safe again? If you can think of an event during which you could easily answer "yes" to the above questions, it is possible that you might have developed PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD can include any of the following:

  • Elevated heartrate, shallow breathing, anxiety, panic, numbness or dissociation (feeling "out of body") in response to memories of the event or environmental "triggers" that remind you of the event

  • Nightmares related to the traumatic event

  • Insomnia

  • Hypervigilance (excessive, non-stop alertness to possible dangers in your environment)

  • Startle response (being "jumpy")

  • Flashbacks of traumatic events

  • Intrusive thoughts, images and memories

  • Avoidance of people, places, sights, sounds, smells and colors associated with the traumatic event

  • Feeling broken or not whole

  • Excessive reactivity (being uncharacteristically "moody")

  • Restricted range of feeling

  • Depression and Hopelessness

  • Feeling "stuck on high" (overly anxious/alert) or "stuck on low" (lacking feeling/motivation/sensation)

These are the most common symptoms of PTSD. Of course, many of those listed could be related to other things. But if you experience any of them AND the symptom only emerged after a traumatic event, you should consider PTSD as a possibility. Please note that PTSD can and should only be diagnosed by a mental health professional. The above is intended only as general summary and introduction to help orient you to that diagnosis.

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