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Do I have stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Going through a traumatic injury can cause a range of strong emotions. For example, it is common for people to feel or experience a number of emotions after an incident, including:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiousness
  • Crying spells
  • Sleep problems
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Grief or self-doubt

These emotions are perfectly normal. 

For some people, distress resolves over time. For others, it may hold steady or even increase. In about one out of four people, the distress is so severe that it is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. 

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a type of anxiety that occurs in response to a traumatic event. It was first described in combat veterans. Now we know that PTSD occurs in everyday life. PTSD has defined symptoms that are present for at least four weeks. 

After a trauma, people may have some PTSD symptoms, but that does not mean they have PTSD. PTSD means having a certain number of symptoms for a certain length of time. There are three types of PTSD symptoms: 

Hypervigilance

  • Having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Having an exaggerated startle response

Re-experiencing

  • Having recurrent recollections of the event
  • Having recurrent dreams about the event
  • Acting or feeling as if the event were happening again
  • (hallucinations or flashbacks)
  • Feeling distress when exposed to cues that resemble the event

Avoidance

  • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, conversations, activities, places or people that are reminders of the event
  • Less interest or participation in activities that used to be important
  • Feeling detached; not able to feel

Only a mental health professional can diagnose PTSD, but if a friend or family member notices any of the symptoms, it may be a sign that help is needed. 

If you or someone you know are living with symptoms of anxiety or PTSD, learn more about our psychiatry services.