Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that has often been misunderstood and stereotyped. When an individual experiences a significant stressful traumatic event the body will typically respond through the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. This response is healthy and normal in the short term. Post-traumatic disorder is a normal response for a person who has experienced a traumatic event in their life. Trauma is something that cannot be prepared for and comes into a person’s life unexpectedly. In an instant, a person’s world can be completely changed and the stability that was once there can be quickly lost. Individuals that have experienced trauma will experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms as they try to cope with and manage their traumatic experience. It is important that individuals that have experienced trauma understand that their symptoms are normal and that their experience of a trauma is what is abnormal.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by having symptoms related to re-experiencing of the trauma, heightened awareness, increased anxiety levels, avoidance, irritability, substance abuse, and depression. There are many symptoms that individuals can develop who have PTSD. Every person with this disorder will respond to their trauma experience uniquely and will have symptoms that are unique to them as well.
Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder are at a significantly increased risk of the development of other psychological disorders and addiction than the general population. The majority of the time an individual that experiences a trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and recover from them on their own without the need of significant intervention. Humans are extremely resilient and with time and support individuals can often times overcome great trauma and come out the other side even stronger than they were before. However, for some individuals, the weight of their traumatic experience can overwhelm them. Their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can persist and the development of additional anxiety disorders can emerge as well. Depression and anxiety are the most common disorders that have been shown to emerge from post-traumatic stress disorder in individuals.
When an individual experiences a traumatic event the body responds to the significant trauma by producing cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone in the body that is used in the stress response system. In the short term the releasing of cortisol is an adaptive response because it provides the body with the energy that it needs to participate in a “fight or flight” response. This allows people to feel reduced amounts of pain, increased physical ability, and a heightened awareness of the world around them. However, over time, if a stressor continues to be present in an individual, this release of cortisol can become maladaptive. Interventions for PTSD must focus on the reduction of cortisol levels in the body and the reduction of stress. Cortisol levels in the body can be adjusted through the use of medications. If the levels of cortisol are not reduced it can be extremely difficult for an individual with PTSD to overcome their symptoms and disorder.