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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Weisel

What is PTSD?

Many people have a specific image of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) in their heads, whether from media depictions, stories about people in their social networks, or direct experience with traumatized individuals. According to the National Center for PTSD, 7-8% of the population experiences symptoms of PTSD at some point in their lives.

There is a distinct difference between acute and chronic PTSD, with chronic lasting more than 3 months. Just like adjustment disorders, the DSM 5 accounts for short term difficulty coping and managing daily functioning as a somewhat expected course during or after a psychologically stressful period in one’s life.

Beyond that, the symptoms become more chronic in nature, for better or worse.

Looking at traumatic events from the perspective of one’s nervous system, anything that is overwhelming to the natural “on/off” of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system can lead to it always being “on” or always being in a heightened state of activation.

For a wonderful dive into the nervous system and regulation, check out this video: Trauma and the Nervous System: A Polyvagal Perspective

Below are the symptoms most common with PTSD and a breakdown of different events that can traumatize individuals directly from the Mayo Clinic:

Intrusive memories

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)

  • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event

  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event


Symptoms of avoidance may include:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event

Negative changes in thinking and mood

Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world

  • Hopelessness about the future

  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

  • Feeling detached from family and friends

  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

  • Feeling emotionally numb

Changes in physical and emotional reactions

Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:

  • Being easily startled or frightened

  • Always being on guard for danger

  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior

  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:

  • Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play

  • Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event

Some people may have very specific experiences or be part of specific populations of individuals experiencing PTSD. These may include trauma experienced as the result of war and military service, car accidents, house fires, tragic deaths, relationships, workplace injuries, natural disasters, etc.

Links to articles about specific incidents:

If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the symptoms listed above, please reach out. Hamilton Healing Arts is accepting clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine.

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