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SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT, AND SELF-HELP

Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., contributed to this article. Last reviewed: March 2011
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected. Usually, as time passes, the upset fades and you start to enjoy life again. But sometimes the trauma you experienced is so overwhelming that you find that you can’t move on. You feel stuck with painful memories that don’t fade and a constant sense of danger.

If you went through a traumatic experience and are having trouble getting back to your regular life, reconnecting to others, and feeling safe again, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you have PTSD, it can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But help is available—and you are not alone. If you are willing to seek treatment, reach out to others for support, and work on developing new coping skills, you will be able to overcome the symptoms of PTSD and move on with your life.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Wendy’s Story

Three months ago, Wendy was in a major car accident. She sustained only minor injuries, but two friends riding in her car were killed. At first, the accident seemed like just a bad dream. Then Wendy started having nightmares about it. Now, the sights and sounds of the accident haunt her all the time.

Wendy has trouble sleeping at night, and during the day she feels irritable and on edge. She jumps whenever she hears a siren or screeching tires, and she avoids TV programs that might show a car chase or accident scene. Wendy also avoids driving whenever possible, and refuses to go anywhere near the site of the crash.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless.

Most people associate PTSD with battle–scarred soldiers–and military combat is the most common cause in men–but any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.

PTSD develops differently from person to person. While the symptoms of PTSD most commonly develop in the hours or days following the traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear.
Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include: