What Is PTSD?

What Is PTSD?
By stella
14th Feb 2022

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:

  1. “Disorder” connotes a sense of permanence which is misleading because PTS can be treated.
  2. “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:

  • Adoption
  • 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
  • Divorce
  • Domestic abuse
  • First responder trauma (for healthcare workers, EMTs, and LEOs)
  • Homelessness
  • 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:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Crying spells
  • Depression
  • Dizzy spells
  • Flashbacks
  • Headaches
  • Hypervigilance
  • Nervousness
  • Nightmares
  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
  • Panic episodes
  • Paranoia
  • Problems with concentration or thinking
  • Problems with memory
  • Shakiness
  • 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].

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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/
  5. 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

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PTSD Signs and Symptoms

PTSD Signs and Symptoms
By stella
14th Feb 2022

The following article refers to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), whereas at Stella, we use the term PTSI (Post-Traumatic Stress Injury). We encourage you to adopt this language to break the stigma against Post-Traumatic Stress.  Read more about the shift from PTSD to PSTI here.

Spotting the signs and symptoms of PTSD can be difficult. In fact, research suggests that only 2-11% of people experiencing trauma symptoms are actually diagnosed.1 This is one of the many reasons Stella is dedicated to the education of the impact of emotional trauma and the available treatment options. We strongly believe that demystifying the impact and treatment of trauma reduces stigma associated with PTSD.

While PTSD has been referred to as a disorder, many claim it’s an injury. Stella and others have suggested a new term – Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PSTI) – in place of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)2.

What Are the 17 Symptoms of PTSD?

Trauma can cause symptoms that diminish our capacity to experience warm and loving feelings from others (i.e., emotional numbness), which can lead to profound negative changes to our self-image and identity, and spark fears that often limit our enjoyment of pleasurable activities. When we have symptoms following trauma exposure, we may have the recurring feelings of helplessness and horror. We also commonly experience panic attacks, feelings of self-blame and shame, chronically disrupted sleep, and relationship conflicts with loved ones.

Read on to learn more about the 17 most common symptoms. 


Agitation is a feeling of anxiety or nervous excitement. Like many symptoms experienced after trauma, agitation is understood on a spectrum. Words like restless, uneasy, and tense generally describe mild agitation. When we’re agitated, we may be fidgety or find it hard to sit still. Agitation can build to the point that we’ve become short-tempered or continually irritable. Untreated trauma can contribute to aggressive or harmful behavior toward ourself and/or others.

Nervousness and anxiety

It’s normal to worry about stressful situations (like a job interview or putting an offer in on a house) before they happen. But when we experience symptoms following trauma exposure, these nervous feelings are persistent and all-consuming to the point that they disrupt everyday life. Tense, worried thoughts often manifest physically. For example, when we’re exposed to trauma and experiencing anxiety, this might have an increased heart rate, breathe rapidly, sweat, or feel tired. 

Problems with concentration or thinking

The body’s fight-or-flight response turns on when we experience trauma or a very stressful event. And sometimes it stays on long after the traumatic event which can make us feel like we need to be on constant high alert. This, in turn, makes it challenging to concentrate or think clearly. 

Problems with memory

After experiencing trauma, the fight-or-flight response may become “stuck” in an over-activated state which causes nerve growth around the amygdala (also known as the brain’s “fear center”).3 The amygdala – along with the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – plays a role in the brain’s ability to process stress and memory. Memory loss can also occur as a defense mechanism. 


When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, the body releases cortisol and adrenaline – two hormones that help it respond to a threat. When we experience symptoms of trauma, our fight-or-flight response can become locked into a continually activated state, and, in this state, our bodies produce hormones which can impact the body’s nervous system, sometimes resulting in headaches4

Depression and crying spells

Depression negatively impacts how we think and feel about ourselves. It can also influence the way we behave. When we are exposed to trauma and experience depression, we may feel sad, lose interest in activities we enjoyed before their trauma, feel guilty and worthless or notice changes in our appetite. Depression can also cause increased fatigue and disrupted sleep – we might have trouble sleeping while others sleep too much. And at its worst, depression can lead to suicidal ideation.

Suicidal thoughts or attempts

We can be so overwhelmed by our symptoms that we sometimes consider harming themselves or suicide. When we’re experiencing trauma symptoms, we can also experience depression, panic attacks, anxiety, and substance abuse and are at higher risk for suicide. In fact, people diagnosed with trauma symptoms are 9.8 times more likely to die by suicide.5 

If you are thinking about suicide or need emotional support please text “HOME” to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling from Crisis Text Line. We want you to know that you are not alone and that there is hope. 

Mood swings

Trauma triggers and other common experiences like panic attacks and bursts of irritability can cause sudden mood changes following trauma exposure. While bi-polar disorder is a different condition, the mood swings that come with trauma exposure may sometimes be mistaken for bi-polar disorder, and in some cases, we may have both conditions. Working with a licensed clinician is the key to figuring out the right diagnosis.

Obsessive-compulsive tendencies

While being diagnosed with trauma symptoms and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are different conditions, after we’re exposed to trauma, we may behave in ways that look similar to OCD. For example, we may check the locks on their doors several times before leaving the house in response to the hypervigilance that can come after a trauma. 

OCD and those diagnosed with trauma symptoms can both suffer from intrusive, disturbing thoughts. When we experience both conditions, we often feel a constant impending sense of doom or dread. 

Panic episodes

Feeling afraid is common when we’re exposed to trauma. When we are suddenly overwhelmed with intense fear, it could mean that we are experiencing a panic attack. Sometimes these episodes seem to come without warning or reason. Other times, they happen in response to a reminder of our trauma.  

During a panic attack, we may feel like we’re not in control of ourselves or afraid of dying. Chest pain, trembling, hot flashes or chills, a choking sensation, and other physical symptoms are commonly associated with panic attacks.


In reaction to traumatic or highly stressful events, we can become paranoid. Our belief that we are unsafe causes us to act highly guarded and suspicious of others. We adopt this way of thinking to protect ourselves from being harmed or harassed. 


Shakiness is related to many common trauma symptoms like agitation, nervousness, anxiety, panic episodes, and substance abuse. 

Substance abuse 

When we’re experiencing symptoms following trauma, we may use drugs and alcohol to cope as taking substances can temporarily reduce or numb the upsetting feelings we’re experiencing. 

Are There Other PTSD Symptoms?

Yes. Experiencing symptoms of trauma can also commonly include flashbacks, hypervigilance, nightmares, and sleep disturbances. 

Trauma affects us all differently. If you’re asking yourself “Do I have PTSD?” (which Stella refers to as PTSI) and think that you’re experiencing symptoms, take this PTSD test online. Or, contact our Patient Care Team directly by calling 1-866-497-9248 or emailing [email protected]

Treating Symptoms of PTSD with Stella

In recent years, the Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) has emerged as a promising treatment option for symptoms of trauma. Stella founders Dr. Eugene Lipov and Dr. Shauna Springer recently published a study with other trauma experts that indicates that the SGB is an effective treatment for trauma symptoms regardless of one’s gender, trauma type, PTSD-related medication use, history of suicide attempt, or age.6 

SGB by Stella has the potential to help millions of people with emotional trauma experience lasting relief. To learn more please visit our “How It Works” page.

  1. Ellen C. Meltzer, MD MSc,1 Tali Averbuch, MPP,1 Jeffrey H. Samet, MD MA MPH,1,5 Richard Saitz, MD MPH,1,3,4 Khelda Jabbar, MD,6 Christine Lloyd-Travaglini, MPH,7 and Jane M. Liebschutz, MD MPH1,5 Discrepancy in diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress 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/
  2. disorder (PTSD): Treatment for the wrong reason https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310322/
  3. 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
  4. B. Lee Peterlin DO,Gretchen E. Tietjen MD,Jan L. Brandes MD,Susan M. Rubin MD,Ellen Drexler MD,Jeffrey R. Lidicker MSc,Sarah Meng DO Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Migraine https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01368.x
  5. National Center for PTSD. PTSD and Death from Suicide. Retrieved 9/28/21 from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/rq_docs/V28N4.pdf 
  6. Lipov, E. G., Jacobs, R., Springer, S., Candido, K. D., & Knezevic, N. N. (2022). Utility of Cervical Sympathetic Block in Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Multiple Cohorts: A Retrospective Analysis. Pain Physician, 25(1), 77-85. Available from: https://www.painphysicianjournal.com/current/pdf?article=NzM5Nw%3D%3D
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