Understanding PTSD And How To Deal With It

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition brought on by a traumatic event. This condition can be severely debilitating, especially if left untreated. 

Understanding what PTSD is and the best way to deal with it can help you identify the symptoms of PTSD and get appropriate help when needed. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that can have a significant, negative impact on your mental and emotional well-being. 

PTSD is induced by a traumatizing event. While it can take most people a while to recover from a sad, scary, or painful event, PTSD goes beyond a normal adjustment period. This condition is characterized by an inability to recover after witnessing or experiencing an event. 

If your reaction to a traumatic event worsens over time or impacts your ability to complete normal day-to-day tasks, you may be experiencing PTSD. 

Common symptoms of PTSD

So what does PTSD look like? 

The answer is slightly different for everyone. Some people may experience PTSD symptoms days or weeks after a traumatic event, whereas for others, it can take years for symptoms to appear.

In general, though, the symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into these four main categories: 

  • Intrusive memories

  • Avoidance

  • Negative changes in thinking and mood

  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions.

Intrusive memories

The symptoms of intrusive memories in PTSD include the following:

  • Repetitive, distressing memories of the traumatic event

  • Flashbacks of the event (feeling as if it were happening again)

  • Distressing nightmares about the event

  • Emotional and distressing reactions to things that remind you of the event.


The symptoms of avoidance in PTSD include the following:

  • Wanting to avoid thinking or talking about the event

  • Avoiding situations, people, and places that remind you of the event.

Negative changes in thinking and mood

The symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood in PTSD include the following:

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Trouble remembering things

  • Negative feelings toward yourself or others

  • Struggling to maintain close relationships and feeling distant from others in relationships

  • Feeling emotionally numb

  • Being disinterested in activities that once excited you.

Changes in physical and emotional reactions

The symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions in PTSD include the following:

  • Being quick to anger

  • Feeling on high alert or guard

  • Being easily startled

  • Having deep feelings of guilt and shame

  • Sleep problems

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Engaging in reckless and self-destructive behavior (e.g., speeding, drinking).

What causes PTSD?

PTSD is caused by a traumatic event, although not all traumatic situations will cause this condition to develop. Typically, the types of traumatic scenarios that lead to PTSD include threatening and terrifying events such as a serious injury, a sexual assault, or a physical attack. 

Events that lead to the development of PTSD aren’t always one-offs. They can include a prolonged experience such as an emotionally abusive relationship. 

Diagnosing PTSD

PTSD is diagnosed after a psychological evaluation using the diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). You will also receive a physical examination before a diagnosis is made to rule out any other possible causes for your PTSD-like symptoms. 

If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms of PTSD, you should reach out to your doctor. When left untreated, PTSD can have a significant, negative impact on your life and can impact your ability to complete normal day-to-day activities. 

Therefore, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Some people may be more at risk of developing PTSD

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will end up with PTSD, but some people are at higher risk of developing the disorder. Some of the factors that may contribute to PTSD onset include the following:

  • Experiencing intense trauma that occurs over a long period.

  • Existing mental health issues (such as depression or anxiety) or having family members with mental health issues.

  • A poor support system means you don’t have many close relationships with people you can count on in times of trouble.

  • Substance abuse issues, meaning the frequent use of alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs.

  • Experiencing trauma at an early age.

PTSD treatment options 

The good news for people struggling with PTSD is that many treatment options are available. Treatment of PTSD largely focuses on helping you develop coping strategies and identifying triggers. Below are some treatment options for PTSD.


Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health professional who will help you process your emotions and develop better-coping methods. There are many different types of psychotherapy. These include cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). 

  • Cognitive therapy helps you learn to manage your thought patterns around the traumatic event. The therapist will help you see the beliefs you’ve developed around the event and change these beliefs to healthier ones. For example, many people believe they’re responsible for the traumatic event that occurred, which causes them to feel a lot of guilt and shame. Letting go of this belief can help to relieve these negative feelings.

  • Exposure therapy encourages you to face a traumatic event or memory. By bringing up these memories in a safe environment, your brain gradually learns not to fear them. You become less likely to experience anxiety when the memory recurs daily. Exposure therapy can be especially useful in managing symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks. 

  • EMDR also involves recalling the traumatic memory in a safe space. While you’re recalling the memory, there is also a gentle rhythmic stimulation to both sides of the body, including tapping, tones, or eye movements. This process is believed to help your brain process the memory fully so that you no longer feel anxious when recalling it.


The World Health Organization recommends therapy as the first-line treatment for PTSD. Medications may be used in conjunction with therapy treatments to help you manage the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor will help you decide on the best medication for you, but options typically include the following:

  • Antidepressants are known as SSRIs (such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft). These medications are almost always tried first because evidence¹ shows they are the most effective when treating PTSD. SSRIs improve serotonin levels in the brain, which helps to boost mood and reduce anxiety in many people.

  • Another type of antidepressant is called Effexor. This medication also changes serotonin levels in the brain, as well as another chemical called norepinephrine.

  • Antipsychotic medications, such as Seroquel. These medications also change brain chemistry, including levels of serotonin and dopamine. These drugs can cause fatigue, which may be a benefit for those who have trouble sleeping due to their PTSD.

  • Prazosin blocks the body’s response to certain hormones released as part of the fight-or-flight response. Although not all studies have shown prazosin to be beneficial for PTSD, some people find it helpful. Prazosin is sometimes used along with another medication, such as an SSRI.

Although anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed for PTSD, this use is not recommended. These medications are highly addictive, and research shows that they can make PTSD worse.

When to reach out for help

If you’re experiencing PTSD-like symptoms negatively impacting your life, you should reach out to a medical professional. If your PTSD-like symptoms have developed to the point of thoughts of self-harm, reach out to a close friend and medical professional as soon as possible. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, call emergency services immediately. 

The lowdown

PTSD can have a severe, negative impact on your day-to-day life, but there is help available through medication, therapy, and support networks. Work with your doctor to find the treatment that is best suited to you.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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