Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health challenge, but popular media has stereotyped this disorder into a small set of symptoms. There are two dozen PTSD symptoms that psychologists and clinicians track to diagnose this condition, and subtle signs and consequences may suggest you’re living with PTSD.
When people live through traumatic events, they often experience significant changes in their mood, behavior, and cognition. For some people, these effects last for just a couple of weeks. For others, the symptoms can linger for months or years.
When these symptoms last for longer than a month and begin to cause disruption in other areas of your life, it’s a sign that the effects of trauma have become post-traumatic stress disorder.
A number of different events can lead to PTSD. Traumatic events are those that are incredibly distressing, unnatural, or life-changing, such as living through a war, the death of a loved one, abuse, or being the victim of violent crime. Not everybody who experiences trauma develops PTSD, but those who do are in need of professional mental health treatment in order to recover.
The list of PTSD symptoms is extensive, but they fall into four main categories.
- Avoidance: not being willing to talk about the traumatic event or avoiding people, places, or situations that remind them of the traumatic experience
- Intrusive Experiences: recurring thoughts or nightmares about the traumatic events
- Changes in Mood and Cognition: an inability to experience positive emotions or distorting the objective facts of the event in order to blame themselves or others
- Reactivity: sudden angry outbursts, being startled at loud noises, or having difficulty sleeping
These PTSD symptoms can cause immense stress and difficulty keeping up with your life at home, work, or school. But there are other, often more subtle, PTSD symptoms that can affect people living with this disorder.
Lesser-Known Symptoms of PTSD
In addition to the symptoms outlined above, there are a number of lesser-known PTSD symptoms that can lead to a number of challenges for the people living with this disorder. While these may not fit the stereotype of PTSD, they are no less serious and still cause for people to seek PTSD treatment.
Negative Beliefs About Self and Others
Many people living with PTSD have exaggerated and persistent negative beliefs about both themselves and others. This often comes in the form of blaming oneself by holding beliefs like “I am a bad person” or “I deserve this.” But it sometimes extends to others as well, with beliefs such as “Nobody can be trusted” or “I can’t rely on anyone.”
Reckless or self-destructive behavior is another lesser-known symptom of PTSD. People with PTSD may drive recklessly, put themselves into dangerous situations, or fail to take commonplace safety measures.
Generally, people with PTSD are more likely to put themselves in high-risk situations. This symptom puts them at even greater risk of future harm and can lead to consequences that complicate the process of PTSD treatment.
Some people with PTSD have a form of selective amnesia surrounding their traumatic event. They may forget several important aspects of the traumatic experience, even if they haven’t sustained an injury or clouded their memory with alcohol or drugs.
A certain subset of people with PTSD will experience ongoing challenges with their personal identity. Specifically, people with complex PTSD — a rarer form of PTSD that is brought about by chronic, repeated trauma — are sometimes unable to form a stable and lasting sense of identity to carry them through life.
Sometimes called identity disturbance, this symptom is also common in people with borderline personality disorder. Without a stable sense of identity, people can constantly shift friend groups, hobbies, or careers, but they often experience challenges maintaining their new choices.
Substance use and addiction occur at exceptionally high rates among people living with PTSD. Often, people turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with the numerous symptoms of PTSD. While this may provide some short-term relief, the long-term consequences of substance misuse can lead to a worsening of the original symptoms as well as the development of a substance use disorder.
When a person develops an addiction while living with PTSD, they typically need specialized treatment from a dual-diagnosis treatment center to achieve recovery. Dual-diagnosis treatment treats both disorders simultaneously, which can help prevent relapsing in either disorder after completing treatment.
Chronic illness and PTSD are thoroughly interlinked. Research has shown that the relationship between these two sets of conditions is bidirectional, which means that people living with chronic illnesses are more likely to develop PTSD, and people with PTSD are more likely to develop chronic illnesses.
Simply put, people with PTSD experience a high level of stress in their everyday lives. This stress taxes the body and mind and makes it more difficult for a natural recovery process to take place. This often leads to the development of chronic illnesses, which often improve after people start PTSD treatment.
What To Do If You Think You Have PTSD
If you or a loved one has lived through a traumatic event and is continuing to experience symptoms for months or years, the best thing you can do is to find evidence-based PTSD treatments that can help.
Decades of research have found a number of effective therapies, medications, and interventions that can help guide you onto the path of recovery. Additionally, new and innovative treatments offer avenues for people who have tried other treatments without success.
New Treatments for PTSD
Historically, the treatment for PTSD has been a combination of talk therapy and psychiatric medication. While these treatments are extremely effective for some, not everybody finds the relief that they are seeking.
New treatments for PTSD can help people overcome the barriers they are facing and can often provide immense relief in just one or two sessions. This includes novel interventions, such as:
Stellate Ganglion Blocks
A Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) is a small injection into a bundle of nerves called the stellate ganglion. An SGB uses a local anesthetic to numb this bundle of nerves, blocking the signals that it sends to the rest of the body.
The stellate ganglion plays a major role in the sympathetic nervous system, which is often in a heightened state due to trauma. PTSD symptoms such as hypervigilance or chronic illness are directly related to heightened sympathetic nervous system activity, and an SGB can calm this system down to provide immense relief.
An SGB isn’t a cure for PTSD — nor is it permanent. But what it can do is provide lasting relief from many of the symptoms you are experiencing, often opening the door for people to dive deeper into therapy or other PTSD treatments to achieve a lasting and permanent recovery.
SGBs are simple procedures that take just minutes, and most people will begin to feel relief in less than half an hour.
Ketamine-assisted therapy is another new intervention that has shown significant promise in helping people overcome PTSD once and for all. Ketamine has been used for decades as an anesthetic, but scientists have recently discovered that subanesthetic doses can be a valuable tool for dramatically enhancing the effectiveness of therapy while under the drug’s effects.
Ketamine is known as a dissociative, which means it can produce a feeling of disconnectedness from your emotions and environment. This effect can be dramatically beneficial during treatment, as it allows people to address their traumatic experiences without fear, anger, sadness, or other intense emotions that are often roadblocks to the healing process.
The procedure for ketamine-assisted therapy is simple, and a session lasts about two hours. When you sign up for ketamine-assisted therapy, you’ll meet with a team of clinicians and providers who will discuss the drug’s effects, what to expect, and what you hope to get out of treatment. Then, when you’re ready to begin, the team will administer a targeted dose of ketamine.
Most people feel the effects of the drug within 15 minutes. A therapist will sit with you throughout the entire experience, talking you through your challenges and how you can overcome them. The effects peak at about 45 minutes and generally subside within two hours.
With ketamine-assisted therapy, people can have breakthroughs that would otherwise take months in conventional therapy. Evidence shows that these results can last well after your treatment session is over, often resulting in a dramatic reduction in symptoms and in some cases, total remission.
Starting Treatment for PTSD
Living with the symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating, but there is hope for your recovery. Several effective treatments and therapies can help. But the first step to feeling better is reaching out to start treatment.
- Liriano, Felix et al. “Ketamine as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: a review.” Drugs in context vol. 8 212305. 8 Apr. 2019, doi:10.7573/dic.212305