What Is PTSD?
Everything You Need To Know About PTSD
What does PTSD stand for? PTSD is an abbreviation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
And what is PTSD? In the field of psychology, PTSD is thought to occur in response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event that creates feelings of horror or helplessness. What most don’t know is that PTSD isn’t always caused by one big traumatic event. Years of cumulative trauma can cause PTSD as well. PTSD can last for months or years, and we can experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms – we’ll explore this a little later.
When we experience trauma, our body’s fight-or-flight response turns on, and sometimes it stays on long after the traumatic event. Many researchers agree that the amygdala (also known as the brain’s “fear center”) becomes overactivated after trauma, causing nerve growth.1 This nerve growth may prevent the fight-or-flight response from returning to a normal level. Brain imagery data suggests that trauma symptoms cause changes that are visible in the brain.2
How Common Is PTSD?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that 6% of the U.S. adult population would struggle with trauma symptoms at some point in their lives.3 The additional burden of psychological trauma beginning in 2020 is hard to calculate. Not only has COVID-19 impacted our physical and mental health, but it’s also had serious repercussions on our jobs, access to basic resources, relationships, and more.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder vs. Post-Traumatic Stress Injury
A growing number of trauma experts have advocated to “drop the D” in PTSD. And as of 2015, the Pentagon, government officials, organizations, and advocates have stopped using “disorder” to describe Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS).4
Dropping the D in PTSD highlights the fact that PTS may, in fact, be an injury rather than a disorder.5
There are two key reasons why dropping “disorder” is important:
- “Disorder” connotes a sense of permanence which is misleading because PTS can be treated.
- “Disorder” has a stigma that can prevent those who need help from asking for it.
The language we use to describe human experiences matters. Words have the power to make us feel isolated and stuck or understood and empowered. That’s why, at Stella, we replaced “Disorder” with “Injury.” We encourage you to adopt the term Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), too.
What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Injury?
Traditionally, PTSI has been linked to events such as war, sexual assault, or natural disasters. But when we consider the definition of trauma – a deeply distressing or disturbing experience – it becomes clear that many events can be categorized as trauma. Think: workplace abuse, reproductive challenges, divorce, loss of a loved one, or a sports injury.
We also know that LGBTQ+ community members and/or ethnic minorities are often mistreated and/or oppressed. As a result, may experience traumas like bullying, physical violence or threat, and homelessness. These are the most common – but certainly not all – causes of PTSI today:
- Bullying or hazing
- Childhood trauma or abuse
- Childhood neglect
- COVID-related trauma (e.g., hospitalization for COVID, post-COVID health challenges)
- Combat and/or warfare
- Death or injury of a loved one
- Domestic abuse
- First responder trauma (for healthcare workers, EMTs, and LEOs)
- LGBTQ+ trauma (e.g., harassment, rejection, identity crisis)
- Loss of pregnancy
- Natural disaster
- Non-physical interpersonal abuse (e.g., emotional abuse by a narcissistic individual)
- Personal health issues
- Physical violence or threat
- Political/ national refugee-related trauma
- Racial trauma
- Reproductive challenges/ infertility
- Secondary PTSD
- Sexual assault
- Sports injury
- Victim of crime by a stranger (e.g., mugging, break-in, robbery)
- Witnessing a traumatic event
- Workplace injury or job-related accident
- Workplace abuse or loss
What Does Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Feel Like?
Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms following trauma exposures. While it’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, when we experience PTSI, anxiety often persists. We feel our worries and fears intensely. In addition to thinking about what could go wrong, we also experience a faster heart rate, heavy breathing, sweating, and feeling tired.
Intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance (or feeling constantly unsafe and on-edge), nightmares, flashbacks, and guilt can add to the sense of uneasiness we feel when experiencing trauma symptoms.
Depression is also common and is frequently identified through changes in mood. When we have PTSI and are depressed, we may withdraw from the activities that we used to take pleasure in. Sometimes this is because we struggle to enjoy ourselves and other times it may be to avoid a trigger.
While the symptoms often develop immediately after the trauma or stressful event, they must persist for more than 30 days to receive a diagnosis of PTSI. Before 30 days, the symptoms are classified as “Acute Stress Disorder.” While many mental healthcare resources highlight the 17 most common symptoms of trauma, there are actually more:
- Crying spells
- Dizzy spells
- Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
- Panic episodes
- Problems with concentration or thinking
- Problems with memory
- Sleep disturbances
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
At Stella, we work with those who have experienced a wide range of traumas. With the right insights and the right support, healing is possible.
Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Treatments
Contrary to popular belief, symptoms of trauma can be treated. Pharmaceutical drugs and talk therapy are two of the most popular treatment options. Stella is ushering in breakthrough treatments for PTSI that can rapidly relieve the worst PTSI symptoms and lay the foundation for game-changing outcomes and long-lasting healing from trauma.
You can learn more about Treatment by Stella by attending our weekly webinar, SBG 101: A New Model for Trauma Treatment. Join us on Thursdays at 1pm PST/ 4pm EST to learn about what the Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) is, how it works, patient outcomes, and Stella’s approach to continued healing.
If you’re asking yourself “Do I have PTSD?”(which Stella refers to as PSTI) and think that you may be experiencing symptoms, take this PTSD test online. Or, contact our Patient Care Team directly by calling 1-866-497-9248 or emailing [email protected].
- Eugene G.LipovaJaydeep R.JoshiaSarahSandersaKonstantin V.Slavinb A unifying theory linking the prolonged efficacy of the stellate ganglion block for the treatment of chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), hot flashes, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987709000413
- Alkire, M.T., Hollifield, M., Khoshsar, R., Nguyen, L., Alley, S. R., and Reist, C. (2015). Neuroimaging suggests that stellate ganglion block improves post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through an amygdala mediated mechanism. Presented at the Anesthesiology Annual Meeting, October 24, 2015.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, September 13). How Common is PTSD in Adults? U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved February 2, 2022, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
- Itkowitz, C. (2021, October 28). Dropping the ‘D’ in PTSD is becoming the norm in Washington. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 2, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/06/30/dropping-the-d-in-ptsd-is-becoming-the-norm/
- Ochberg, F. (2012). An injury, not a disorder. Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. Retrieved 8/25/21 from: https://dartcenter.org/content/injury-not-disorder-0