Recognizing PTSD Symptoms

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, October 11, 2017
By Mirta Pont, LCSW,

Certified EMDR Therapist

In light of the recent natural disasters, terrorist attacks and unforeseen attacks on the public by mentally unstable individuals, I’d like to provide information that describes the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. I hope this information assists readers in identifying whether they or a family member may need assistance from a mental health professional. 
The following is an excerpt from various fact sheets put out by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. 

The following emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological reactions are often experienced by people during a traumatic event. It is important to recognize that these reactions do not necessarily represent an unhealthy or maladaptive response. Rather, they may be viewed as normal responses to an abnormal event. When these reactions are experienced in the future (i.e., weeks, months or even years after the event), they are joined by other symptoms (e.g., recurrent distressing dreams, “flashbacks,” avoidance behaviors, etc.), and interfere with social, occupational or other important areas of functioning, a psychiatric disorder may be in evidence (i.e., PTSD). These individuals should pursue help with a mental health professional.

Emotional Responses during a traumatic event may include shock, in which the individual may present a highly anxious, active response or perhaps a seemingly stunned, emotionally-numb response. He may describe feeling as though he is “in a fog.” He may exhibit denial, in which there is an inability to acknowledge the impact of the situation or perhaps, that the situation has occurred. He may evidence dissociation, in which he may seem dazed and apathetic, and he may express feelings of unreality. Other frequently observed acute emotional responses may include panic, fear, intense feelings of aloneness, hopelessness, helplessness, emptiness, uncertainty, horror, terror, anger, hostility, irritability, depression, grief and feelings of guilt.

Cognitive Responses to traumatic exposure are often reflected in impaired concentration, confusion, disorientation, difficulty in making a decision, a short attention span, suggestibility, vulnerability, forgetfulness, self-blame, blaming others, lowered self-efficacy, thoughts of losing control, hyper-vigilance, and perseverative thoughts of the traumatic event. For example, upon extrication of a survivor from an automobile accident, he may cognitively still “be in” the automobile “playing the tape” of the accident over and over in his mind.

Behavioral Responses in the face of a traumatic event may include withdrawal, “spacing-out,” non-communication, changes in speech patterns, regressive behaviors, erratic movements, impulsivity, a reluctance to abandon property, seemingly aimless walking, pacing, an inability to sit still, an exaggerated startle response and antisocial behaviors.

Physiological Responses may include rapid heart beat, elevated blood pressure, difficulty breathing*, shock symptoms*, chest pains*, cardiac palpitations*, muscle tension and pains, fatigue, fainting, flushed face, pale appearance, chills, cold clammy skin, increased sweating, thirst, dizziness, vertigo, hyperventilation, headaches, grinding of teeth, twitches and gastrointestinal upset.

*   Require immediate medical evaluation

Editorial note: Although our topic for October is “Women’s Health,” we thought it was important to include this blog on post traumatic stress disorder, considering the recent events and tragedies around the world. 

All of us at Coral Gables Counseling Center send our heartfelt condolences to all of you who have lost someone in the recent events. And to the survivors…our hope is that you take the time to pause, grieve and then gain the strength to face the world head on again.