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Healing From Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

People who have gone through or seen a traumatic event have severe stress linked to the incident. Traumatic events can include 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.

A month after the event, 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, or resentful

  • Feeling emotionally numb, withdrawn, or disconnected from others, and staying away from close emotional ties with family, friends, and coworkers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

Steps toward healing

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.

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 set off 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.

  • 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 make the illness worse and make recovery more difficult.

  • Get involved. Volunteer to help at the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, or other charitable groups. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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