Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Most people, in time, get over traumatic experiences without needing help. In some people though, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short.
About one in three people will find that their symptoms just carry on and that they can't come to terms with what has happened. It is as though the process has got stuck. The symptoms of post traumatic stress, although normal in themselves, become a problem - or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - when they go on for too long.
In addition to the reactions listed above, there are three main symptoms common in PTSD:
Flashbacks and nightmares. You find yourself re-living the event, again and again. This can happen both as a "flashback" in the day, and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again. You see it in your mind, but may also feel the emotions and physical sensations of what happened - fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain. Ordinary things can trigger off flashbacks. For instance, if you had a car crash in the rain, a rainy day might start a flashback.
Avoidance and numbing. It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. So you distract yourself. You keep your mind busy by losing yourself in a hobby, working very hard, or spending your time absorbed in other activities. You avoid places and people that remind you of the trauma, and try not to talk about it. You may deal with the pain of your feelings by trying to feel nothing at all - by becoming emotionally numb.
Being "on guard". You find that you stay alert all the time, as if you are looking out for danger. You can't relax. This is called "hypervigilance". You feel anxious and find it hard to sleep. Other people will notice that you are jumpy and irritable.