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8 Symptoms of PTSD We Need to Start Talking About

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Physical health problems, cognitive issues, eating disorders… these are just a few of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) we don’t talk about. And that’s just the beginning of the list.

• What is PTSD?

1. Physical health problems.

Some of the physical symptoms of PTSD include cardiovascular, autoimmune, musculoskeletal, digestive, chronic pain and respiratory conditions, as well as higher rates of diabetes, sleep apnea, migraine, fibromyalgia, and muscle tension.

Clearly, PTSD is a physical as well as emotional disease, but there are other symptoms of PTSD that may surprise you: the neurocognitive ones.

2. Neurocognitive issues.

People experience neurocognitive symptoms of PTSD, too, such as problems with memory and concentration, cognitive delays, lowered verbal memory capacity and trouble with problem-solving and planning.

What all this comes down to is this astonishing reality: our emotions may be powerful enough to actually change the way our brain works.

3. Eating disorders.

People with PTSD also experience higher rates of eating disorders. In one study, 20 percent of women with binge eating disorder, a third of women with bulimia nervosa and 11.8 percent of women with non-bulimic/non-binge eating disorders displayed symptoms of PTSD.

Being in a constant state of arousal make it difficult for people with PTSD to eat, suggesting our emotions may change the way our bodies work as much as our minds.

4. Mistrust.

PTSD changes the way someone feels about other people. They’re in constant fear, their bodies always primed for fight or flight, and many of them have seen the worst atrocities human beings are capable of. They can’t be sure what someone else wants to do to them.

They might have unrealistic negative beliefs about others or blame other people for the trauma they endured, or they may blame other people for what happened after the traumatic experience.

Either way, the symptoms of PTSD overwhelm some people with fear, leaving them unable to see their friends and family clearly and to trust people they may have once trusted.

5. Shame.

Another symptom of PTSD we don’t talk about is shame that often doesn’t go away. The way people with PTSD feel about other people often parallels the way they feel about themselves. They tend to hold distorted negative beliefs about themselves and blame themselves for their traumatic experience, as well as what happened afterward.

PTSD can sometimes leave people incapable of trusting anyone, even themselves.

6. Hopelessness.

People with PTSD often feel hopeless about a future that feels limited. Some people who were once spiritual may also experience a loss of faith. For people with this condition, life simply doesn’t feel normal anymore.

7. Difficulties with positive emotions.

Another symptom of PTSD is difficulty regulating not only negative emotions, but positive ones, too. Studies show people with PTSD tend to associate positive emotions with the trauma they underwent. They have a hard time controlling themselves when they feel something good, or they have a hard time focusing on anything else.

8. Physical reactions to triggers.

When someone’s PTSD gets triggered, they often experience physical reactions, such as difficulty breathing, pounding heart and heightened startle reflex. This can be attributed to increased levels of adrenaline.

“These floods of adrenaline arise because brain circuits involved in the regulation of emotion learn to activate in response to trauma-related cues and then do not unlearn these associations after the threat passes,” explains John Krystal, a national PTSD expert and chief psychiatrist at Yale Medicine.

In other words, any time people with PTSD get triggered, their bodies may react the same way they did during their trauma. They can get stuck in their fear.

What All This Means

When people don’t know about all the symptoms of PTSD, it leads to a lot of misunderstanding. Family and friends don’t understand their loved ones with PTSD, and people with PTSD don’t understand themselves at times. We can feel angry and betrayed when we don’t have to feel that way. Life becomes even more painful than it already is.

Healing from PTSD is all about support, which we can’t do for each other if we don’t understand one another. We need more education and more awareness so the people hurting around us can get their lives back again.

Unsplash image by Chris Ganser

Originally published: April 27, 2020
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