Post-traumatic stress can develop after a person has been involved in, or witnessed, a potentially life-threatening event. It can be the result of a single event or the result of ongoing emotional trauma. It is a natural response to feel frightened in a traumatic situation and shortly thereafter. The body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in to help the body defend or fight against the perceived danger. Anxiety related symptoms after the event—such as reliving the situation, having flashbacks, experiencing nightmares—usually subside within a month and most people go back to their daily lives. Sometimes these anxiety-related symptoms continue to worsen.
Symptoms may not occur for months or until another event triggers the same initial fear response. People who suffer from PTSD exhibit a variety of symptoms. They can feel nervous or “on-edge” all the time. They may have a hard time concentrating, feel irritable, or have a hard time sleeping. Intrusive thoughts, such as recalling the traumatic event or having a severe emotional reaction when something reminds them of the event, may always be present. Often changes in thinking and mood lead to difficulty in maintaining close relationships and leave a person feeling detached from family and friends. Some people start to engage in self-destructive behaviour such as using drugs or alcohol. Symptoms can be debilitating and can continue to get worse if left untreated.
Getting help and support after a traumatic event may prevent a normal stress reaction from developing into PTSD. If you have experienced a trauma, seek assistance and support from friends, colleagues and family. Utilize your employer’s EAP counselling services. If you notice a change in mood or behavior that is significant, unusual, and persistent, you should seek help from a medical doctor and/or clinical psychologist. The good news is that PTSD is treatable.